2011 European Capitals of Culture join forces to save Baltic Sea

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The Finnish city of Turku and Tallinn in Estonia – European Capitals of Culture for 2011 – have decided to cooperate to draw wider attention to the poor state of the Baltic Sea.

Turku and Tallinn share approximately ten mutual projects to showcase their geographical proximity as well as cultural and ethnic affinity. According to the organisers, the cities want in particular "to bring the status of the Baltic Sea to wider European attention".

The Baltic has suffered from decades of pollution caused by untreated sewage and chemical pollutants, including agricultural waste, which causes blooms of algae that choke marine life.

Among the joint projects to be organised is the Night of the Ancient Bonfires in August. The idea is to join people together in a chain of bonfires with a promise of concrete action to save and protect the endangered Baltic Sea.

Traditionally, people living in the archipelago have lit bonfires on the last Saturday of August to bid the summer farewell, but in ancient times, bonfires along coastal areas were used to deliver messages, such as warnings of imminent threats.

In addition to the cities' joint green ventures, cooperation in tourism development is also taking place and some travel agencies are proposing packages that allow tourists to enjoy cultural events in both capitals.

The two cities will also join forces for the Turku-Tallinn Fashion Awards, which target students of clothing design.

Cultural prescriptions

Turku 2011 has also focused on the issue of 'well-being'.

The organisers stress that culture can have a positive impact on mental and physical well-being and doctors from Turku's health services are set to distribute over 5,000 cultural prescriptions – free admission tickets to European Capital of Culture events.

Indeed, the slogan for Turku's Capital of Culture year is 'Culture does good'.

As for the Estonian capital, the theme for Tallinn 2011 is 'Stories of the Seashore', in line with the city's seaside location. The organisers hope to reconnect the sea to the city and highlight the importance of its harbour to Estonians.

Until 1991, the end of the Soviet Union's reign over Estonia, Tallinn's shores were a restricted military zone and people were not allowed to go to the seaside.

Turku 2011's budget amounts to some €50 million, with €18 million of contributions from both the City of Turku and the state, €1.5 million coming from the EU and the rest provided by business, ticket revenue and donations from various foundations.

The Tallinn 2011 budget is only a third of that of Turku 2011 – €16 million. The original budget was supposed to be €36 million, but the financial crisis meant the organisers had to cope with far less.

The European Capitals of Culture scheme was created by the EU in 1985 and has since become one of the most prestigious and high-profile features on Europe's cultural calendar.

According to the European Commission, a city is not chosen to be Capital of Culture solely for what it is, but mainly for what it plans to do throughout the year. Its programme for the year must not only be exceptional but also meet specific criteria.

Candidates must fulfil three main criteria: integrating a true European dimension, reinforcing cooperation among EU countries with public support and highlighting the city's role in developing culture in Europe. 

Successful candidates must also devise a programme with a lasting impact that contributes to the long-term cultural, economic and social development of the city concerned.

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