Hometown Baia Mare stands a good chance to become the European Capital of Culture 2021

Comes September 16 2016, a Romania’s Ministry of Culture special committee reunites in an attempt to pick the city to become one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2021. My little Transylvanian hometown Baia Mare is shortlisted alongside three other big cities, and it stands a good chance to get the title!

the logo for Baia Mare's candidacy to European Capital of Culture 2021.
The logo for Baia Mare European Capital of Culture 2021.


All the bid books (deadline was August 13, 2016)  are available in English and represent, ultimately, an up-to-date reflection of the long & positive journey these four cities took for the last 26 years ago, since the fall of communism in Romania.

Baia Mare, my hometown of 120,000 people or so, is competing against all odds.

The city is currently in the news for the wrong reasons, with its mayor, Catalin Chereches, being re-elected last June while in jail. He was arrested following a bribery flagrant last April. He is awaiting his trial. More, the city’s chief architect was recently arrested for corruption. Two critical stakeholders of the bid are now putting at serious risk the initiative they so dearly supported.

Of the good things that were done in the city in advance of the 2021 project, some are subject to mismanagement or plain indifference. I visited the award-winning renovated Fortress Square in August 2015, only to be swiftly dispatched off the grass where I was resting, because “the big boss said grass access is only for weddings and special occasions” (alluding to the mayor). On a hot Monday afternoon in June 2016 I finally got to visit the superbly renovated medieval Stephen Tower that anchors the said square, not before being scolded – in front of my wife and son – out of the blue by an overheated employee hiding outdoor in the shadow, when I politely asked to enter the Tourism Bureau located at the base.  That employee had the key and, you see, it was too hot in there for her to open the door for a tourist. What if the tourist needed a toilet break?

Finding information as a non-Romanian speaking tourist in Baia Mare is a challenge. The city’s official site, www.baiamare.ro, is Romanian only (it had an English version during Cristian Anghel‘s administration; he was the previous mayor, at odds with Catalin Chereches). No official English info available; not to speak of information in the language spoken by the bulk of the tourists visiting from Hungary and Ukraine, countries with borders within a one hour drive.

And finally, the Baia Mare 2021 Foundation, in charge of the bid, cannot seem to find an explanation for how the funds allocated by the City Council last December for a website (a pricey 20+k Euros compared to the web market in that part of the world) have vanished without a website being produced.

baia mare 2021
Stephen Tower serving as a background for the Baia Mare 2021 logo in this picture sourced from the foundation’s Facebook page.

It will be therefore a long way to go before tourists flock to Baia Mare in search of the “culture of hosting”, the Baia Mare 2021 foundation ‘s vision.

I spent last night reading’s my hometown’s 104-page bid, in English. It’s an exigent document in fluent English that does share a well-sought positive light on a city that had to go through 42 years of communism followed by 26 years of mega-industrial crash and confusion. One line  by the end of the document (page 102) – referring to the current volatile time in Europe and the challenge to the reason for a European Union – comes to mind first:

An unlikely context needs unlikely heroes. We have the power to find them and the determination to stay by their side.

If the meaning of the European Union’s competition (to designate a few cities every year as Cultural Capitals) is to awake dormant forces able to reinforce its raison d’etre, then Baia Mare is obviously the choice for Romania’s turn in 2021. Definitely a better option than any of the three other competitors (Cluj, Timisoara, Bucharest), each one a well established European cultural destination by now.

If Baia Mare wins the designation, open are the gates  for the world to truly discover miraculous Maramures, the land that Baia Mare serves as a gate-of-entry for. In the words of Robert D. Kaplan (In Europe’s Shadow, 2016):

(while in Maramures) I thought not of painting but of music: Saint-Saens, Debussy, with their spare and haunting notes, touching you for moments after.

Go Baia Mare!

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