As one of the major organisers of cultural events in Slovenia, we wish to give our opinion on the Government’s measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With the organisation of this year’s summer festival, Festival Ljubljana proved that it is possible to organise cultural events at which large numbers of people gather, despite the risk of infection. Unlike many others, we at Festival Ljubljana were already taking the threat of the novel coronavirus seriously back in February 2020, since our attitude towards those who attend our events has always been one of the utmost responsibility, and not only with regard to health risks. It is only because we took COVID-19 extremely seriously very early on, that we were able to put on a complete festival programme on a scale not seen anywhere else in Europe, to the satisfaction of all those who attended the events. This is something of which Ljubljana and Slovenia can rightly be proud.
Thanks to lengthy preparations based on advice and guidance from the Government’s expert group for the containment and control of COVID-19, we organised events that reflected not only the highest level of culture, but also the highest level of health protection. Our teams received both theoretical and practical training, for which we once again thank the members of the expert group. Despite putting on 70 events with just under 2,500 performers from 25 countries and almost 20,000 attendees, Festival Ljubljana did not record a single health-related incident.
As a result of this experience and the level of responsibility shown, which proves that we are capable of successfully staging events even in the middle of a public health emergency, we have already spent a number of months preparing the Winter Festival. We believe that with suitable disinfection procedures and the consistent use of masks and social distancing measures, we can put on a festival with the same success as the summer festival. For this reason, the Government’s decision to relax measures in the services sector but not in the events sector has come as an extremely negative surprise.
We do not understand this decision because, unlike in the case of shops, where customers come and go quite literally anonymously, when it comes to the organisation of events like ours, we know exactly who has been in the venue. This means that even in the event of contagion – already unlikely because of the measures already listed – the fact that everyone has purchased a ticket guarantees the traceability of everyone who could potentially have been exposed to infection. Not only that, but we have already planned the use of rapid tests, while we are doing everything possible to support and promote the use of the OstaniZdrav contact tracing app.
Culture clearly does not have the same power to influence Government decisions as other sectors of the economy, but we nevertheless believe that events such as those organised by Festival Ljubljana make an important contribution to the mental health and optimism of the citizens of Slovenia, who now, more than ever, need motivation to cope with the many obstacles that the pandemic is placing in front of them. Culture is not prestige, it is a fundamental human need.
We therefore call on the Government to reconsider its decision and permit the holding of events with seated audiences at which above-average provision can be made to ensure the health of attendees, performers and organisers.
On behalf of the staff and artists of Festival Ljubljana,
General and Artistic Director
Honorary Member of the European Festivals Association