Unusual arts festival begins

This Thursday an arts festival begins in the Moravian town of Boskovice. It will include jazz and rock concerts, including many household names here in the Czech Republic - the unusual and highly imaginative singer and violinist Iva Bittova, jazzman Jiri Stivin, rock bands Psi vojaci and Uz jsme doma, and many others. One band - Kangaroo Moon - is coming from as far afield as Australia, and there will also be theatrical performances and exhibitions. But, as David Vaughan found out, this is no ordinary summer festival.

The festival has its roots in the late 1980s. At that time a group of enthusiasts, led by Cestmir Hunat, became increasingly concerned about the decay of one of the most extraordinary architectural monuments in the Czech Republic. The eighteenth-century Jewish Quarter in the little town of Boskovice is one of only two former Jewish ghettoes to survive in the Czech Republic. 79 of the old houses are still standing, and the wallpaintings in the synagogue are of international importance. But it was only with the fall of communism, that something was done to undo decades of total neglect, and, as so often, the initiative came from below. Cestmir Hunat realised that the key to saving the Jewish Quarter lay in capturing the public imagination, and in 1993 he decided to draw attention to its plight by holding an arts festival in the town. The idea was an instant success, and in the past eight years the annual Boskovice festival has gone from strength to strength. It doesn't raise vast sums of money, but, as Mr Hunat told me, this is not the main aim. The success of the festival can be seen in the gradual renovation of the Jewish Quarter - many of the buildings have been restored and the synagogue - that was recently little more than a ruin - is now in a good enough state to house an exhibition of photographs and the festival's opening ceremony. And I should add that part of the festival is devoted to the history of Boskovice's once sizable Jewish community. Tragically, at the end of the war only fourteen Jews returned to the town from Nazi concentration camps.