Category: Fiction

Tom Holert
Mark Terkessidis
Fliehkraft. Gesellschaft in Bewegung - Von Migranten und Touristen
[Fleeing force society in motion - Of migrants and tourists]

Review

In this study, Mark Terkessidis und Tom Holert examine the phenomenon of people 'in movement' and the consequences of this mobility. At first glance, the connection proposed by the authors from the outset – already in the subtitle – between tourists and migrants may seem a little tenuous, but closer inspection reveals more parallels and points of contact than one would initially assume.

In their book the authors embark upon a journey of their own, following the paths of people who leave their native countries – mostly temporarily, though sometimes permanently – to lead a supposedly better life in a different place. Their motives are highly diverse: many of them set out to find better economic possibilities, others flee from war and violence, and tourists want to make use the of the purportedly 'most precious weeks of the year' to gain fresh energy for when they return to their everyday lives at home.

In eight chapters, Holert and Terkessidis describe the effects of the massively-increased mobility of people in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries on those places that constitute the starting points, the intermediate stages and finally the destinations of this mass movement. Using a wide range of examples from Croatia, Italy, Spain, North Africa and the Middle East, they show how the changes are by no means restricted to the population structures of the destination countries, but also exert a considerable influence on the economic and sociological structures of the countries of origin. In Tangier, for example, one finds entire neighbourhoods that are only inhabited in the summer months, when expatriate Moroccans come to spend their holidays 'at home', and practically deserted for the rest of the year.

Mobility needs to be organised, and there is much money to be made through the management of this movement, both by legal and illegal means. Holert and Terkessidis essentially view the refugee smugglers as the undercover counterparts of regular tourist offices, organising the logistics, transport and sometimes also accommodation during travel. The tourist and building industries in the destination countries rearrange entire stretches of countryside, creating holiday oases where there were once only poor fishermen whose work barely enabled them to make ends meet.

A further important aspect of this study is the examination of political attitudes in the destination countries: on the one hand there is extensive media coverage, encouraging a subtle fear of too much foreignness among the 'indigenous' population and thus also justifying the inhumane treatment of the arriving immigrants, who are subjected to discrimination as 'asylum seekers'. On the other hand, countries with a substantial tourist industry and/or high level of agricultural production urgently require cheap workers, preferably without any rights, and this need can be met most easily by illegal work immigrants. The question of integration does not seriously arise in such circumstances, as the permanent residence of those workers is not actually desired.

Like the tourists, who spend their holidays in self-enclosed complexes and hardly encounter the indigenous population, most migrants also live in isolation, albeit an involuntary one. Whether one is dealing with transit camps, asylum-seekers' hostels or simply illegal residence in a foreign country, there is no participation in the social life of the host country, either in the case of (long-term) tourists, work migrants or refugees.

The two authors thus present a picture of various 'absently present' people increasingly inhabiting the peripheries of affluent areas. The cities in those areas lose their 'polis' character, however, as many of their inhabitants are no longer actual (political) subjects, instead remaining there – formally, at least – only temporarily. The authors therefore call for stronger municipalities, the political integration of the 'non-settled' population, as well as the active participation of that population in the political and social determination of its own living conditions. This demands a fundamental rethinking, however, and the achievement of Holert and Terkessidis lies in thematicising this.
Heike Friesel

By Heike Friesel, 27.03.2007

Translated by Wieland Hoban