While Kaunas is preparing for the “Hansa Kaunas 2011” festival, Kaunas Mayor Andrius Kupcinskas kindly agreed to answer questions regarding the festivities.
Honorable Mayor, what does Kaunas mean to you personally?
To tell it picturesquely, Kaunas is my backyard, where my parents and my friends that I grew up with live. It is my family, my work, my favorite basketball team and bicycle paths – all that. Kaunas means everything to me.
Why is the Hansa Kaunas Town Festival so important to the town, which you have described so nicely?
Why do people need exhibitions? Why do people need concerts? Why are books being written? I am convinced that, to every patriot, it is important to be interested and cherish his or her country’s and town’s history, culture and traditions. However, the best feeling comes when you can share the experience with others. We often do not notice how nice our town is. Only the eyes of a delighted foreigner let me understand what kind of wealth we possess here and what we must appreciate here. Hansa Kaunas Festival is an ideal opportunity for the town to show itself to others and to remind ourselves that we are exceptional.
Some historians assert that Kaunas is not a Hanseatic town…
Let me interrupt you here. More than thirty years ago, the old German towns, which to their town names proudly put the words ‘Hansa town,’ conceived to re-establish the legendary merchant Hansa Union that dominated in the Baltic and the Northern Seas from the 14th through 16th centuries. The Union’s task was to develop the idea of the towns’ cultural and economic expansion. Only those towns which had possessed the town rights of the Old Hansa Union, or had been very important to the Union’s activity, were invited to the Union. The then-existing Hansa merchant bureau in Kaunas was one of the most important Hansa merchants’ strategic objects when trading with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. That is why we were invited to join the Union. The New Hansa Union now consists of 172 towns from 15 different European countries. I can proudly announce that Kaunas is the sole Hanseatic town in Lithuania belonging to this organization. Kaunas is a Hanseatic town.
The Hansa Festival has been organized annually in Kaunas from 2005. Why is 2011 so important?
I am rejoicing over our town’s Hansa Kaunas Festival. It is a really nice traditional adornment. However, it is only a part of the Festival. The New Hansa Town Union, wishing to popularize its activity, has decided to organize an International Hansa Days Festival in a different town each year. It means that delegates, tourists, performers and artists come to a chosen town from all 172 towns. On average, five or six thousand foreign guests come to a host town in the hope of seeing the beauty of it; they come to feel the hospitality of the host town’s people. They come to experience something that would make them come back once again. Kaunas was rewarded the right to organize the event on this scale in 1992. We will host the 31st International Hansa Days in Kaunas, after twenty one years of preparation. Neither Kaunas nor Lithuania has ever witnessed this kind of event.
Is Kaunas ready for this kind of challenge?
The question needs to be expanded. Is Lithuania prepared for the challenge? We have a single answer – we are doing our best. The program has been created; the people responsible for it have been assigned. I am rejoicing over a good deal of us supporting people in Seimas, as well as in the government. We are particularly grateful to the country’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, who has kindly agreed to become a patroness of the event. We feel strong support from the government, in which a special working group, headed by Dainius Kreivys, minister of the Ministry of Economy, has been established. We are paying attention to all issues, including guest accommodations, public order, transportation, financing, infrastructure, etc. Kaunas City Municipality has already allocated 634,000 litas (183,700 euros) for the Festival, as it plans additionally to budget 488,000 litas next year. Besides, we are searching for other financial contributors. The visitors’ stay in Kaunas must be impeccable. It is pleasant to note that the trips of the numerous guests to Kaunas will be eased by the opened Ryanair airport base at Kaunas Airport. To tell the truth, this is an achievement not only of the Festival. We regard it as the accomplishment of both Kaunas and Lithuania. Starting this May, we have been flying directly to the 18 largest European cities.
The festival will take place in 2011, on May 19-22. Will it not interfere with the town’s birthday? What will happen to the annual festival ‘Kauno dienos’?
The date of the International Hansa Days Festival has not been set randomly. We believe that, considering economic hardships, it is not advisable to organize two mediocre festivals. It is much better to organize one, but a memorable one. Also, in organizing the Festival, we had in mind the autumn of 2011, when all Lithuania, along with Kaunas, will be busy with the European Men’s Basketball Championship. We did not want the festivities to conflict with each other. Nevertheless, the most important reason celebrating Kaunas’ birthday through Hansa Days is simple. No one could think of a better date, as all Lithuania will travel to Kaunas, as well as to sister towns and Hansa Union towns. Everyone, including accidental tourists, will come to the town’s birthday. Welcome! Kaunas is celebrating!