Freedom of NGO’s is one of our key achievements: Krzysztof Żuk
Mr. Krzysztof Żuk was appointed Mayor of Lublin on December 2010 after winning the Mayoral elections by 54.65% votes. Mayor Zuk is a specialist in the management of structural funds, corporate restructuring and strategic management in government and has a Phd in Economics. Ever since he has taken office, Lublin has witnessed a steady development in all its sectors.
Mayor Zuk in an exclusive interview with The Olso Times International News Network spoke about the City of Lublin and how it has managed to grow from a city with really low GDP to a city with a booming economy with a vibrant student life.
The excerpts below give us an insight into what he had to say about this historic city:
Called the Gate to the East, Lublin is considered the melting pot of cultures, so, what do you think will boost Lublin’s chances of becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2016?
Lublin is the most important cultural center in the east of Poland. Lying on the border between the European Union and the Eastern Europe and having strong relations with Ukraine and Belarus as well as with many countries of the Western Europe, Lublin has been for years the capital city of many internationally acknowledged theatre and musical festivals. The unique richness of its cultural life made it possible for the city to compete for the title of the 2016 European Capital of Culture. Awarding the title to Wrocław did not hinder Lublin’s dynamic cultural growth and the city itself is still replete with positive energy. Culture is an essential part of Lublin’s development. The high-rank artistic events that are organized here not only attract well-known artists from all over the world, but also transform streets into a vivid multicultural crowd. These festivals have become a well-recognized part of the cultural map of Poland and Europe. Our city can boast of its dynamic cultural institutions stemming from alternative and avant-garde culture, as well as of its alternative theatres, which are also very vibrant.
Lublin is home to over 100,000 students, with an array of renowned universities especially for those students wanting to study arts, medicine and science. Apart from the quality of education what do you think lures students to Lublin?
Lublin is a strong academic center with the biggest economic, cultural, research and development potential in the east of Poland. At present, there are approximately 75000 students enrolled in various Lublin universities. Looking ahead, the city is undertaking a set of activities integrating university and secondary school students into active city life and thus providing them with the opportunity to develop practical skills. The previous emphasis on developing business incubators and research and development centers is now giving excellent results. Each year, almost 22,000 students graduate from Lublin universities. The Ursus Company, a producer of tractors and agriculture machinery, is in constant cooperation with Lublin University of Technology and University of Life Sciences in Lublin, while companies like Pol-Inowex, Verano, Lift-Service, GT-85 and Sigma implement joint projects with universities.
Our university campus is an example of an excellent modern and self-sufficient urban housing development with perfectly designed buildings. This particular attractiveness and positive energy of Lublin is proven by the fact that the city is ranked third among Polish academic cities with the biggest number of foreign students, just below Warsaw and Krakow. The largest number of non-Polish students can be found at the Medical University of Lublin where special English language programs for foreigners with medicine and dentistry majors were launched as early as in 1995. Coming now, a total of 1063 foreigners are studying these two courses at the University.
As tensions rise in Ukraine, do you feel the City of Lublin will be affected? Why or why not?
Being a university city, Lublin can boast of having a lot of foreign students. Many of them are from Ukraine. We have noticed that the number of Ukrainian students is growing every year. This increasing number seems not to depend on the political situation. In my opinion, it is normal that students choose universities in western countries – the same goes with Polish students: there are growing numbers of Polish students studying in Germany, England or France. On the other hand, we have noticed an increasing number of Ukrainian pupils in our secondary schools, which could have been caused by the increase of tension in Ukraine. Why do they choose Lublin? I think it is so because of strong and well-developed international relations between public institutions, entrepreneurs and citizens from Lublin and our partner cities in Ukraine.
How do you think the cultural history of Lublin affects the lifestyle of its denizens? Over the years how has the lifestyle in Lublin changed?
Lublin is the city of inspiration. Thanks to its rich, over 700-years-long history and intermingling of cultures, the city has an exceptional atmosphere. This special place attracts with its unique climate, rich architecture and numerous monuments. The Old Town, where one can feel the magic of little backstreets and historic tenement houses, is one of the most beautiful ones in the whole of Poland.
In order to combine its unique climate with present times, Lublin public space has become the stage of the most important cultural events of the city. Nearly 70 festivals are held in Lublin each year. Concerts and happenings take place within urban space, and art exhibitions are presented on squares and backstreets. Every year, summer season starts with the Night of Culture. Then, the Different Sounds Art’n’Music Festival provides the audience with contemporary music and, later, Carnaval Sztukmistrzów [Eng. Magicians Carnival], a unique festival of the new circus art, is the time of great shows that combine theatre, dance and juggling. Another important annual event is the Jagiellonian Fair. Referring to historic fairs, the event gives the opportunity to display and sell traditional products from Poland, Ukraine, Belarus or Lithuania, among others.
The government influences main-stream media in regional cities. What kind of influence does the local government have on the media in Lublin?
The vast majority of the media in Lublin are either private media companies or their branches. Hence, there is no dependence upon local government. When it comes to the local media, we focus on an effective cooperation in informing about the most important events happening in the city as well as the issues that are of particular importance to the citizens.
As far as the general Polish media, economic ones in particular, is concerned we concentrate on the promotion of economic and tourist potential of the city.
From a city with a very low GDP to a city with a booming economy, with a healthy flow of tourists as well as investors in the IT sector and fruit farming and export, what kind of steps did the local government in Lublin take to curb poverty and improve the city’s GDP?
While starting the implementation of The 2013-2020 Lublin Development Strategy in 2011, the city started cooperating with Deloitte, a leading international consulting company. The beginning of the project consisted analysis of the potential and determinants of economic development of Lublin. On the basis of this analysis, it was possible to determine BPO, IT and food industries, among others, as priority areas and embracing engineering and automotive industries, logistics, transport, renewable energy, healthcare, pharmacy and biotechnology as supporting sectors of the city’s economy. Knowledge of the city’s priority and supporting sectors made it possible for the city to specialize and focus its activities on the most prospective sectors. The ICT sector, which is the fastest growing industry in our city, is particularly worth mentioning. As many as 750 registered companies are operating in Lublin. In 2009-2012, the number of ICT companies doubled, which was one of the biggest increases among large Polish cities. What is vital for the development of this sector is accessibility and high quality of human resources: in our case, there are more than 2300 students of IT majors and over 500 IT students graduate every year. Together with the IT-related majors, the total number of relevant students goes up to 5500. Other factors important for the IT sector’s growth include dynamically developing office space market and lower rental prices in comparison to bigger cities. In Lublin, rental rates in A and B-class buildings amount to 10-12 EUR/m²; in Krakow: 13,5-14,5 EUR; and in Poznań: 14-15 EUR. Lublin creates ever-better conditions for the development of start-ups, IT ones included.
There are academic business incubators operating at Lublin universities as well as some dynamic initiatives directed exclusively to the people who are planning to start their activity within the IT sector. Software Camp Business Incubator and Lublin Information Technology Incubator are worth mentioning here. Technological Incubator at the Lublin Science and Technology Park is also a house, to a large extent, to IT start-ups, e.g. those creating computer games. A great example of the Technological Incubator tenants is HYENT, a dynamically developing IT start-up which created application that won the international competition Galileo Masters 2014.
The city’s growth would not be possible without external relations development. Lublin is considered and is also the seat of the Centre for Eastern Competences, a think-tank, which was set up in order to develop economic cooperation with the Eastern Partnership countries, as well as to strengthen the transfer of civil society and social activity experiences to partner countries. Thanks to it for having organized a series of international projects, Lublin has become the leader and indisputable expert in cooperation with eastern partners. This openness to the East is also a very important factor for entrepreneurs when making investment decisions.
In June 2014, Poland celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first free elections of 1989. The result, as well as the social and political changes that followed, had a huge impact on Polish media. The freedom of the press, which applies to both nationwide and local media, is the basic principle of democratic country. Full freedom of the press in Poland as well as free access to public information for all citizens are regulated by a number of legal acts, laws and amendments. The freedom of the press and freedom of speech are both stipulated by the Polish constitution.
Human rights organizations are concerned over the recent developments in Hungary; especially because it is an EU member. How do you think this problem can be contained? Are sanctions the only option at this time? And can sanctions actually solve the problem?
This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of democratic transformations in our part of Europe. The freedom of non-governmental organizations is one of the key achievements of the last quarter-century. We are looking at the situation in Hungary, where the City of Debrecen is our partner city. Lublin based NGOs are in touch with Hungarian activists from whom they receive updates on the situation.
It is worth reminding that Lublin lies near the border with Ukraine and has well-developed relations with Ukrainian cities’ authorities. During the armed conflict in Ukraine, Lublin citizens have repeatedly shown signs of their solidarity with Ukrainian nation.
Last but not the least, what is your message for all our readers?
As the host of the City of Lublin, I cordially encourage all the readers to visit our amazing city. I invite you to Lublin and wish you all unforgettable wanderings through the charming corners of the Old Town. Lublin Old Town, where one can feel the magic of little backstreets and historic tenement houses, is one of the most beautiful ones in the whole of Poland. Rich in monuments dating from the early Middle Ages to present times, it is the landmark of Lublin. It is worth mentioning that Lublin, actually its Old Town and center, is one of the nine Polish cities that are listed as the Monuments of History, a recognition given by the President of Poland to the objects of cultural heritage. That historical component is visible at first glance, for example, when walking down Ulica Grodzka. It is on that street that the second oldest Polish theatre building, the Old Theatre, is located. Renovated in 2012, the building regained its former glory and was able to host events with Polish and international artists after a 30-year break.
I invite you to visit Lublin – the city of inspiration. It is an incredibly charming place, where the past intermingles with the present; a place of unusual encounters. Thanks to the visiting tourists, the city bustles with life and dazzles with its positive energy. It is worth discovering the beauty of Lublin, its interesting stories and mysterious legends, as well as experiencing the city’s unique atmosphere, to which I kindly invite you.
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