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12.00  Contested Heritage of Dubrovnik

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9:00, Sunday 5 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

There is a perpetual quest today for “character” of places and cities, enhanced by mass tourism, where history is becoming more and more abused. Identity becomes fixed, over-determined, and insists on an essence, a point. However, identities, like heritage and memories, are evidently highly selective processes that are in constant flux, from the local to the global scale, being constantly modified together with the culture to which they belong. Such production of consecrated, almost canonized images, and romanticizing adjustments of the historical past, within present trends of commodification and entertainment, is changing the concepts of authenticity and city identity, that are becoming more and more contested, and thus contradictory. Capitalism has created a culture of commodity that absorbs our heritage into the framework of commodified tourist experiences. The corporate world today stimulates the collective amnesia that is shamelessly exploited by nostalgia-merchants, where memory becomes a best-seller in this new consumer society. What we are witnessing in our urban heritage today can be described as city-marketing and city-branding that are designed in “silent complicity“ with agendas of the powerful, while urban image-construction is entangled in government strategies, leading to colonization of public dissent and a silencing of conflict in “post-political” conditions. 

The ancient town of Dubrovnik with many historical monuments of the fourteenth and fifteenth century is inscribed on UNESCO's list of the World Cultural Heritage. Since 1980, experts have advocated the conversion of the buildings into museums, which resulted with the loss of the buildings’ vital functions and instead created a series of isolated buildings that have imposed an unnatural homogeneity on a historic district that was originally characterized by diversity of expression and functions, and museumification of the city. During the last decade, recent redistribution of property, capital investment, new market economy, and tremendous mass tourism flows, buoyed up by a wave of political and social transformation in Dubrovnik, have led to the drastic gentrification of the area and have greatly exacerbated the situation. Despite the economic activities related to the increase of tourism, the inhabitants tend to abandon the Old City. 

The vision of Dubrovnik and its future is unfortunately directed toward touristic mega-projects that do not correspond to the sensibility of the historic urban context, and furthermore do not reflect the aspirations and the needs of the local community. The hyper-production of mass tourism facilities nullifies public spaces and places of the city, thus converting them into commercialized “touristic spaces.” The urban and collective memory of the city and its inhabitants is evaporating amidst new mass tourism that does not encourage the sustainable development of the local community. Furthermore, the preferential right of interpretation that was previously the sole domain of public cultural heritage actors is now shared with those within others areas, such as the tourist industry with new valuations of authenticity and idealization of the concept of heritage. Future strategies for rehabilitation of the city should consider and reflect the local needs and aspirations, and involvement of the grass roots in decision-making structures; and finally the initiation of small-scale local industry and business as an income generating projects in order to help the city to recover economically and socially. The fact is that behind its traditional philosophical matters of faith, heritage is at its core politicized and contested. Heritage should be interpreted as the fluid and constantly shifting result of boundless and flexible construction processes, since it is not an object, not our unchangeable tradition, and not something we have to maintain and defend but rather something we make, use and change in different social situations.

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