Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Tough Sell

A neat idea was put into effect in 1985 by the European Council of Ministers. In order to ‘contribute to bringing the peoples of Europe together’, the European City of Culture programme was launched. Each year a European city was to be selected and everyone would visit and spend lots of money and be impressed by all the culture. Florence, Madrid, Paris, Geneva and Rotterdam have all been singled out over the years and have all benefited from increased civic pride and massive tourism. As the obvious cities have already been awarded this coveted honour, cities that are not considered to have ‘culture’ as their middle name are working hard to get a place on this prestigious roster. So as not to offend anyone, the award is spread around Europe; 2008 is the next year for the United Kingdom. Belfast is gearing up for an all out assault on the prize.

It might be said that Belfast has a bit of a brand image problem. The Europa is fondly known as the ‘most bombed hotel in the world’ after years of violence in the never ending saga of the Irish Troubles. If that’s the test, Srebrenica wouldn’t get an honourable mention. Belfast has more outdoor artwork and massive murals and frescoes than Sienna - and they proudly display the city’s unique culture. Rather than portray Biblical scenes or classical allegories, they depict the symbols of the various paramilitary groups who have been happily shooting at each other for the past 30 years. Then, of course, there are the Peace Walls. These have been erected around town to prevent Protestants and Catholics from kneecapping each other and have clearly outlined neighbourhoods of religious tribalism. The resulting ghettos might give Warsaw a run for its money. Clearly, the brand needs a bit of polishing. The recent bank robbery, netting £23 million for the IRA, has also had a somewhat dampening effect.

There are, of course, efforts underway to step up to this problem. Much can be made of the fact that one is very unlikely to be shot in the University/Botanical area of the city. There are plans to hang draperies from the walls and even cut small doors into them to allow cultural tourists to pass from neighbourhood to neighbourhood on the walking fresco tour. However, there is a truly exciting idea being added to the competition. Belfast is an historic shipbuilding city and it was there, on 2 April, 1912, that the Titanic was launched. Shortly thereafter, the Titanic was sunk. 1,500 people were lost. Tragic memories of swamped lifeboats, floating deck chairs and broken families remain. It is too obvious to establish a memorial to the accomplishment of building that great ship or to the victims of that sad event. In an attempt to get Belfast on the map, the idea is not to commemorate the Titanic; the idea is to commemorate the iceberg. It is proposed that a huge iceberg will be towed to Belfast from Norway. Some might think that this is a bit like honouring the victims of the recent tsunami by building a memorial to the earthquake. Luckily icebergs are not potent religious symbols (except perhaps to Vikings). Whether you get your armalite from the Provisional IRA or your Kalashnikov from the Protestant Red Hand, an iceberg is not something to start a sectarian riot over.

Perhaps the iceberg can become a symbol of Belfast. The visible 10% will be all shiny and clean. The 90% under the waterline will need to be constantly patrolled to prevent loss of life in the area. Ultimately, Belfast deserves all of the prizes on offer. There is simply no city like it in Europe.


Blogger boudica of suburbia said...

Im not sure of the relevence of this post. Liverpool won the bid for Capital of Culture 2008 many, many months ago, on June the 4th to be exact. Belfast has not been a contender for a long while and did not even make it into the final 6. The bidding started in 2000... how old is this post?

xx Vc

12:32 PM  

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