“LIK” Association for Promotion of Culture and Education
Location: Uzhgorod, Ukraine
Implementation period: April 2016 – May 2017
Coordinator: Tetiana Smriha
Context: Issues Addressed by the Project
Any citizen is only too well aware that protection of the historic and cultural heritage is an area (at least, one would think so) of a narrow professional interest, but extremely a high-profile one in terms of the conflict risks involved. To be more exact, this is how it can be rightly perceived thanks to the rhetoric and communication style of the activists, who are known by their tedious and gibberish lawsuits, histories of judicial or administrative proceedings, memoranda and petitions. This is why one of the objectives behind our project was to use, when speaking about the heritage, an easy and intelligible language, which is clear to everybody, in order to reach the hearts and minds of every resident, who quite often is remote from the theme of cultural patrimony conservation.
By the way, there is a lot to talk about. The situation around Uzhgorod’s historic centre is a critical one. The city is promptly losing its face, while the real efforts made by the activists within the latest 10 years look no better than an attempt to patch up one’s makeup during a thunderstorm. The cultural heritage issue is seen by us as a bilateral one: there is no good will one behalf of the authorities, neither there is any understanding of it on behalf of the public. This is why the project consists of two big and interconnected blocks: the institutional one (working with the civil servants and competent authorities) and the educational one (mass-scale education among the residents of different ages and work with the public opinion through the mass media channels).
1. In the institutional block:
– Thanks to the permanent-basis consultations with lawyers and experts from other cities and towns on cultural heritage protection, we became aware of the fact how imperfect our national legislation in this sphere is. But also another thing: in order to change the situation drastically, one needs the will of the local authorities and willingness of specific persons. An ideal situation for a city or town is, when the business interests of the “ruling elite” representatives coincide with the city or town’s interests, with its development and conservation of the cultural heritage sites;
– Beside a large number of personal meetings, we have taken part on a regular basis in the working groups related to the cultural heritage agenda and all the contiguous issues and organised several round tables, which combined presentations, best practices and animated communication with representatives of other cities and towns. One of the crucial round table events featuring the local authority representatives’ participation was used to discuss how to set up within the local authorities an effective mechanism for the protection of the cultural heritage sites, while another one was entitled How to make money out of cultural heritage;
– Jointly with other NGOs and activists we have organised an international seminar Old Town: Modern Development Strategy, following the results of which our activists could be directly involved in the preparation process for the City Strategy development;
– Work in the social media: our activists have written more than 20 posts on various issues of cultural heritage for the Uzhgorod group (20,037 members in June 2017). Many of them were efficient. For example, following the posts on the problems related to facade repairs in the central part of the city, on polypropylene foam insulation of an individual apartment situated in a building constructed in the functionalism style, illegal replacement of old wooden window frames with new plastic ones in the downtown part of the city et al., the issues have been addressed, sometimes in a high-profile way for the local media environment. We have had an additional meeting with the civil servants to clarify provisions of the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage and to reach an agreement on developing systemic approaches to window and door replacement in the historic part of the city; and
– We have done some work to amend the Regulation on Signs in the City of Uzhgorod. All the alterations have been successfully approved by an Uzhgorod City Council session. After a conflict situation around a terrace along the central pedestrian only street Corso, we are developing amendments to the Regulation on Terraces and a new Regulation on the Authority Entrusted with Cultural Heritage Protection. We collaborate on a permanent basis with the representatives of the City Council, Executive Committee and their profile directorates or departments on the issues related to cultural heritage protection by trying to influence decisions made on tactical, as well as strategic problems.
2. In the educational block we have pursued an objective to modify our citizens’ attitude to the cultural patrimony. Wasteland begins in our minds, and it is exactly there that creation begins, too.
– An Uzhgorodian’a School has become the most interesting, promising and attractive event. Having comprehended all the futility of the current activities conducted by the activists, we have changed our tactics. No, Old Uzhgorod cannot be redeemed, but we are capable of bringing up a new generation of citizens, who just in 20 years or so will form the city environment, and, we would love to believe, will do so with affection and respect of its history and a rational approach to its current needs.
To captivate children’s attention with sophisticated topics of architecture or urban planning, we have determined the basic principles for the training sessions: the form of a game, voluntary participation and respect to every participant. When testing some of our creative ideas or approaches to information delivery on various groups of children, we came to a conclusion that we were short of competences, although the external result was seemingly excellent. The kids and their parents were enthusiastic about the sessions and insisted on their continuation, whereas we well understood that that a set of segmentary data provided to the children through games and plays was not our ambition at all. One more challenge was that pedagogues have little knack for architecture or urban planning, while architects are unable of handling groups of children or forming an educational product;
– This is why we invited some specialists, who for many a year held the Children’s Architecture School in Kharkiv and represent the Critical Thinking CSO headed by Bohdan Volynskyi. They have conducted in Uzhgorod a magnificent 2-day workshop. We have discussed our needs and, as a result, the Children’s Architecture School people prepared a holistic course made up of 10 sessions for children aged between 8 and 14 years. The relevant Guidance Manual contains a detailed description of every session, supplementary materials and even a model diploma to be presented to a student completing the course. The course has been developed so that it can be led even by a person who is not a professional architect, for example, by a school teacher;
– We have held some guidance seminars for school teachers and were inspired by the fact that many participants seemed to be sincerely interested in the project. A few schools have invited us to conduct our sessions in autumn, while others were going to conduct them all by themselves;
– Street exhibitions. Uzhgorod is Ukraine’s only city with whole surviving modernist neighbourhoods dating back to the 1930’s, including buildings designed by renowned European architects, original planning, landscape gardening, paving block design and even interior details. This is why our first exhibition within the project framework was entitled Uzhgorod Inter-War Period (1919 – 1939). An open-space exhibition, which is accessible for several months, is a guarantee of interest for passers-by and publicity. The feedback I remember the best was as follows: Look, this is my house, is it valuable, too?
– Educational materials. When working on the project website we used to argue a lot how to make it relevant and valuable for as many city residents as possible for a long span of time. In this way we developed an idea to create an interactive map of Uzhgorod’s architectural history uzh.city. Its basis was provided by the Uzhgorod modernism map, which we have also printed within the project framework. The map contains data on the buildings in Uzhgorod’s historic part: year of construction, architect, architectural style, as well as a detailed article, if ready by the period of time in question. Uzhgorod’s architectural map is of a special value for the city, because no profound research into the architectural heritage has been carried out here so far, and most buildings even lack their certificates. We have plans underway to provide on the map some detailed information on every historic building.
Due to our participation in the CHOICE project, we have re-thought our activist tactics and strategy, while the available funding has streamlined our activities to make them more concentrated and systemic.
The institutional block has required from us massive efforts, but its results turned to be much more modest than we would like to have had. Probably, we have set for ourselves the objectives, which proved to be overly ambitious. It is hard to change anything faced by a bulky and cohesive system, which pursues a different set of objectives.
Yet, the educational block was very successful. Dozens of publications on the local and national news websites, interviews and live coverage on TV and radio and hundreds of likes and reposts on social media serve to confirm it. It has become voguish to write and speak about cultural heritage preservation. We are glad that the reason for it has been provided by other people’s work, as well as by our efforts. We are also glad that during a strategic session (capacity-building event within the project framework) we have succeeded in bringing together all the cultural organisations and activists, many of whom share our values and help us in our projects, something we appreciate very much.
During the year our project We Are the City lasted, our team experienced all kinds of things. And it has become stronger. Certainly, it is not possible to change a critical situation within a year. However, now we are sure that as a part of the civil society we are in a position to influence it. Probably, we shall not succeed in preserving the Old Town, but we shall for sure succeed in preserving its memories and information.