At the inauguration ceremony of the Festival, Mayor Vojko Obersnel expressed his heartfelt welcome to gathered puppet theatre fans and Congress participants. Accompanied by a “charming lady”, the shoemaker’s wife, he introduced Rijeka as the city with a deeply rooted European and Mediterranean cultural tradition. ”I hope you will see the sights of the city and enjoy its beauty. Rijeka lies both on the river and the sea so that water is the motif we have chosen for this year’s Festival,” added the Mayor.
Deputy undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture Srećko Šestan addressed the assembly expressing his pleasure with the occasion, namely the fact that after eight years of expectations Rijeka is finally able to host UNIMA, and, what is more, on its seventy-fifth birthday. UNIMA president Margareta Niculescu expressed her heartfelt thanks to the organisers and emphasised that with its activities UNIMA is able to meet existing needs, being one of the active factors in the development of puppet art. Niculescu also announced eight days of “a subtle, unpredictable and passionate play of love”.
The inauguration of the Festival was preceded by the opening of the exhibition of Abdulah Seferović in the “Kortil” Gallery. The exhibition entitled “From Artisan to Artist” displays puppets, posters, sketches and drawings that speak about the history of Croatian puppetry, created by genuine puppet lovers. “I have chosen authors that created the miracle called puppetry. You can look for the national spirit of Croatian puppetry, as there are many peculiarities that are genuine and distinctive”, emphasised Seferović
In the sixty-year long history of Croatian puppetry, the first two decades were characterised by the activity of Željko Markovina. Artists from Zadar, namely Berislav Deželić and Branko Stojaković, helped by Ladislav Šoštarić, Zvonimir Manojlović and Ivica Tolić, marked the puppet scene in the sixties, paving a new way for puppetry. Eminent Croatian artists such as Vasko Lipovac, Rabuzin, Radoičić, Paladino and Generalić followed this way, while unavoidable are its genuine creators, namely Zlatko Bourek, Mojmir Mihatov, Gordana Grebelj and Vesna Balabanić. “Their stage designs and puppets speak about the fifty years of Croatian puppetry, inviting new puppeteers again and again to take them from the cabinets and move them, as the only secret of puppetry lies in the puppet animation”, said Zvonko Festini, president of the Croatian UNIMA Centre, and declared the exhibition open.
UNIMA will gather round three hundred puppet artists from all over the world.