European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Guy Dockendorf at Athens meeting 22.6.2015

Athens, June 22nd, 2015 – Theocharakis Foundation

L'art de se faire aider


RED John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman

Retired but Extremely Dangerous

I would not dare address this audience as dangerous, 

But many of you - me too hopefully - are RED, retired but extremely dynamic...

This helps if you work in the fields of education and culture.

And it helps to have good friends. Especially from Greece, like Spyros, Alexia, Dimitrios, Rodolfos but also many from Europe who are with us today.


(1)       My name is Guy Dockendorf. By training I am a teacher of French and used to teach at Lycée Classique de Diekirch in Luxembourg for 17 years. I had just begun to teach at the Centre Universitaire de Luxembourg, which was to become the University of Luxembourg, as a teacher trainer when I was appointed Director general of the Ministry of Culture in August 1989 . I held that position for 21 years until I retired in October 2010. 

As such I had the privilege to be in charge, as the representative of Jacques Santer, Prime Minister and Minister of Culture for 1995 and as chairman of the board in 2007, of the development, the running and the aftermath of two cultural capitals. Luxembourg has indeed held the title of European Cultural Capital two times, once in 1995 and a second time in 2007. We have also been hosting the first network of former, actual and incoming cultural capitals for many years.

According to the April 16th, 2014 Decision of the EP and the Council, Luxembourg appears in the new calendar (from 2020 to 2033) in the year 2022, together with Lithuania. Which means that the task coming after Greece in 2022 will be rude, but challenging!

Last week the Luxembourg Government has officially started preparation of the third European Capital in Luxembourg which might, this time, be a different city than Luxembourg-City, although the choice of cities in Luxembourg being in capacity to held the ECOC title is not enormous…

Why? Even if Luxembourg is a Grand-Duchy, we have to say that we still are a very small country, with somewhat more than half a million inhabitants. The actual rate of non Luxembourg residents in our country is around 46%  - and even higher in the capital – This goes not without some problems especially as a large majority of our population seems to have a problem with the right of vote for non Luxembourgers. We definitely need a 3 rd dynamic ECOC to fight some major problems in Luxembourg!


(2)       One of Spyros's questions was: What were your own feelings during your first participation in the cultural capitals institution?

Honestly: we were not really reassured to see that Luxembourg was to be, "cultural capital of Europe" in 1995, coming after such glorious and big cities as Athens, Berlin, Madrid, Florence, Lisbon…. Being pragmatic people, we used one of my father's proverbs: "l'art de se faire aider", meaning that we resorted to find some friends who would be willing to help us…. So we invited Bob Palmer and Neil Wallace from Glasgow to meet our cultural actors in Luxembourg and discuss the possibilities of organizing the ECOC.  When we finally started the adventure, thanks to the creativity of our coordinator general Claude Frisoni and his team, we didn't call ourselves "Cultural Capital of Europe", but "European City of all Cultures"… I don't know if this was modesty… but still, "the cultural year 1995" as it has since been called by the Luxembourg population has been of paramount importance for the small Grand-Duchy.

Indeed, Melina Mercouri's ideas were put into practice, mutatis mutandis and it showed that Luxembourg needed culture as fresh air, that it could give many artists and creative people new opportunities and create new publics. The result of 1995 as a large consensus in the population and also among the decision makers. Luxembourg who had not invested money in the 70's and 80' into cultural facilities now went top gear.

The new Government which started in June 1989 undertook to launch several important cultural infrastructural projects: the building of a Museum of Modern Art, designed by I.M. Pei, the restoration of the former Neumünster Abbey which was to become a very important International Cultural Center, the new Concert Hall (1500/300/120 seats), the Rock Hall for 5000+ , the restoration and enlargement of the National Museum for History and Art, of the National Natural Science Museum, the new Audiovisual Center…. 

But of course: none of these were ready for 1995, some of them were for 2007… We seem to need 10-15 years in Luxembourg before such big projects become reality.

Let me also mention the Nicosia cultural month in 1995: Luxembourg and Nicosia were an excellent team and became friends for


(3)       Bob Palmer's experience and the fact that we were invited at the end of the Glasgow Cultural capital in December of that year was of great importance for our organizing 1995. So we thought, we might as well again ask him, now in a capacity as special counsellor, for our undertaking 2007 which was to be quite different from the 1st experience.

We had decided to open to sphere of the ECOC, according to the Council's and EP's decision to our surrounding region, which meant we had 4 departments from France, 2 Länder from Germany and the French and German speaking community from Belgium, besides our own capital the City of Luxembourg. 

This meant 5 different regions, 4 countries and 3 different languages… and as many different administrative structures and bureaucracies.  But it also meant many diverse ways of thinking and creating! 

And then there was Sibiu in Romania. Luxembourg had suggested Romania, which was to become in 2007, together with Bulgaria, a full member of the EU, that it should submit an application for one of its cities. This city was to be Sibiu with which Luxembourg, and the Greater Region, had many historic links, dating back to a first immigration wave in the 12th century, to Transylvania, after a call of King Geza IV…

Luxembourg 2007 had some 550 projects, 140 of them were transborder projects. This was a total of 3000 events. 

With Sibiu we had 48 projects, i.e. 90 events in Luxembourg and Romania. We were probably, in the long list of ECOCs the first two capitals, East and West, to work very closely together. The coordinator general Robert Garcia and his team did a fantastic job and 2007 is still living on in a restored infrastructure which was inaugurated last Saturday. Indeed, the two rotundas (round houses) – two repair shops for the Luxembourg railways – has been under restoration. In between 2007 and 2015, Roga and his team have been developing extremely well visited events and seminars for kids and young people in a provisional hall. Last Saturday they were able to take over their new premises. 

So it is beginning anew. Let me finish by a quotation of Vaclac Havel from a speech he delivered at the Institut de France:

" I believe we must learn to wait as we learn to create. 

We have to patiently sow the seeds, 

assiduously water the earth where they are sown 

and give the plants the time that is their own. 

One cannot fool a plant any more than one can fool history.

 But one can water it. 

Patiently, every day. 

With understanding, with humility, but also with love."


Thank you!

Guy Dockendorf




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