Theatre Festivals as Part of Cultural Tourism

Music and film festivals have become an increasingly growing crowd-pullers, as part of cultural tourism worldwide. In addition to international sports events, or political protests it is basically the only place where you can gather thousands of people who have something in common. Pohoda in Trenčín is the best known Slovak music festival, and the Art Film Fest in Košice is one of the most prominent film festivals. Some of us buy tickets for high-profile cultural events a couple of months in advance, we plan our days off for those days and want to fully enjoy the atmosphere and selection of the best pieces. We set aside some money because we know that in addition to the tickets, there will be many other expenses. Accommodation, food, transportation, souvenirs. If there is some free time during festival, we can look around the area and we learn that there is also an excellent art gallery, and in a short walk’s time there is a beautiful castle, there is an interesting museum right around the corner, and maybe we will stop in a water park on the way back.

However, besides music and film festivals, theatre/performing art festivals are worth mentioning, too. Festival d’Avignon in France is the oldest and largest theatre festival in the world. Held regularly since 1947, when founded by director Jean Vilar, the festival gives performing art enthusiasts the opportunity to come to dozens or hundreds of theatre plays, street performances, and various side events of all genres, all through July every year. The event is among the most prestigious events of the year and the French are aware and proud of that. In one month, more than 100,000 spectators from around the world come to visit Avignon. The participants include ensembles from almost all countries, creating a unique space for confrontation of nations, languages, and cultures, in particular. In July, Avignon becomes the Mecca of theatre and everyone must come there at least once in their lifetime.

In Slovakia, we have a similar opportunity to enjoy contemporary performing art, too, only to a much lesser extent. The Divadelná Nitra festival can be considered the largest performing art festival in Slovakia. According to statistics, there were just over 6,000 participants in 2017. As part of its main programme, it offers only a few foreign ensembles within a week’s time, and, moreover, after 19 years of the festival, Nitra lost the privilege of awarding every season’s performing art awards – DOSKY (the “STAGE BOARDS”). Starting from 2015, the awards ceremony has moved to the Slovak National Theater in Bratislava, and so Nitra lost what had been previously considered as the top moment of the festival.

In order to raise the artistic level and show us, Slovaks, more of the big world of theatre, the management of the Slovak National Theater (SND) decided in 2014 to start a festival called The European Theatre Festival of SND has got a nature of a biannual event, alternating drama theatre with music and dance theatre. To a large extent, however, the programme includes domestic plays, while performances by ensembles from abroad represent a minor part only. It would be too naive to think that there are any visitors travelling from abroad with a specific purpose of seeing our theatre festivals, perhaps except a few individuals.
Well then, is there is a theatre festival in Slovakia, which would have the potential to develop cultural tourism? Sure, all of our festivals have got the potential, but to what extent it is their intention? Probably there is a prevailing ambition to attract foreign participants, but not foreign visitors. To a certain extent, it is also connected with the programme itself. We know that when we are going to a festival, we are attracted to big names, interesting titles or something “exotic”. In the Central European area, however, there is a unique festival that meets these parameters. It takes place in Bratislava every two years from 1997 and it is organised by the Faculty of Theatre Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. We are talking about the Istropolitana Projekt festival. It is a meeting platform for prospective theatre professionals and for confrontation among young artists from domestic and foreign artistic schools. In its history, the festival presented over 100 schools from all over the world, including Israel, the U.S., Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Italy, India, Russia, Indonesia, Iran, the Czech Republic and many other countries. There were more than 200 different performances and participants includes celebrities such as Baz Luhrmann. In comparison with the aforementioned Slovak theatrical festivals we are talking about an accumulation of the largest number of foreign ensembles. On average, there are about 15 ensembles, which in combination with big names, carefully selected titles, and exoticism in the form of the participating countries, creates perfect conditions for attracting many visitors, including from abroad. Nevertheless, the Istropolitana Projekt still remains, to put it mildly, a closed festival intended mainly especially for the participants. Is the evidenced by the fact that the festival’s name resonates particularly in professional theatre environment, or in individual schools, which participate regularly. It would be interesting to see what would be the outcome of making the festival more open and accessible to the public. Now that we have it.

Denis Farkaš

The Cultural Oxygen online quarterly project was supported from public funds by the Arts Council (Fond na podporu umenia)

Slovakia on the Lonely Planet Map

In the tourism industry, we have very clear, quantitative indicators of how (un)successful we are in this area. We can talk about the number of overnight stays, the number of sites and events visited, i.e. the numbers of tickets sold, the amount of the levies in the form of accommodation taxes for local budgets.

Tourism is also mapped by a specific statistical tool – a satellite account for this area, although we have to conclude that we have a problem finding up-to-date information for the last 4 years. This document maps out the impact of tourism on the economy of the State on the supply side – gross value added of the tourism sector, its share of GDP, the effect of tourism on employment in the economy.

Let’s try a less conventional approach and look at the indicators of success of the tourism sector through the lens of visitors, the target groups.

My own experience with travelling has lead me to building a collection of the publications by world famous Lonely Planet. When you are out in the world you will encounter many travellers who do not use all inclusive offers of travel agencies. They travel on their own, which is economically more advantageous, or more adventurous, anyway very popular thanks to the easy availability of information. Travellers share their experiences and observations on community Web sites, enabling people to better understand broad range of services. In addition, what they have in common is that there is a Lonely Planet guide of the country concerned at the top of their backpacks. The A5 format navigates the reader to places of interest, provides a basic overview of the history, culture, but, of course, it also provides practical advice and guidance on how to behave in the country, where to stay, eat, how much to pay for transportation, where to have fun and enjoy cultural activities.
And now some information – there is a guide to Poland (Krakow has a separate brochure), just like Hungary, with a focus on Budapest, the Czech Republic, with a focus on Prague, not to exclude Austria travel. There is no guide to Slovakia, or Bratislava. Slovakia is part of the publication titled “Europe”. No matter how much we believe that we belong to Central Europe, the book says we are one of the countries of “Eastern Europe”. There is no section on Central Europe anyway. And so we keep on looking for tips for travellers who opt for a Eastern Europe route. And once again we so not have any good news. Within a four-week itinerary, they will visit: Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Budapest, Transylvania, Bran, Kiev, Minsk, St. Petersburg. They cross Slovakia by train from Prague to Budapest. They will learn nothing about Bratislava. It is a logical deduction that only a visitor who spends more than 4 weeks travelling is likely to visit Slovakia? Or should Slovakia be on a different route that would logically result from the natural transport links? Slovakia is not missing on the Lonely Planet map, there are 14 pages about it in the guide, like about all the countries included. However, if you want to learn more, you can buy a country-specific publication and this is our Achilles tendon. Readers may start to believe that a few days are just enough for Slovakia, as there is merely a handful of interesting places. The Web site of the eponymous publishing house does not offer more information about Slovakia, that is yet another failure.

Lonely Planet authors include travellers with a passion for writing, photography, blogging, vlogging … from all over the world. We can consider the way they see us as their feedback for our cultural tourism.

Monitoring of feedback and responses abroad is a major indicator of the quality of a country’s tourism, and the quality of course delivers quantity.
LET US ASK A DIFFERENT QUESTION. What would we like to be written about our country a guide like this?

From the Barometer measurements we can learn that cultural attractiveness is (immediately after the price) the second most significant aspect of deciding on the choice of holiday destinations, or when choosing accommodation. The publication further states that if European tourists have to reduce their spending on holiday, then they do it at the expense of meals and shopping, but not at the expense of cultural and entertainment activities.
How would we like to present ourselves through culture? Questions that can be answered by the Ministry of Culture only, at the national level. Well, it is the smallest governmental department which is responsible for sufficient / insufficient quality and attractiveness of Slovak destinations. There is no point in blaming the lack of highways, airports, in adjusting prices of services up or down. Without a sound cultural policy in the field of cultural tourism we can just forget doing anything.

Jana Javorská

Cultural Tourism or To Whom Does Our Cultural Heritage Belong?

Since 1993, we have seen a tourist boom. The destinations include historic towns that have come to the attention of the major global tourist operators. The opening of Slovakia has brought capital investments after years of stagnation and isolation. In addition to pros, however, the negative aspects of commercialisation of the historic centres emerged very soon, with locals moving away from the hordes of tourists, voluntaristic handling of the national “sanctuaries”, attempts by developers outside the principles of heritage management, causing the first conflicts. This was not just about some drunken young men taking a bath in historic fountains.

Well then, is cultural tourism the engine of development of historical city centres and their heritage, or have we missed the chance to set clear rules years ago and forecast at least part of the problems that exist now or are about to emerge? Somehow I do not want to ask a question, unnecessary beforehand, why has the Ministry of Culture not taken part and initiated meetings across all departments when there had been no initiative by the Ministry of Economy? Should there be any interest in cultural tourism as a part of a cultural policy of the Ministry of Culture at all?

Cultural tourism in Slovakia is largely tied to visiting the rich cultural heritage that we have inherited (if we had not previously destroyed it barbarously) from generations of people and nations that lived in our today’s territory. However, this requires us to change our national fairy-tale canons and make our territory a part of the European cultural heritage. To create both legal and economic frameworks, involving a huge compromise between conservationist instincts and removing unnecessary obstacles. On the one hand, the protection of authenticity, which is still maintained, and, on the other hand, the borders of “macdonaldisation”, making the areas around our heritage sites uniform. One way or another, we catch the dog’s tail, because we are not able to be as dynamic as the tourist industry is. We must be aware that we will not be able to preserve everything we have inherited, but only what we have chosen to be “our heritage”. Therefore, we constantly stumble on the differences in the interpretation of cultural heritage and of its use. Inevitably, there are conflicts, because tourists may require a a different interpretation of the heritage. The cultural heritage from the perspective of tourists is different, but what they need most is for us to respond selectively and rapidly.
To remain interested, visitors need a series of products of varying quality, in the end, according to recent research, tourists spend most of the time in museums in nearby shops with copies. And all of this also depends on Lady Fashion. Cultural tourism is a very competitive environment and changes quickly, mostly towards eclecticism. How does it all work? Heritage sites do not need any tourists, yet cultural tourism needs heritage. Can our local communities agree on what and whose history they will offer to tourist, what and whose history want to see and which part of of the heritage will be hidden from consumption? In this field, the cultural community very much lags behind nature conservationists, who have more or less agreed on what to protect and where to allow the tourists to go. It is also necessary to take into account that when compared to the centuries of heritage, a tourist has a few hours, or at most two days of time reserved for a visit. Unfortunately, everything must be also entertaining to them.
Leisure activities and the related tourism have become a major social achievement after the World War I and introduction of eight-hour working time. By determining the borders of time spent working, the space where people can spend their free time has been democratised, too. When weekends became a thing, they were as common as flushing toilets. Tourism has become a vital source of money and a a nuisance at the same time. The 20th century made it possible for tourism to become a mass issue to which everyone entitled. However, we have to answer the fundamental question: is cultural tourism really tied with culture, or is it only an attraction, wrapped in a nice cultural package of the past? Does it accelerate degradation of space, or does it help maintain and protect? Are we on the road to a “mac-world” where everything is more or less the same, the same shops, the same sights? Can this be prevented? Can we create the conditions for the spiritual and physical learning about our culture? What is the exclusive right to the cultural capital of our territory we have? Do we see at all the territorial pissings by Hungarian wreaths across Slovakia?

In the ICP’s evaluation of Minister of Culture M. Maďarič we critically pointed to the fatally delayed arrival of cultural and creative industries in Slovakia, while we are still waiting for pilgrimage and mass-museum cultural industries. What to do about that?

Magda Vášáryová

Slovakia Struggling to Become a Popular Cultural Tourism Destination

Slovakia has a broad range of special and unique cultural amenities other countries would like to have to attract visitors. The rich history has produced beautiful cultural heritage. The high density of spectacular castles, impressive fortresses, mystical ruins, but also unique industrial heritage sites are real cultural tourism assets. Added up with the setting these attractions are situated in an attractive natural environment of mountains, hills and rivers is strengthening the attractiveness of the tourism product. Not to forget the living culture, which is well preserved, and still popular among the population like folkloristic dances, local music styles, as well as traditional crafts. All in one, Slovakia’s cultural product is distinctive, and something other countries can be jealous of.

A popular saying, especially used by policy-makers dealing with tourism development in Slovakia, is that Slovakia can offer visitors every kind of attraction, except for the sea. This would imply that Slovakia is a popular tourism destination competing with similar landlocked countries like Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic. Though Slovakia shows rather poor results compared to neighbouring countries when analysing the visitor and tourism statistics over the past decennia. The growth figures of the recent years can be considered as a positive trend, though are still very modest having in mind the potential of the country.

So how to place these facts in the frame of the ambition the country expresses in its policy documents to support cultural tourism?

The Ministry of Culture has defined its ambition in the Strategy for Cultural Development for the years 2014 – 2020 which lists seven priorities and accompanying measures in order to achieve its vision. In itself an ambitious strategic document, though bearing in mind the length of the programming period, available funding programs, and the country’s cultural assets, the strategy can be considered as a realistic plan to transform into action. Interesting from a cultural tourism perspective, is priority seven focusing on promoting culture as an attraction (SO7: Culture as a co-creator of the image of the country abroad) by new forms of presentation of culture as such. The underlying decisive factor to sell better the cultural product is creativity. Applying new approaches and forms of cooperation, new technology, is expected to boost the attractiveness cultural tourism. Here the term creative industries are being mentioned to boost the presentation and promotion, especially by linking to tourism as cited in the strategy as such: “The creative industry, its products and services to create a set of factors that stimulate tourism in a particular location. The increase in tourism is causing the expansion of the market for creative industry and sales thereafter. Linking tourism and creative industries is a global trend, as creative products and services contribute to the atmosphere and uniqueness of individual sites because of their specific value.”

Slovakia’s tourism development strategy up to 2020 approved in 2013 states that the country’s cultural, historical, and natural potential determines the main forms of tourism in a long perspective. One of the main pillars of Slovakia’s tourism product as outlined in the strategy is the cultural and city tourism, which has been divided into four product themes: cultural heritage, city and culture, events, and experience gastronomy.

To summarize; Slovakia has unique and distinctive cultural assets, the Government expresses clearly its ambition to support and develop culture and tourism, but how to explain that the potential and policy does not pay off for being a popular cultural tourism destination?

In this contribution to the Cultural Oxygen I would like to present my observations and findings how I see Slovakia struggling to exploit its cultural tourism potential since the time I have been visiting, living, and working in the country. During my first real research dating back in 1993, my Master’s thesis on tourism development in the Turiec region, I was wondering why the City of Martin, considered as the cultural center of Slovakia, did not profile and market itself with attractive cultural products to visitors. The wide range of cultural institutions and attractions could be made better accessible and attractive for (foreign) visitors by means of mutual cooperation among stakeholders and applying other forms of communication and presentation, which does not require necessarily high investment in terms of money.

Looking back, I see many similarities between my introduction text about Slovakia’s cultural tourism potential and my first real research on a local level dating back 25 years ago.

But what do we mean with cultural tourism?

Some experts on this theme have stated that there are as many definitions as there are cultural tourists. I prefer the practical circle model where the inner circle represents the primary elements of cultural tourism which can be divided into two parts, namely heritage tourism (cultural heritage related to artefacts of the past) and arts tourism (related to contemporary cultural production such as the performing and visual arts, contemporary architecture, literature). The outer circle represents the secondary elements of cultural tourism which can be divided into two elements, namely lifestyle (elements such as beliefs, cuisine, traditions, folklore, etc.) and the creative industries (fashion design, architecture, web and graphic design, film, media and entertainment, etc.). What we see is that the inner and outer circle are increasingly converging, influencing and depend on each other.

Cultural tourism in its essence covers both the cultural sector and the tourism industry. Simply stated, tourism is all about creating memorable moments people take home from a trip. In other words, story-telling is at the heart of the visitor experience. But, in essence, the same is true for culture, though especially the cultural sector seems to be hesitant or reluctant to be associated with a kind of entertainment factor the tourism industry is well-known for. But one cultural tourist is not the same as another cultural tourist. A so-called “sightseeing” cultural tourist would need a different product and approach than a hard-core cultural tourist that specifically travels to a destination because of that specific cultural experience. Mutual understanding and cooperation between these two sectors is crucial. Though in practice it is not always that easy, as the sectors have their own language, specifics, and working styles.

By applying features of story-telling (such as education, information, engagement, active role, entertainment) to a visitor experience a similar trend of blurring boundaries between tourism and cultural attractions can be noticed. Typical tourism attractions like theme parks are taking over aspects from the cultural sector (from a museum for instance) like educational and content-driven programs, whereas the cultural sector apply methods and techniques used in theme parks such as entertainment ways of presenting and drive visitors attention, experience instead of purely content driven communications, money-making business models, as well as hospitality.

Experiences in Slovakia

In general, from my personal experiences working as a consultant on various cultural tourism projects in Slovakia, I do see the poor communication and thus cooperation across sectors as the main shortcoming to exploit cultural tourism. Each sector is very much focused on its own territory and mainly highlighting its problems why it is not possible to develop its potential, mostly focusing on financial means as reasoning why. When the creative industries play an enhancing role in cultural tourism, communication and cooperation between even more sectors is needed to innovate and make the product more attractive to its beneficiaries (visitors). From my experiences the stakeholders from the sectors are too much focused on formal cooperation models, instead of working in an informal environment that could generate innovative products and services. Especially partnership between the public and private sector is difficult to establish, but also partnership between public sector entities (state – regional – municipal) is hampering. Cultural tourism is about visitor experiences, and this requires a change of perspective and attitude from the actors of the cultural tourism product involved.

Another factor why cultural tourism according to my experiences is not exploiting its potential is that the sector is very much focused on investments related to (re)construction of buildings and/or infrastructure rather than on the guest experiences, which are not necessarily depending on substantial investments in so-called hardware.

A couple of years ago I have been assigned to make a strategic cultural tourism development plan for a micro-region with three highly attractive castle-ruins on a relatively small territory. For successful implementing of basically every strategy it is required that the main stakeholders are involved and become the shareholders of the plan.
Though finding out who were behind the “owners” of those castles had been a real challenge. Behind the structure of the non-for-profit castle operators, certain entities and/or persons were those who were on the steering wheel, though did not really participate in defining the cultural tourism strategy. The castles have been successful in obtaining various non-refundable grants from external funds over the years, apparently the real focus of the entities and/or persons behind the scene. One of the recommendations of the strategy has been to appoint a (part-time) coordinator for making the castle programs more attractive to its visitors and to create synergy between the three castles, though finding a small budget had been brought up by the castle operators as the main constraint. How to explain that the castle “owners” are successful in arranging millions of funding for (re)construction projects, and not able to find a couple of thousands of euros for increasing the guest experiences?
Similar experiences can be summed up where the focus on investments in bricks prevail to investments in hardware or software which boost the attractiveness of the cultural experience from a visitor perspective. Having a fully reconstructed museum which has costed tens of million euros (financed by EU and Slovak taxpayers), but not having funds for translating the information of the exhibited artifacts or for purchasing a few audio guides does not make Slovakia a popular cultural tourism destination in the end.

The success and attractiveness of the cultural tourism product starts from the perspective of the visitor. To develop Slovakia into a popular cultural tourism destination, a change in thinking is needed by the stakeholders involved. The most valuable changes do start with creativity and not necessarily with money.

Erik Heidema

Erik Heidema is a Dutch citizen working in tourism in Slovakia, other Central and Eastern European countries, and Central Asia since 1994. He holds a Master’s degree in Geography and Tourism and is studying currently a PhD at the Economic University of Bratislava on the topic Creative Tourism.

Cultural Tourism in Slovakia

Tourism is currently one of the most dynamically developing sectors of the national economy of the Slovak Republic, and the natural and cultural-historical potential provide ideal conditions for the development of cultural and educational tourism.

Based on surveys carried out by the European Commission, culture ranks as fourth most important topic of vacation. The first place is taken by holidays in coastal destinations (sea, sand, sun), then followed by paying a visit to see family and friends, and then staying in the mountains (nature, hiking).

Cultural objects can greatly increase the attractiveness and competitiveness of a tourist site. The development of cultural tourism at a regional level brings with itself a greater number of tourists interested in the history and preservation of cultural heritage, which can positively influence: creation of new jobs, increasing income for the local population, strengthening the local economy, preservation of local customs, traditions and strengthening the community’s pride of the cultural heritage, and raising awareness of the destination.

The tourists whose goal is to visit museums, art galleries and historic sites tend to prefer shorter, more local, more frequent and repetitive vacations, especially in cities. They often lighten up their stay by visiting natural attractions in the surrounding area.

Since I have worked actively in Poland promoting the cultural and natural heritage of Slovakia as concerns tourism, I would be very happy to point out the cultural and historical potential of the Slovak Republic using the example of Polish tourists.

Tourists from Poland represent the second largest group in the long term as regards the visitor rates of foreign tourists in Slovakia. The top position is the group of tourists from the Czech Republic. In 2017, our country was visited by around 210 thousand Polish tourists. With one-day visitors, the actual figure is around 500 thousand people a year.

The Republic of Poland, with a population of about 38 million, is a very important market from the point of view of development of tourism in Slovakia. Proximity of the border, similar mentalities, almost no language barrier and increasingly better road and transportation infrastructure make a sound ground for soaring numbers of Polish tourists in Slovakia. A large part of the cultural and historical treasures in Slovakia is located near the Polish-Slovak border or in cities easily reachable by air, train or bus (Bratislava and Košice). Polish tourists during their short-or long-term stays in Slovakia, in particular: visiting castles, palaces and manor houses, wooden churches, open air museums, heritage sites, urban conservation areas and museums.

The castles that attract them the most include Orava, Spiš and Ľubovňa. The Ľubovňa Castle is historically close to Poles because the castle, along with 13 Spiš (Zips) towns, paid taxes to the Polish kingdom for 360 years (1412-1772). Ii is an important historical fact that the Ľubovňa Castle was the deposition place of Polish crown jewels in 1655-1661 and in 1883-1945 the castle was owned by Polish Count Andrzej Zamoyski, who at that time also owned the spa in Vyšné Ružbachy. It is because of the Polish historical context of the Ľubovňa Castle mentioned above why Poles pay visit to this point of interest, and the entire region along the way. Recently, a new Polish tourist portal,, dedicated to Slovak tourist attractions, wrote that, theoretically, the Ľubovňa Castle and the 13 towns of Zips still belong to Poland, because Hungary, which included today’s Slovakia, has not yet paid its debt of 37,000 threescores of groszs (about 7.5 tonnes of silver). The article is concluded by a funny comment, that because we are now together in the European Union, Poles should send their distrainor to Slovakia to get the lost territory back. Fortunately, the collaboration between the Ľubovňa Castle, the municipalities and Polish institutions is very good, so there is no risk of a distrain by Poland.

Most often, as for UNESCO heritage list, Poles visit Bardejov, Levoča, Vlkolínec, the wooden churches on the Polish-Slovak border, and they become increasingly interested in Banská Štiavnica. As for open air museums, they are mostly interested in the open-air museums in Zuberec-Brestová, Pribylina and Vychylovka in Kysuce. Of urban heritage areas, they are interested particularly in visiting the historical centres of Bratislava, Košice, Trnava, Nitra, Banská Bystrica, Kremnica and Spišská Sobota. Probably the most famous Slovak village in Poland is fabulous Čičmany in Rajecká valley, characterised by genuine log houses with white ornamental decorations. In the Rajecká Valley, Poles also visit the village of Rajecká Lesná with the famous Slovak Bethlehem nativity scene.

Slovakia currently has no prestigious galleries and museums to drive masses of Poles to visit the country. Surely, such temptations could include the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art in Medzilaborce, but it would have to be modernised and better promoted, and Danubiana, which is located on a peninsula in Čunovo on the Danube. In the future, concerts of famous musicians, visiting theatres and music festivals in Slovakia can be very important part of cultural tourism on the part of Polish customers.
However, in order to increase visitor rates of Polish tourists in the above towns, castles, UNESCO sites, museums and cultural events, a more purposeful promotion and advertising is needed from the local authorities, local tourist organisations and the State.

Cultural tourism creates values, including economic ones, which is something we have to realise as soon as possible, so as not to be late. Although the extent to which participates in cultural tourism in tourism development in the region is very difficult to quantify, it is clear that growth and steady flow of income from tourism directly depends on the interest of tourists region attend and repeatedly fed back to it, which in turn depends on of how attractive and culturally, the region offers them products.
Ján Bošnovič

Festivals, Festivals Where Did You Come from, Did You Fall from the Skies…

Interview with Michal Kaščák by Magda Vášáryová

Probably, Michal Kaščák is now more popular with young people than the Prime Minister. He founded the Pohoda festival, now a well-known event, and continues to improve its quality, which is a rarity in Slovakia comparable to Bernini’s bust under a desk in Bratislava. Nobody had foreseen the success in the beginning, and many still do not understand it today. This will be part of the interview.

MV Let us speak the truth, we can hear today as a very popular password. Let us go ahead. We do not have any basic rules of cultural tourism designed for cities, for attractive tourist sites, or for the Ministry of Culture to follow. People are no longer happy just to have some dumplings with sheep cheese for lunch and to buy a fujara flute. Yet cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of tourism. You organise one of the biggest cultural events in Slovakia with links all around the world. You think it is a serious deficiency that we do not have any concept of cultural policy in the context of tourism?

MK We do not have a concept, and we have to persuade many that such festivals are a trend, and that, in general, they are cultural events. Fortunately, the city and its management understand it, but as far as business owners and hoteliers in Trenčín and around the city, there do not get it. And at the state level, nobody deals with anything like cultural festivals of this type.

MV Have you tried to discuss with the Ministry of Culture?

MK Probably I’m not the right man to speak with the Ministry. My personal political views are clear to everyone, and from the beginning we do not make any efforts to get any support from the government. We have learnt to take care of ourselves. We ask the business sector for support. We have got symbolic support from the city of Trenčín and the main argument, which convinced the members of the city parliament, was that we promoted Trenčín in the world. We do not rely on any assistance from officials.

MV Have they never shown the least interest?

MK I do not remember. It would be enough for us if we were supported by the Ministry of Defence, because the festival is held at the airport, which belongs to them, and we always have a one-year contract only. It would be more convenient for us, if we did not have to worry whether we would get it every year and had a contract, let us say, for 5 to 10 years. In return, we would be obliged to enhance the airport, which is what we actually do anyway. We fixed buildings, sewers, electricity. Once we had a five-year contract, but it was during the term of Radičová’s government.

MV Maybe we should vote in the parliamentary election those political entities also according to their cultural policy programme.

MK We do not expect anything from political parties and politicians, who think we are a harvest festival. Probably they do not know how to classify a festival like ours.

MV Why is it that even in the 21st century a lot of people feel that our culture is just the fujara, whooping and nice legs of folk dancers?

MK It is these people’s mental world and, in the end, it’s easier. It would be more difficult for them to explain the contemporary Slovak visual art and show that it also defines our culture. Fujara comes first. I do not know whether this involves any generational differences, it’s more about ignorance. And besides, these topics have never been discussed by a top Slovak politician.

MV What can we all do to finally support the formation of a coherent cultural policy, including priorities and barriers to cultural tourism? How to support the knowledge that your festival is one of the most important parts of the cultural representation of Slovakia?

MK Our job is to do what we do best. We do not rely on any rapid change of people’s minds. But let’s start with an open debate on how to make cultural policy and on its qualities. We should place higher demands on those who will work in the culture, the Minister of Culture, the people who affect public opinion. We are talking about it, but actually only in discussions and conferences abroad. It is a major issue there. For example, what is the role of art festivals in the image of a country. Some countries have got very clear ideas and understand very well all the consequences of such megaprojects, but I do not see such people here in Slovakia. This also demands a great deal of courage, because our cultural awareness is still associated with inaccurate and outdated historical policy. It is a disaster of our times of modern European Slovakia. How to change it? It will be a difficult task. Let us unite and discuss it.

Gemer and Cultural Tourism?

Cultural tourism could be a significant societal and economic aspect – also in Slovakia. Although it is not apparent in Slovakia, in industrialised countries, this kind of tourism ranks among the highly important industries with permanently increasing trends. Slovakia has got an excellent foundation for for this kind of tourism: the concentration of cultural heritage and natural sights over a relatively small area, however this potential is used at a minimum level. There are indications of interest in the offer and demand, but only in larger cities, the countryside has been remaining almost untouched so far …

Let us take a look at a particular example: the Gemer region. Of natural attractions, it is worth mentioning a part of the Slovenský raj (“Slovak Paradise”) area with the Dobšinská Ice Cave, the Dobšinská Maša dam, the Slovak Karst area with the caves Domica, Gombasecká, Ochtinská, Krásnohorská, as well as a couple of the winter ski resorts. The well-known cultural sites include the Betliar manor house with a large English park, the Krásna Hôrka Castle (although it is not yet restored after a fire), a number of manor houses and mansions, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, a variety of technical monuments – the evidence of the local development of mining from the Middle Ages, and, in some villages, picturesque folk architecture, too. Throughout the region you will not find any big factory, and not even a kilometre of a motorway (this time I do not find this a disadvantage). There is a dense network of twisty roads from one valley to another, and railway tracks, most of which do not serve passengers, only sporadic cargo transport. There are smaller and larger villages — many of them once had the status of a town (for example, Štítnik, Plešivec), and the administrative and economic centre is the city of Rožňava district with quite a small conservation area around the square.

Similar to the allure of the majority of Slovak regions. Nevertheless, one may find a whole lot of medieval churches in the region of Gemer, decorated by wall paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries. The origins of the phenomenon of “Gemer-type painted” churches dates back to the 13th century, when an unprecedented growth began as a result of the boom of mining and processing of copper and iron ore, as well as gold and silver. The local landowner, at that time very important persons of the Hungarian royal court, made sure their family churches in Štítnik and Plešivec were built by great Italian fresco masters. The paintings in the two churches then served as a model for the decoration of the village churches in the area, probably decorated by the painters of that time, learning from the Italians – in some details, it seems that they replaced their scarce experience with their own inventions. In a relatively short period of time, a unique set of wall paintings was created,

examined today by historians and art restorers. The paintings are preserved in their authentic condition, particularly because in the 16th century, in the period of the occupation of part of Hungary by Ottoman – the building boom calmed down and, subsequently, the wave of Reformation, strictly refusing any depictions of saints, covered the whole areas of wall paintings with lime plaster. This preserved the paintings perfectly for the next generations. It was not until the late 1800s when pieces of paintings began to emerge underneath the layers of plaster, which started to be knowingly uncovered, examined, and gradually restored.

The Gemer churches with the paintings witnessed a short, but major economic and cultural upswing of this territory, which suddenly ended to be never repeated on a similar scale. In fact, in the years of recatholisation, the nobility were not very kind Protestant rebels, to the mostly evangelical and Calvinist population of Gemer. The region got a brief chance in the 19th century, when the development of the industry revived the local mining and metal processing activities. Iron ore companies were founded, railway built, and the then landlords, the Andrássy family, had a good sense of investment development (did you know, for example, that the parts of the great chain bridge in Budapest were cast in the Andrassy foundry in Drnava?). The disintegration of Hungary and the formation of Czechoslovakia divided the Gemer-Malohont region: the smaller part remained in Hungary. The Slovak part was trying to redirect its economic activity to the new centres. By the end of the 20th century, however, the local iron ore industry appeared to be disadvantageous, depending only on state subsidies, and the mines, as well as the related factories, were gradually closed down. The development has stopped, and it is not easy to earn one’s living today. Many workers leave for whole weeks, while more qualified professionals prefer to move to a larger city for a better paid job. Primary schools in smaller villages have been closed, children commute to school by bus through a number of villages. There are also villages, where you will get only by your own car on Sunday, because the public transport operates on workdays only. High unemployment rate is also indicated by the fact that many women leave their homes for two-and three-week turns to work abroad as carers. Many rely on occasional jobs in addition to social benefits and seasonal work, however, Gemer is not a high-yielding farming area, and one also has to travel to do a job. It is not easy to stay and live here, when there is no prospect that something will happen and circumstances will improve. How to invite people here for some cultural tourism, when many locals do not feel well here? For tourists, it is tempting to visit places (unknown to them) where they expect pleasant experiences, where they can see something which is nice, unique, interesting, unusual or informative, and where the locals apparently feel good.
A years ago, Gemer was yet another region to use the grant support for an information system on cultural heritage: these are the brown signs with white letters along the roads, pointing the direction to the nearest or most prominent heritage site in the vicinity. Let us take a look at how it works. Indeed, tourists, sitting in a car, will be made aware that a village has a church, but when they park at the church, they will find out that the church is locked. They will find no note on the door with a person to be contacted to open the church. There used to be a parish next to almost every church where the priest lived – but today there is just one priest taking care of a number of churches, and therefore can not live next to all of them … somewhere, the keys to the church are in the custody at the local authority office, but what if a tourist comes after work time or, very probably, on holidays?

As concerns the condition of the Gemer’s churches, it also reflects the current circumstances: if a church community has got more members, not just grandmothers, old age pensioners, then the church has at least basic maintenance ensured. For many years, the “Let’s Restore Our House” grant scheme of the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic has been providing owners of cultural heritage buildings on the territory of Slovakia with financial contribution for renovation and restoration. Of course, you must apply for such a contribution and submit the required application form with supporting documents, and in addition, the owner must pay a part of the planned work on the restoration. It is called the “mandatory participation of the owner” on the financing of renovation and generally represents less than five percent of the required amount of the contribution. And here comes another stumbling block: if the majority of believers live miserably on retirement pensions or unemployment benefits, it is not easy to put together even a hundred euros – and so they must consider if they may apply for a contribution and what kind. Those who are not in a position to provide hardly any participation, can be helped in raising aid from donors, for example by the Gothic Route citizens’ association. Its members promote the cultural heritage of Gemer, also by means of a website and expert conference on the results of most recent research of the sites in the region, organized in Rožnava in two-year intervals – the admission to the conference is free, all local people interested are welcome, and mainly teachers, cultural and educational professionals, experts in the field of tourism and other businesses are expected to participate. Had it not been for the work done by the Gothic Route activists, a number of churches would not have a chance to survive. However, much more is needed for cultural tourism.

First of all, for potential visitors to ever find out why they should want to visit this place – owners of heritage sites and local and regional governments should cooperate with experts and businesses in the field of tourism. In today’s digital age, success does not depend on print advertising … It is also desirable that a visitor spends more than one day here, because this brings local employment: tourists have to stay somewhere, and, during the day, have breakfast, have a coffee, lunch, ice cream, dinner, or a beer … If they have arrived by car, they need refuelling and possibly deal with minor repairs, and if they are cyclists, they also need marked cycling trails and some technical background or a bicycle service shop (the roads of Gemer are ideal for cycling). And if they are interested in historical sites and buildings, they should be welcome with open gates and doors, providing information in an appropriate way (printed multilingual texts, descriptions using QR codes or a customised app?).

The package could include predetermined prices of tickets, with a possible mass discount. Information centres in neighbouring regions and larger municipalities should also provide such information leaflets, using all Internet-enabled options. For the start, it would be appropriate to design at least one continuous route with painted churches on which willing businesses and owners would get together and do something nice for the first visitors. Indeed, this requires high initial investment – and it is not certain that the first season will be profitable straight away. People from Gemer can not expect somebody else to do their job for them, that someone else will advertise them, bring money and visitors, and when this will work, hand their well-running business over to them. However, it needs to be started at last – it is like the joke about Ignatius, who goes to the synagogue every day for a half of a year, asking God to let him win the lottery, and after a half a year through a lightning bolt strikes right next to him, and he hears a thunderous voice from above: “Ignatius, just buy a lottery ticket finally!”

Although we will be happy to help, Gemer must buy the ticket by itself.

Košice, 29.05.2018
Kristína Markušová

The Pink Elephant

We try hard, print leaflets, and even have some roll-ups at fairs, but still fewer tourists come here in a year than to Venice in two weeks’ time. At least the tourists do not ruin it here. The numbers are rising, but despite all efforts to increase visibility and promote, Slovakia, for example, did not get to the book “Dream Destinations: The World’s Most Unforgettable Places”. Why did not the author, Mary-Ann Gallagher, did not include Slovakia? Are we not gaudy enough on the world map for her to notice us? Or maybe she thought of coming here, she planned way, but somehow it got all mixed up and she ended in Ljubljana, Slovenia, or even in Czechoslovak Prague?

And perhaps she was here, and perhaps even directly in our most unforgettable Slovak Paradise, but apparently she ended up hanging on the notorious slippery ladder. Or maybe she had an encounter with our bandit nature, which our Government, adoring Jánošík (equivalent to Robin Hood), supports more than spreading a positive image of Slovakia. Not to mention the spread of education among the population with a strong urge to rob and steal. Indeed, foreign tourists are often perceived in the Slovak minds as chubby aristocrats in coaches with a strongbox full of jewels, which should be taken away from them and given to the poor … (to be completed according to personal experience). Let us take a look into another book, “The UNESCO World Heritage”, in German. While some countries have managed to intervene and got two-page full-colour photos and luring descriptions, we are left with barely one page, which we have to share with the Czechs, again. Our entire heritage is summed up in a couple of dull lines about the ruins of the Spiš Castle, on the development of Banská Štiavnica, which was thanks to a German, a banker named Fugger and on typical Slovak houses exemplified by the only picture with two common brick houses in Vlkolínec, which you can find anywhere … in short, nothing much, a potential tourist and an easy prey for a Slovak taxi driver turns the page to Slovenia. Again.

We have unforgettable experiences from Vlkolínec. The settlement of grumpy chalet guys, a kid mill on a brooklet and a talkative honey dealer cheering to inform us that Vlkolínec has always been a part of the town of Ružomberok and that the children from Vlkolínec did not excel much at school. The problem apparently was a reluctance to look for a partner at least in other parts of the city.
Still we failed to understand why this Rosetown suburb became a representative of typical Slovak village for the UNESCO. Well, Herľany, that’s another story. A technical monument, a unique borehole, literally a miraculous hole. Even if the splashes lose power, it could be on the UNESCO list for a couple of centuries to come. Moms sitting in the park, children running around and a little drunhard sleeping right under the information board. Engineering, scientific progress, research, innovation, those are laid aside. You can argue that tourism is coordinated by the Ministry of Transport. So why are we messing around with the Ministry of Culture, this is cultural tourism. So, for information only, the Slovak Agency for Tourism ceased to exist in 2017. The last agents are being removed from abroad, so if you want to see our marketing, you need to go to the Good Idea self-help portal,, enjoy the images and captions, download the app, tap, swipe – and the culture will come to you somehow by itself. With gnocchi and sour milk.