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President visits Narva for introduction of 2024 culture capital campaign

At the introduction of Narva's candidacy for the 2024 European Capital of Culture, President Kersti Kaljulaid said that Narva doesn't deserve its reputation as a depressing place, but that the city has a lot of potential and needs help to get out of what she called its post-industrial trap.

The city's campaign begins at the Narva Town Hall, the aim is to become Europe's capital of culture in the year 2024. In addition to Narva, Tartu is running for the title as well. The president told ERR's Vikerraadio on Tuesday that in her opinion this competition is good for both places.

"Both cities are dear to me. One is my university town, the other I've felt sorry for all my life. I'm sure that the process to become the capital of culture will help bring new life to Narva, which is something this post-industrial city needs very much," Kaljulaid said.

According to the president, she has been looking forward to living and working in Narva for a month, which she will do later on this year. That security concerns would ever be an issue is something she wouldn't have imagined, Kaljulaid added.

"How is Narva less safe than for example Kuressaare?" the president asked. "I go to Narva to be with the people here. And to show that Narva is a place that is close to the heart of a common individual who finds that Narva has been treated unfairly. Narva isn't a depressing place. Narva is a city that is caught in the typical post-industrial trap, and we'll have to climb out of it all of us together."

Though the city has a long way to go to become the 2024 capital of culture, a lot has changed already, Kaljulaid pointed out. "In terms of salaries, Narva belongs in the Estonian average. Where 15 years ago it was hard to find a cafe in Narva, today it's a lot better. Tourists are naturally interested in the place as well, and already today there is plenty of culture in Narva," she said.

The president added that the Town Hall and the Narva Museum would be fixed up soon as well.

Founder of Tallinn Music Week and supporter of the city's campaign, Helen Sildna, finds that Narva has potential as a post-industrial city and that creative businesses are a good fit for it.

"Industry will never return here, just like it will never return to any other post-industrial city in Europe," Sildna said. "A new motor needs to be found to get things going, and culture, creativity, and small business is the way to go. Narva could be an open playground for creative and entrepreneurial people," she added.

A great challenge of the campaign would be to communicate the project to the city's residents. "Naturally we haven't managed to talk to all 60,000 residents one by one, but the locally active community is very excited," Sildna said, adding that St. Petersburg is just 150 km away, and that with a better reason to stop by, more people could likely be expected from there as well.

According to Ragnar Siil, who is also volunteering to support the project, the changed procedure to select the capital of culture supports cities like Narva. "Ten years ago the system changed. Where the countries picked them before, which is also how Tallinn was selected, over the last decade there has been a committee but together by the European Union that has selected the cities," Siil said.

This had brought with it the fact that cities were picked that had their own problems and challenges to overcome and find solutions to them. "So the title of Capital of Culture isn't an award for efforts over the previous years, but a chance to bring about change. In Narva the potential for positive change is greater than elsewhere," he added.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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