Culture and politics, do they mix … ?

Four French cities – Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseilles and Toulouse – are vying for the honor of being designated European Capital of Culture 2013. Ye – 2013. It’s a little like football and rugby world cups, or the Olympics for that matter; candidate cities need time to prepare their applications and presentations. Europe has had a […]

Four French cities – Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseilles and Toulouse – are vying for the honor of being designated European Capital of Culture 2013. Ye – 2013. It’s a little like football and rugby world cups, or the Olympics for that matter; candidate cities need time to prepare their applications and presentations.

Europe has had a “culture capital” now since 1985. It’s something that Melina Mercouri initiated in 1985. Remember her? If you do, then you will remember the film and the song “Never on a Sunday”. She was married to Jules Dassin, the Greek film director. The two fled the Greek “colonels” and came to live in Paris. Then after the fall of the “colonels” they returned to Greece and Melina became Culture Minister. She died of lung cancer. Dassin too has passed away.

The current culture capitals – since 2000 two capitals in two countries are chosen – are the UK’s Liverpool and Stavanger in Norway. Next year they will be Linz (Austria) and Vilnius (Lithuania). France will share with Slovakia in 2013; countries have already been chosen up to 2019.

It’s the European Union’s “Commission of Education and Culture” that select the capitals each year. This year the jury of 13 is headed by Brit, Sir Robert Scott. He will announce the winners before December 31, but France’s Ministry of Culture want our four candidate cities to hand in their applications and presentations in a month from now.

The ministry will then pass the dossiers on to Sir Robert Scott and he and his jury will choose which city it will be. The ministry will discreetly “favour” a city, and the ministry’s choice may well be political; in fact, no-one thinks it won’t be political. (Aren’t all things in life these days political, anyway?)

Bordeaux and Marseilles are politically on the Right; Lyon and Toulouse, on the Left.

It is therefore understood that President Sarkozy, also on the Right, will make sure that either Bordeaux or Marseilles will be the winner. Actually, Marseilles is the front-runner: Politique Oblige! Marseilles’ mayor is Jean-Claude Gaudin, a huge supporter of Monsieur Sarkozy. Voilà!

As for Bordeaux: Its mayor, Alain Juppé, is not a Sarkozy groupie, so you don’t have to be a rocket scientist … etc.

The four cities are, though, not going to allow Monsieur Sarkozy to get in the way of their “candidature” because a lot of money is involved. The French city of Lille, 2004’s culture capital, welcomed 9 million visitors in that year and the coffers overflowed with €72 million ($113,000,000 – ₤57,000,000) in takings. So, no-one wants to lose out on such a bit of luck. Yet, being Culture Capital also costs a city a lot of money; there is some cleaning-up to be done, public transport must be tops, entertainment must be laid on etc. But expenditure is not apparently something that puts Marseilles’ Gaudin off; he has already said that the municipality will invest €100 million in the venture. But as Bernard Latarjet, the man heading Marseilles’ “candidature” says, each Euro spent will generate six. He thinks that not only between 2 to 3 million tourists will visit the city that year but another million will pop in from cruise liners. He therefore calculates that being Culture Capital will earn Marseilles €600 million ($157,000,000 – ₤79,000,000). A lot of money, you will agree.

Not to take anything away from Marseilles: It’s France’s oldest city (dates from 600 BC) and was founded by the Greeks from Phocaea. The French actually never say Marseilles without adding la Cité phocéenne. Many just say la Cité phocéenne, dropping the “Marseilles” altogether. And it’s not overpopulated (pop approx 830,000). Marseilles also has a good football club. But Marseilles has always been France’s “gansta” city: Somehow, when I think of Marseilles, I see a Borsalino hat …

Anyway, it will be the fourth time that a French city becomes European Capital of Culture. The first was Paris (1989). Then it was Avignon (2000), and then Lille (2004).

And, here is a bit of gossip – do remember you read it here first – Marseilles fancies hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

3 Responses

7-30-2008 at 14:28:00

Marilyn,

Yes, politics creep in everywhere.

Tony Stevens from Bristol

7-31-2008 at 12:19:00

Just what is involved in a city of culture. Are we talking theatre and arts or what? My memory of Marseilles, which admittedly goes a long way back, there wasn’t too much culture there at the time.

7-31-2008 at 21:17:00

Gynie, from Bordeaux :

well well well ! Bordeaux the nice, Bordeaux the grand, Bordeaux the little futur Paris. New prestigious Hotels, a brand new Tramway, a new port and so many new things i’ve discovered on the 14th july with fireworks day. The goal is obviously, and so said Juppé to attract rich people and to challenge Toulouse for the culture. The 17th century town center is a good patrymoni… ANd th wind a so nice shop-window for the European show. And also the conference about south has taken place in Bordeaux, in weird back glance with old place of black slavery and english invasion … (vive Alienor d’aquitaine !^^)

People want to sell their wine and food in here i think !
Talking about that :One of my work coleague lives in the center of Bordeaux, and when sarkosy came in, it was so incredible. The whole center of the town, even the pedestrian streets have been cleared up. No one was allowed, and tramway have been cut for him. She tought some nuclear things happens, she felt so frightened ! We learned that some policemen had even been placed in the main sewer from the center ! We had circulation problem the whole day, and shop had no clients for the most part of the day … a bit too much ? nooo ? ^^

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