Patras and the chronicle of a lost opportunity to bask in the spotlight

Last week Patras became the third Greek city to enjoy the distinction of Cultural Capital of Europe, following the designations of Athens (1985) and Thessaloniki (1997). The official opening of the exhibition «Leonardo da Vinci, Inventor and Scientist» in the exhibition area of the otherwise ruined former Ladopoulos paper mill by Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis was the start of the most ambitious undertaking ever made by the capital of Achaia in its modern history. In theory, Patras seemed like a perfect cultural capital. With a medium-sized population, it is not well known in the rest of Europe, has high unemployment levels caused by deindustrialization in recent years and a corresponding shortfall in development. At the same time, with its privileged geographical position, talented but but underutilized human resources and extremely active university, Patras could claim what the cultural capital «package» offers: an opportunity for inclusion, first of all in pan-European economic and cultural networks and particularly in the quest for a new development model that is in tune with the area’s economic reality. To be frank, Patras was right out of luck. This does not mean that all is lost, nor does it denigrate the efforts being made at the very last minute. Let’s agree that the city was unlucky. Patras began its effort when the entire state mechanism was struggling to meet another serious and much greater challenge, that of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. It was to be expected that Patras would take a back seat. Only when the Olympic dust settled did we realize how much precious time had been lost. Moreover, the institution of the cultural capital had been tarnished by the experience of Thessaloniki, when a multitude of allegations were made about bad management, some of which found their way into court. Patras had to rise to the occasion. And in times of panic, like those those that followed 2004, composure and common sense are the first things to go. Inevitably, the worst side emerged: local discord, personal ambitions and political skirmishes, nurtured by the political mosaic of the area. The mayor and prefect are from PASOK; the artistic director was formerly a PASOK minister; and the coordinator of the organization is close to New Democracy and the government. To a certain extent, the climate of suspicion between Thanos Mikroutsikos, the artistic director, and Christos Roilos, coordinator of the organization’s executive committee, sprang from potent political passions being injected into the situation. Local factions were divided according to their liking – or dislike – for the artistic director. Political passions Choices inevitably create camps of the pleased and the displeased, and Patras was no exception. And the smaller the glass, the greater the storm. Soon the issue of the cultural capital became the top story in the Patras news, and in the worst possible manner. Accusations, insults and rumormongering were rife. Hence Mikroutsikos’s resignation a few days ago came as no surprise. The misfortune was that it worsened the already heavy atmosphere hanging over the bewildered citizens of Patras as they observe what was promised to be a great opportunity degenerating into a third-rate television spectacle. But the Greek temperament should not be underestimated. The gloomy atmosphere is almost certain to change with the first events and especially the coming of the carnival period.

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