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Kosice kicks off year as European Capital of Culture

The eastern Slovakian city of Kosice has kicked off festivities to mark the start of its year as a European Capital of Culture. Kosice shares this year’s title with the French port of Marseille.

The opening weekend's festivities in Kosice began on Saturday morning with what was dubbed a “literary breakfast,” with readings held in coffee shops all over the city, which, beyond Slovakia's borders, is better known for its major steel works than as a center of culture.

The weekend's events are to reach their climax on Sunday evening, with an exclusive gala to be held at the city's state theatre and a “Grand Opening Show” to be held on an open-air stage in Kosice's main square.

Organizers say they want to use the year as a Capital of Culture to change the city's image in the minds of Europeans.

"We want to transform Kosice from a heavy industrialized city to one focusing on creative industries," Culture Capital project director Jan Sudzina told the AFP news agency.

Organizers hope not only to attract tourists to the city for special cultural events to be held throughout 2013, but beyond as well. They have been using the 60-million-euro ($80 million) grant associated with the European Cultural Capital title for a number of projects aimed at revitalizing the city.

The spokesman for the Capital of Culture project, Tomas Cizmarik, told AFP that the plans included "renovating old industrial objects such as former army barracks and giving them a new function" – to be used as galleries or concert venues.

The Slovakian national government has also kicked in 10 million euros in grants.

Kosice, which is Slovakia's second-largest city after the capital, Bratislava, is located in one of the economically worst-off areas in the eurozone, with around 10 percent unemployment in the municipality itself and twice that figure in the region as a whole.

France's southern port of Marseille kicked off its year as joint-European Capital of Culture one week ago.

pfd/jlw (AFP, dpa)