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Majority of the activities of Rijeka 2020 – European Capital of Culture temporarily suspended

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the impossibility of carrying on with the implementation of cultural and artistic activities till further notice, most of the activities of Rijeka 2020 European Capital of Culture will be temporarily suspended. A new crisis project management proposal has been drafted. The RIJEKA 2020 company will carry on with necessary tasks with a minimal number of employees in order to complete payments linked with the programs and activities implemented so far, as well as to work on the preparation of those programs that will be able to take place once the confinement measures are no longer in place. The new program proposal jointly drafted by the City of Rijeka and RIJEKA 2020 LLT has been submitted to the Ministry of Culture and the Primorje – Gorski kotar County as basis for consultations and negotiations regarding the future implementation of the project.

RIJEKA, 17th April 2020 – The coronavirus pandemic has touched the whole world in a very rough way, it has deeply changed our way of life and has forced people into confinement and social distancing. The protection of human lives and the health of the humanity are now primary preoccupation of all national governments and all levels of societal management. The economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are far-reaching, and the impact of the crisis will for a long period be felt in all spheres of social activities. Culture hasn’t been exempted from this emergency, as well as the European Capital of Culture initiative.

It is certain that in the context of significantly reduced public budgets’ receipts following the implementation of coronavirus measures, the budgetary resources planned for the implementation of RIJEKA 2020 ECoC program will also be reduced. Therefore, a coronavirus crisis management plan for Rijeka 2020 ECoC project has been drafted, consisting of two phases.

In the first phase, the RIJEKA 2020 company that was founded for the preparation and the implementation of the ECoC program will continue with all necessary tasks with a minimum number of staff in order to complete all payments and obligations linked to programs that took place so far, as well as to prepare the second phase including those programs that will be able to be implemented after the end of the confinement measures.

The document that has been jointly drafted  by  the RIJEKA 2020 company and the City of Rijeka as the holder of the ECoC designation, was yesterday submitted to the Ministry of Culture and the Primorje – Gorski kotar county and it represents the basis for future talks regarding the financial framework  and the program implementation plan.

Significant staff and other costs reductions in RIJEKA 2020 company

In order to decrease losses in RIJEKA 2020 LLT during the temporary suspension of programs, a decision has been made to reduce its staff by 59 employees, with an open possibility for their return to work when conditions and need for different positions reappear. We are talking about mostly young, smart and energetic people who have significantly built their professional capacities and gained important experiences in cultural management, financing, marketing and communication while working for several years on the project preparation. Although temporary and till the reactivation of the program activities, this cost saving measure is a heavy blow the COVID 19 crises inflicted directly into the heart of the largest Croatian and European cultural project.

Emina Višnić, RIJEKA 2020 CEO, statement:

– In the context of the coronavirus crisis, in the past couple of weeks we have been intensely working on the reorganization and reshaping of the whole program we have been preparing for the year 2020. Together with the City of Rijeka, who is the formal holder of the ECoC title, we have examined several scenarios and possibilities and have drafted a proposal for a new project implementation plan that was yesterday submitted to our main partners and co-funders, the Ministry of Culture and the Primorje – Gorski kotar County. The plan consists of two phases: in the first phase, which is already in implementation, several necessary measures were put into place and the majority of ECoC activities were suspended for the moment. We are simultaneously preparing for the second phase when we plan to continue with the implementation of a part of the program within a framework that will be agreed upon with our strategic partners. Unfortunately, we were forced to undertake some difficult measures, like staff reduction to a minimum number of necessary employees. We hope it will be possible to return them to work on the project once conditions are there. For all of those who participated in making this decision it was a very difficult moment, and we are all well aware of all the work, knowledge, energy and passion all these people have given to the ECoC project, our city and many other places in the County, for which I would like to express my deep gratitude and my respect to all of them. We hope that all together we will very soon weather this crisis and the majority of our staff will be able to return to work and continue to contribute wholeheartedly to a new reshaped ECoC program, together with our partners and numerous citizens. We have been in communication with the city of Galway, who shares the same destiny with Rijeka and who was also forced to suspend an important number of the activities and to reduce their team to a bare minimum till further notice.

A small number of employees will continue to work in RIJEKA 2020 LLT on the completion of tasks and payments of financial obligations linked to programs and other activities implemented till mid- March, as well as on other necessary legal, financial and administrative matters. The team will also continue to work on programs, their reshaping and adaptation to new conditions and future implementation.

Consultations will be continued with many program partners, artists and other collaborators regarding future implementation of ECoC programs, as well as maintaining contacts with European partners and institutions, and the continuation of implementation of EU projects that are part of Rijeka 2020 activities. Communication with the public and media will be from now on organized via City of Rijeka Media Relations Service, while RIJEKA 2020 will continue with the production of online content for its web page and social media. Important costs reduction has also been made through cancellation of operations and services not necessary in the new coronavirus situation. Furthermore, all contracting with outside partners have been cancelled for activities that cannot be implemented in this period, as well as activities linked to international cooperation. A part of offices has been closed, and all material and overhead expenses reduced. The salaries for the remaining team and the management are also going to be reduced as part of saving measures.

Ivan Šarar, Head of the Department of Culture, City of Rijeka:

– Apart from RIJEKA 2020 company, cooperation with a part of staff in cultural institutions of the City of Rijeka that were employed for the implementation of ECoC activities is going to be temporarily interrupted. In this moment we would like to thank all those in the operational team of ECoC project together with its CEO for the huge job carried out in the preparation of the project and its implementation. All employees of RIJEKA 2020 company, as well as their partners in the cultural institution and numerous external organizations, have invested huge efforts and have prepared grounds for Rijeka to become a better city. Without maybe even being fully aware of it, we have had a short ECoC honeymoon at the beginning of the project, where we demonstrated the uncompromised character of Rijeka, Croatian and European culture. Regretfully, we cannot for the moment being continue according to the plans but knowing the knowledge and experience we have all gained over the past years, I’m sure there will soon be new opportunities to demonstrate what we can do.

Mayor Obersnel: The Rijeka 2020 – European Capital of Culture project hasn’t been dropped, but it needs to be adapted to new circumstances

As it is known, Rijeka as a ECoC has prepared a cultural and artistic program that would in 2020 represent Croatian culture to Europe, and would bring to Rijeka and the Primorje – Gorski kotar County a number of first-class  European and world artists, bringing contemporary European culture to local audiences. Based on seven program lines, the Rijeka ECoC programs spread messages of tolerance, acceptance of other. The need was underlined to bravely face periods of powers and different historical moments of Rijeka and Europe, as well as to imagine a possible future for Rijeka and Europe. The programs scrutinized the future of work in the era and disruptive changes and new technologies, it offered new temporary architectural installations on the seaside and along the river Rječina, giving new life to abandoned and inaccessible spaces in the center of the city. Theater performances, exhibitions, festivals, creative workshops and much more was planned for children. In the county area 27 neighborhoods were activated through culture and linked with 27 European cities, places and organizations. In the Kvarner area a new cultural and touristic itinerary was planned following new permanent contemporary-art sculptures. However, all these programs have now been put on hold, while we still must make decisions what and when we will be able to implement.

Vojko Obersnel, the Mayor of Rijeka, first Croatian city designated European Capital of Culture, statement

– We have been abruptly stopped in a moment when we were about to demonstrate our contribution to the European cultural richness and diversity, and our unity with Europe through messages of acceptance, freedom and openness. Unfortunately, instead of culture and spectacles that were to demonstrate the perspective of the Port of Diversity, the show has been stolen by the coronavirus pandemic that has paralyzed the world. Now we are forced to make painful decisions, but for the moment they are the only possible response in this crisis. We have not given up on ECoC project and will not drop it, but we need to view it in a new light. Therefore, I’d like to remind us of the original motivation that led Rijeka from the bid to the designation, and that is the legacy of the project that does not only include infrastructural projects. Knowledge, skills, engagement and all the efforts that have so far been woven into the project by the entire Rijeka 2020 team are our valuable assets, which make even harder the decision we had to make. However, I hope, and I believe that all members of the team who will be ready to continue working on the project will be invited to continue when the circumstances allow so.

Program revised, time and financial framework for the implementation unknown for the moment

In the view of extraordinary circumstances that has brought the ECoC project to a halt in March, the mayor of Rijeka formed a program body with a task to revise the total Rijeka 2020 program, in consultation with partners involved in the implementation of the project. Following a thorough analysis, new program goals were defined, as well as criteria and indicative list of programs to be implemented, along with new financial plans. However, the financial framework needs to be confirmed with the main co-funders, the City of Rijeka, Ministry of Culture and the Primorje – Gorski kotar County, while the timeline needs to be adapted to the epidemiological measures of the Republic of Croatia and the County presently in power.

The criteria for the reprograming were twofold, technical and thematic. Technically speaking, the feasibility of individual programs and the amount of the funds that have so far been invested, as well as the level of preparation of a project for implementation were examined. Thematically, the programs were approached regarding their material or immaterial legacy, and particularly regarding the citizens involvement both in the city of Rijeka and in the county. Furthermore, a particularly important element was the involvement of local independent artists, cultural associations, artistic organization and other actors on the local and national cultural and creative scene that were particularly affected by the present crisis.  Other important elements were the continuous work of the local cultural institutions, contribution of programs to the general messages of the Rijeka 2020 ECoC and their potential for creating positive atmosphere and contribution to building social ties in the post- coronavirus and the post-confinement period.

Emina Višnić, Rijeka 2020 CEAO commented on this part of the reprogramming:

– It is extremely difficult after years of careful planning and working on such a complex project to do a complete revision of everything in just a few weeks, as well as to face the fact that we will be unable to implement some programs, or the uncertainty of possibilities and timeline for the implementation of many others. We have done the best we could, taking care that by preserving certain programs we also preserve the national cultural scene and local creative production. In this situation it is one of our responsibilities. Through the revision of the program, a part from cancelling certain parts, we also offered a possibility for introduction of new programs that will thematically speak about COVID 19 crisis, because if anybody, culture and arts have potentials to anticipate new era that is coming after this crisis and to offer a new perspective of social relations. It is now crucial to realize the ECoC, although it cannot fulfill all its set goals, can certainly play an important role by focusing on the social impacts of the project on local communities and national cultural scene. In the same time, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the ECoC project can also play an important role for the Croatian tourism, offering contents and messages that will help bring back visitors to our places and cities, to our coast and islands. Finally, although it is difficult to maintain the European dimension in the present conditions, I hope that the EU institutions will recognize the importance of, not only ECoC initiative, but the European cultural cooperation in general as one of the main builder of European citizenship and solidarity, that will be much needed once the pandemic starts to recede, and that concrete emergency financial measures will be released to encourage this cooperation.

European dimension of the project

Besides  continuous work on the project with an aim to implement a part of the activities this year after the confinement, Rijeka has been in communication with the Irish city of Galway regarding a possibility to implement part of the program in 2021, in parallel to other EcoCs.

However, this has to be officially confirmed by the European Union institutions since it’s not only a technical question regarding the time framework for the implementation of the programs, but is also a question regarding the preservation of the European dimension of the project in conditions when travelling and cross border creations are impossible as well as in the context of reduced national and local budgets for the programs in both cities in 2020. In that sense, it would be necessary the European institutions bring emergency measures for cultural cooperation on European level, in order to preserve strong European dimension. It has to be kept in mind that ECoC initiative contributes to the strengthening of the European identity, the sense of unity and solidarity on European level, values that are going to be more than ever important for the overcoming social consequences of  the coronavirus crisis.


The general public will continue to be informed on further strategic decisions and plans linked to the development of Rijeka 2020 ECoC project, through media.