Vojko Obersnel, Source: Rijeka Municipality

I invite all our European friends to pay us a visit in Rijeka during 2020

I invite all our European friends to pay us a visit in Rijeka during 2020

Interview with Vojko Obersnel, Mayor of Rijeka about the title European Capital of Culture 2020

Mayor Obersnel, 2020 will be a very exciting year for you as mayor and for the citizens of Rijeka. More joy or more responsibility carries the title “European Capital of Culture”?           

I would say these two are inseparable. Naturally, we are both proud and joyful. However, there's considerable responsibility in regard to managing the entire project. Presently we are in a period of presenting the culture and arts programmes through which we shall be carrying the title of European Capital of Culture in 2020. Also, we are currently finalizing the construction and renovation of industrial heritage buildings that will become the new homes for our cultural institutions, which is another part of this project.

The programme that we have prepared for 2020 is conceived in a manner that enables us to present Rijeka and its specifics to the citizens of Europe, simultaneously focusing on the actual European cultural and social issues. Regarding the implementation of this goal, three themes have been chosen as the main axes of the programme intertwining Rijeka and contemporary Europe: water, work, and migrations.

Our 2020 programme tackles these three themes in a variety of ways, both directly and symbolically, through art exhibitions, theatre plays, operas, round tables, conferences, concerts, festivals, guest performances of international and Croatian artists, projects undertaken by local culture protagonists, construction, renovation and refurbishment of various spaces, installation of sculptures, book promotions, meetings between the people of Rijeka and the people of Europe. I would like to use this opportunity to invite all our European friends to pay us a visit during 2020!

The motto of the program is "Port of Diversity”. What is the message you want to spread across Europe and the world?

Rijeka is a symbol of the spirit of freedom and progressive ideas, a dynamic city where everyone is always welcome. Its geographic location historically exposed it Mediterranean, Mitte European and East European influences, and hence it came to resemble a miniature Europe. Furthermore, during the last hundred years our city has been developing under as much as seven different states.

Is there a bigger proof that the latter also posits us as the port of diversity? This is our history, as well as our present - it’s our way of life. We are sending out the message on accepting diversity, on necessity of solidarity and togetherness. Yet, this is not our only message. Our cultural and artistic programme for 2020 is divided into seven thematic blocks, the so-called programme flagships. Their titles connote their chosen domains and their target audiences. Each of those thematic blocks conveys its own respective messages to both Europe and the world.

The "Sweet & Salt“ flagship enables the new architectural and urban development of areas that will modify Rijeka by the sea (Salt) and by the Rječina River (Sweet), which flows through the city centre. These programmes, centring on the significance of space, show different ways in which architecture and art open the doors of overlooked places, create new areas for citizens to move and meet and breathe life into spaces that deserve to be alive.

Lungomare Art is a flagship that brings visible spatial change in the wider area of Kvarner, a bay that encloses Rijeka with coastal towns and a multitude of islands. In this area, renowned and acclaimed international and Croatian artists are making and installing various permanent art sculptures. Thus, the European Capital of Culture programme provides a new cultural tourism route in Kvarner as part of the Lungomare Art flagship.

The Kitchen of Diversity tackles the issue of migration and minorities – from emigrants, immigrants and national minorities to various social minority groups. The festivals and events included in this flagship send the message that the fear of those who are different than us should give way to accepting and getting to know them.

Dopolavoro or after work is a flagship that deals with the notion of work in the modern age and the technology that constantly transforms human work. Rijeka boldly touches on the topic of work with these events, since the future of work is one of the greatest challenges to the future of the European population.

Seasons of Power is a flagship that showcases the tumultuous history of the powerful forces that have traversed and controlled Europe. This is also the European history of the conquerors and the conquered. As well as the power that has influenced and keeps influencing the development of culture and the arts. All of Europe needs to confront historical and contemporary forces of power and Rijeka and this portion of the European Capital of Culture programme provides a cultural vehicle for this.

Children's House is the sweetest part of the European Capital of Culture programme and encompasses everything intended for children in Rijeka in 2020. These programmes stimulate the imagination and daydreaming, invite play and laughter. The motto “With them, not just for them” is the best illustration of the method and approach to creating a children's programme, whose core idea is that children who are given the opportunity to develop their creativity may go on to build a new and better world in which we would want to live.

And finally, the "27 Neighbourhoods" flagship connects people, customs and lifestyles from the islands, the coast, the outback, the highlands and the city of Rijeka. Croatian "neighbourhoods" (cities, municipalities, and towns) collaborate with 27 European "neighbourhoods" – cities and towns – and this project will be presented at the Neighbourhood Festival in 2020. The connection of European citizens sharing the same cultural heritage is one of the core ideas of the European Capital of Culture project.

How are you planning to improve international visibility as well as the city’s and region’s profile?

By winning the title of The European Capital of Culture, Rijeka has already been inscribed onto the map of European cities of culture. Of course, this is not enough. International visibility, city’s and region’s profile will be achieved chiefly through the already established collaboration with over 250 Croatian and international organizations, whom we cooperate within the programme production.

In 2020 artists and partners from as much as 40 European and world countries will come to Rijeka. During the entire year, Rijeka and its surrounding area will host around 600 culture and art events. I believe these numbers in and by themselves point at the significantly improved international visibility of both city and region.

Please share some of the surprises you have prepared for residents and guests of Rijeka next year.

The Opening of the European Capital of Culture will take place on 1 February 2020, within the symbolic and historical centre of the city: its anchorage point – the port. Since this is the time of year when International Rijeka Carnival – one of the world’s most famous carnivals – takes place, the Port of Diversity will also become an area with a different face and character. Daily scenes, immovable and movable objects in the port, as well as industrial and marine materials and tools will be transformed into diverse artistic installations.

Regarding the huge number of culture and art events that will take place during 2020, it is hard to single out those most significant. Therefore, I will highlight just a handful.

Throughout the year, we will be hosting art exhibitions by world-renowned visual artists, starting with David Maljković, one of Croatia’s most distinguished contemporary artists.

Gustav Klimt, one of the most famous painters in the entire European art history, will be presented by his early works including paintings he made for the Rijeka Theatre in 1884, as well as many preparatory sketches that are presently scattered around various world collections and usually hard to see. Another big name is neo-avant-garde artist Nan Hoover, whose retrospective will be hosted by our Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka in cooperation with the Nan Hoover Foundation in Amsterdam.

Gala concerts will showcase the stars from the global music scene’s stages. The first in the row of these concerts is French wind ensemble Les Vents Francais. After that, the awarded Venice Baroque Orchestra and Carmignola will play Vivaldi on Stradivarius. Nomadic international music collective Mahler Chamber Orchestra & Norwegian Pianist Leif Ove Andsens will present themselves with Mozart Momentum.

In a gala programme featuring the works of Richard Wagner, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila will revive her roles from spectacular guest performances on the stages of major opera houses worldwide. By the end of 2020, Rijeka and its visitors will have a chance to enjoy the performance of Elina Garanča, one of the world’s greatest young opera stars.

What is the biggest challenge in organizing such a large-scale event?

The biggest challenge is to maintain high-quality and productive collaboration between such a large number of partner organizations. This is obviously a huge task, and though I personally play no role in this part of the project, I definitely perceive and understand it. People working on this project are extremely dedicated and invest tremendous effort. Therefore, I believe that in 2021 we shall be incommensurably richer in experience, knowledge and skills that we shall acquire in this entire process.

Did you seek support and exchanged experience with other mayors holding the title European Capital of Culture in previous years?

Certainly. During the preparation period, I have already met lots of the mayors of cities that have previously been the European Capitals of Culture. What I’ve learned is that each city had its own peculiar experience in this matter. On the surface, everything may appear similar, but for each city this title is something that happens for the first time, only once. Thus, all those experiences are actually unique. I was lucky that all the mayors I’ve met shared many useful advises.

You and your team have already entered the final organizational and infrastructural preparation for the European Capital of Culture 2020, whom do you want to thank?

Actually, a lot of people! I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone who is a part of this big project and carry a large portion of the organizational burden. Yet, my heartfelt thanks got to the citizens of Rijeka who have clearly demonstrated that they care about the reputation of their own city and see this project as both challenge and opportunity. As you can imagine, the list of those I would like to thank is rather large and I don’t want to leave out anyone, so please allow me to mention all of those people, organizations, and institutions who have been involved in ECoC in one way or the other.   

First, I would like to thank the strategic partners of the City of Rijeka in the implementation of the European Capital of Culture project - the Government of the Republic of Croatia, Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, the University of Rijeka and the Rijeka Tourist Board. Then there’s RIJEKA 2020 d.o.o. company, which was founded for the purpose of implementing the project and is presently the main hub of all activities.

Our main programme partners and organisers include the Croatian National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc of Rijeka, DeltaLab - Centre for Urban Transition, Architecture and Urban Planning (the University of Rijeka), Drugo more, Rijeka, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka, the City Museum of Rijeka, Art-kino, Rijeka, the Rijeka City Puppet Theatre, the Rijeka City Library, the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral, Rijeka and the Croatian House of Culture in Sušak. Apart from the main partners, there are 252 other organisations from Croatia and abroad listed as co-organisers, co-producers, and partners who all deserve acknowledgment.

Likewise, there is a large number of cultural associations and organisations, which have proposed a total of 380 cultural features for 2020, are also involved in the project. Out of all the proposals, 55 programmes by various cultural associations, art organisations, companies and individuals have been earmarked for funding and carrying the ECoC programme designation, thus becoming an integral part of the project.

ECoC project instigated the foundation of the PartneRI Business Club, with entrepreneurs and companies that participate in all economic activities and are willing to finance cultural events eligible for membership.

As part of the European Capital of Culture flagship named Classroom, more than 30 training programmes in the area of culture and cultural event organisation have been held, involving 122 national and international lecturers and 1455 attendees, who have acquired a wide range of knowledge, skills and experience regarding cultural management, audience development and the utilisation of space and technology in culture.

A wide range of individuals and citizens' groups engaged in the proposal of small-scale urban greenery projects and cultural and social events in neighbourhoods by submitting almost 150 small-scale projects.

57 different public events concerning environmental protection, civic activism, solidarity development, etc. were held during the preparation period. A total of 64 lecturers, mentors and panellists and almost 900 civic attendees participated in the programme.

The Co-working Space that was opened at RiHub in Rijeka as part of the ECoC project has been used by 215 people.

A number of volunteers are also participating in the project and the invitation to join the ECoC project will remain permanently open because the noble and proud energy of volunteers is an important cog in every large organisation.

Find out more about Rijeka here



Growing City


Smart City


Green City


Social City


New European Bauhaus




ECP 2021 Winner TheMayorEU