NEWS

Despite high-profile roster most denizens indifferent

How are the locals in Patras responding? Most are indifferent, still stuck in their favorite cafes. That was where I began my tour of the city. «Look, we’re interested, we check things out. We’ve been to most of the events that have taken place so far, but in general the city is not involved,» said Niki, 25. «The students most of all – they’re not interested in anything,» added her sister Andrianna, a medical student. There are plenty of people in the shops, on the sidewalks and in the squares. A considerable number have come from surrounding areas to go shopping, but not to see a particular event. Like Costas Vagenas from Agrinion, who came to Patras on the day of the concert by the famous soprano Kiri Te Kawana: «I came for business. I don’t know if there’s anything on today. People don’t hear about the events, not even in the neighboring prefectures.» When you ask the locals about the Cultural Capital, it’s like opening a can of worms. From Eros Ramazzotti to Thanos Mikroutsikos, from Leonardo da Vinci to the former culture minister, the mayor and Roberto Benigni, they have a bad word for everyone, for every event, and they hint that they have been defrauded. It was as if I was observing an ongoing struggle between Patras and the Cultural Capital. The truth is that the locals had invested many hopes in the institution – hopes that the city and their lives would change. «The biggest wager to boost the country’s image after the Olympic Games» was how Petros Tatoulis, then deputy culture minister, described Patras in August 2004. The initial low budget from the Culture Ministry, the still-unfinished infrastructure, the last-minute work on roads and buildings, the late delivery of projects and, worse still, the ones that will not be ready at all this year, have made those hopes evaporate. «Our city doesn’t look like the Cultural Capital, no matter what we do. It is probably a lost opportunity for Patras,» said store owner Leonidas Efraimidis. The cool-headed say the problems began right from the beginning. From 1998, when the EU named Patras the Cultural Capital for 2006, until February 2004, absolutely nothing was done. Not one euro was disbursed for the purposes of the Cultural Capital. No studies were done, no plans made, no discussion held among those official bodies in the city. The organization Patras Cultural Capital of Europe 2006, which was to implement the major project in collaboration with the municipality and which could arrange contracts with artists, was not set up until March 2005. When things finally got moving, most of the projects were assigned to the Municipality of Patras, which (given the time-consuming procedures typical of local government) was unable to met the projects’ pressing deadlines or demanding requirements. The outcome was that work has not yet begun on the much desired Anichto Theatro, the ASO currant warehouses, the old campsite at Aghia and the Municipal Hospital that was to have been an art gallery. It will be a miracle if they are ready by 2008. «The city’s basic problems have not been solved. Like the traffic, the parking problem, and the beach, which is cut off by the railway lines. There is a reason why all those things weren’t done. Without strategy, without planning, a municipality with huge problems was allowed to handle the institution of the Cultural Capital. There wasn’t even any technical help,» said Mr Gikas, a member of the city council. «The climate was wrong from the beginning. The indifference you see everywhere was constant indignation not long ago,» said Yiannis Mantas, manager of the local radio station Radiofono 3. «The person responsible for this was [former Cultural Capital director Thanos] Mikroutsikos, who fed people with false expectations when he knew that he wouldn’t have the money or the time to carry them out. «And the local media are also responsible for encouraging the public to grumble and be mistrustful; they criticized whatever was done. We all hope that things will improve in the summer when there are more events and that the city’s image will be saved.»