European Capital of Culture 2023: Veszprém

Soft green hills, beautiful panoramas and a broad cultural offer: the Hungarian city Veszprém, which is one of the three European Capitals of Culture 2023, will be in the spotlight throughout the whole year. SOCIETY spoke with the Hungarian Ambassador to Austria, H.E. Andor Nagy, about the city and the surrounding region.

One of the three European Capitals of Culture 2023 is the Hungarian city Veszprém. Under the title “Come shine with us!” the city will offer a yearlong programme. Can you tell us about the highlights on the agenda? 

In 2023, the Hungarian jewel-box town of Veszprém and the surrounding Lake Balaton region hold the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture (VEB2023). Veszprém and Lake Balaton form a well-known and popular region of Hungary. The VEB2023 concept envisages working together with more than 120 settlements from the Balaton and Bakony regions in order to implement a sophisticated program and to establish a high-quality “experience area”. Our goal is to further explore and strengthen the creative efforts that have been initiated and that have enriched this region in recent years already.

The Veszprém-Balaton Capital of European Culture 2023 project and programs reinforce and promote a growing creative dynamic. This year is a celebration of creativity in the region: VEB2023 will feature more than 3000 programmes throughout the year 2023. Many of them were already launched in the past years, and we hope that a significant number of projects will continue beyond the Year of Culture 2023.

The Hungarian Motion Picture Festival found a home in the region too; Personally, I look forward to the permanent Castle Dungeon Exhibition and the opening of our Centre of Digital Experiences (CODE) and I hope that the “Off-Season” Literary Festival and Chaconne Festival will be an attraction of Veszprém for many years to come. I personally like the initiative “Balatorium”, an artistic-cultural event dedicated to the ecology of Lake Balaton, contributing to the future of the lake in the medium and long term.

In my opinion, the VEB2023 project perfectly reflects everything that is valued in the post-pandemic period: Regionality, sustainability, authenticity and the improvement of people’s quality of life in local communities. Overall, that’s what this project is about. We call the region around Veszprém the “Hungarian Provence” or the “Hungarian Toscana” because it is a wonderful region with a unique radiance of local culture and we want visitors to get to know and recognize the richness of our country.

What makes Veszprém – in your opinion – special? Why is it worth visiting?

The singularity and novelty of the VEB2023 project derives from two ground-breaking characteristics: One of them is the uniqueness at a European level. In 2023, a region that is characterized by its cultural and creative charisma of a city becoming a unified (cultural) experience space will bear the title of European Capital of Culture. Secondly, in Hungary it is a model region, which is being adapted to the requirements of the visitor economy of the 21st century.

A total of around 3,000 events await visitors in the region. There is something for everyone and as an Ambassador, I dare to guarantee that there will be no dissatisfied guests.

What is the sustainable value of the title European Capital of Culture for the city but also for the whole country?

Our aim is to create long-term sustainable processes that go beyond 2023. For example, we want to fill the historic city centre of Veszprém with vibrant life again. A program has been launched to revitalise the vacant niche businesses that can also serve as creative community spaces. Another of our ambitions is combatting seasonality. To this end, for example, the ‘Off-Season’ was launched – which is, as the name implies – an “out of the season” contemporary literary festival. I think the ECoC programme is a great opportunity to discover the treasures of the region and make local people proud to show their values and traditions to visitors.

One of the core values of the ECOC programme is to strengthen the cohesion among the population of the European Union. How important is the exchange between European citizens in your opinion?

Veszprém is not only one of the oldest towns in Hungary, it also lies at an extremely advantageous and harmonious meeting point of the Bakony Forest, Lake Balaton and the Mezőföld region. Veszprém was the first bishopric at the beginning of the 11th century, and Hungarian queens were crowned here for centuries. As a music city (UNESCO City of Music), Veszprém has already made a name for itself nationally with jazz, classical and street music festivals.

The long-term goal of the Hungarian tourism organizations is to create an „adventure space“ along the Danube with Austria and southern Germany. In this way, a kind of cultural, touristic and creative model region could emerge. The only chance to find solutions to social and ecological challenges of the future is through open dialogue, both locally and globally. Especially the beautiful Lake Balaton has a long tradition of meetings, exchanging of views and conversations, regardless of where the participants come from. Just think of the unique atmosphere of the west-east encounters that took place on the shores of the lake in the 70s and 80s.

The Capital of Culture VEB2023 will take an active role in initiating the dialogue process. This process is intended to generate mutual interest and encompass relevant global and European issues. Living and traveling must be redefined sustainably. The focus of the discourse are the challenges of the future and of ecology. Topics such as digitization, future sustainable ways of living, the situation of children and families, the role of religion(s), seasonality in tourism or the differences between East and West are also addressed.

Is the Embassy of Hungary in Austria planning any activities or events in this regard?

Of course, this is an excellent opportunity for us to present the beauties, cultural treasures and Europeanisms of Hungary through this project. Austria is a very important partner for us, which is why two special commissioners are also working in Austria to convey the message to the decision-makers of the cultural and tourism scene: let’s build a network in Central Europe together. In close cooperation with them, we want to bring the region closer to our Austrian friends through a number of programs. We are setting up information points all over the country and we are looking for connections with other cultural hubs such as Linz, Graz, St. Pölten and Bad Ischl. We guarantee that visitors will be positively surprised by the Region Balaton und Hungary.

Impressions from the opening event

(c) Balázs Kovács

Beautiful Veszprém

(c) Toroczkai Csaba