This is a response to Laura Gorlero’s article: PEGIDA and the social conflict in Dresden: An investigation of the economic, social and cultural impact
Laura Gorlero investigates the effects of community polarization at the economic, social and cultural level, in the context of tourism. She builds on the example of Dresden, where the rise of extreme right-wing demonstrations has provoked a deep societal divide. This has in turn negatively influenced the image of the city as a tourist destination.
The role of tourism in bridging the social divide is one of crucial interest. Tourism plays the double role of beneficiary and contributor to economic and cultural exchange in hosting communities. I, therefore, welcome this paper, which opens up new knowledge and most importantly alliances for all practitioners who aim at finding new ideas to bridge the rising social divide in European societies.
The drop in tourism revenues in Dresden is an illustration of the consequences in hosting communities when political, social and economic actors are divided and not aligned. This is exactly what happened in Germany after the sudden choice of opening borders to refugees. By taking this decision on most probably humanitarian grounds, the government overlooked the importance of co-designing shared solutions at a local level. As a result, local communities experienced distrust, disengagement and division. After an initial period of gratefulness to the authorities who welcomed them, even refugees themselves reportedly showed signs of confusion and apprehension when they were not given the proper structures and tools to settle in the hosting society. This phenomenon is not unique to Dresden, nor Eastern German cities. The research by Laura Golero can serve as a relevant case-study for all European tourist destinations, where “aesthetic” marketing solutions are used as an attempt to resolve the root causes of conflicts.
Addressing power for successful social relations in urban destinations
Laura Gorlero formulates her research through the lenses of narratives within and among actors. She correctly points out that in order to successfully change the negative perception of (as well as within) the city, the government needs to recognize the issues lying under the sea water (following the iceberg model). From her paper, I can read through the lines that if all actors seriously collaborate and work towards a common goal, they eventually become empowered to make a change. I was left curious to see a deeper analysis of the reasons why these attempts have failed. One of my guesses is related to power. I believe that addressing the topic of power is a necessary condition to come up with long-term successful solutions.
Challenges and opportunities
As of 2008, the social and economic prosperity in the Western world has been dramatically shaken first by the economic crisis, then by European austerity policies. The unexpected phenomenon of thousands of refugees crossing the border, exacerbated the perception of social insecurity among some in Europe. From the narrative that globalization and freedom of movement (which tourism is benefitting from) were the way to ensure peace and wellbeing in Europe, we saw a shift to nationalism and border closure. As I see it, we are living in an historical transition where many people are re-imagining their communities and re-negotiating their common values. That explains why it is so complex for actors to unite and work together under the same narrative: a sensitive issue to which everyone would rather find quick fixes, as found out by Gorlero in her field research.
Looking in my field, for example, the training I give is the result of a strange political construct, called ‘Participation statement’ (Participatieverklaring). As of 2017 all new migrants have to sign this document to show their willingness to participate in the society. My training is part of the preparation for this duty within the Dutch integration (‘inburgering’) process. Although I find it a useful space for newcomers to reflect and improve their awareness of the new culture, I still think that participation is a two-way process built on mutual understanding. Participants in my courses, who mostly come from Middle Eastern countries, Afghanistan and Eritrea, share their difficulties with a society that they perceive as busy, individualistic and completely relying on self-initiative. In this sense I wish the government could have found more integrated solutions using local resources, networks and dialogues.
At the same time opportunities emerge where local communities come together and experiment with new ideas. When the Municipality of Amsterdam decided to assign new houses for students and refugees in Ijburg, a new residential neighborhood in Amsterdam, many residents wondered what that meant for the liveability of the area. The Municipality then set up open dialogues involving as many partners as possible, such as the housing associations, entrepreneurs and civil society. At the same time, there have been active steps to involve all residents in building a self-managing community where refugees, youth and old residents could take care of each other’s needs and organize social activities independently. As a result of an inclusive process, SET Ijburg is now an example of integration, not only having refugees as beneficiaries, but also creating benefits for the entire Dutch community at large. It is enough to look at their agenda online for practical examples of what SET IJBURG does regularly: resident entrepreneurs make their services available for the neighbours; markets for the free exchange of house equipment bring new and old residents together; language, sport and bike maintenance workshops are regularly organized by residents.
In a time of polarization and divisions, it is easy to fall into a negative loop of powerlessness, by seeing only obstacles and problems. Yet, it is exciting to see how power transition comes with a whole range of new opportunities about how we can organize our communities in a different way. It entails that we, as citizens living together, need to re-imagine our roles, responsibilities and structures in order to shape a new narrative.
Being an important current sector of economic and cultural life, the tourism industry can use its leverage to contribute to bridging and bringing people together. As I see it, this research is the opening of an interdisciplinary conversation that I hope will continue and expand in the years ahead.