Embedded Tourism – participating in precarious living conditions
While the majority of people are looking for exotic and adventurous for holidays, the prevailing necessity of mobility and improvisation are a bitter reality for people under precarious living conditions. HOTEL GELEM invites to participate in serious living conditions, and inventes new forms of exchange, illustration and reflection of the phenomena, which should have happened 'never again' after the second world war. HOTEL GELEM leads to places in which romantic transfiguration coincides with racial persecution – and it overcomes those new walls in Europe that divide our society dramatically.
At the Young Artists Biennale 2010 in Bucharest, we installed Internet cafés for people who were excluded from public perception and self-justification by social exclusion and structural power. Working with the excluded Romanians we encountered Romanies almost everywhere. Even a whole Romany village received Internet access, and the villagers were for the first time enabled to engage online in politically explosive discussions regarding racism and exclusion.
Our contact with Romanies, the insight into their living conditions, and the involving collaboration form the basis of our project HOTEL GELEM.
Romany is the collective term for different groups and cultures, that live since 600 years as minority in all European countries. 70'000 Sinti and Romany are a fundamental element of the German population. Only a small percentage of Romanies are vagrant people. Migration movements of Romanies however lead back to a generally increased mobility due to discrimination and a consequential precarious situation of the people. The financial crisis hit the poorest the hardest yet again.
While Europe prospers, the borders disappear, and the mobility and globalisation increases, Romanies are the biggest losers. After the change Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania experienced a new wave of nationalism. Racism and right wing violence spread - and affected this defenceless group: stigmatised and in poverty living Romanies. Many Romanies are excluded from the majority societies. The exclusion of Romanies takes place on a job-seeking level, and also with regard to housing and education. Romany kids are often not accepted in state schools.
In Romania the Romanies were enslaved until 1855. The romanies in France and Germany have not been compensated after the second world war with its horrible prosecutions by the National Socialist regime. On the contrary: criminalisation was continued until the 1980s.
In 2008 Berlusconi started a persecution on Romanies. Romanies were arrested on May 19th 2009 in the Görlitzer Park in Berlin. They were first sheltered by squatters, were then brought to a deportation unit and eventually – after the public attention turned away – deported to Romania. Ten thousand Romanies who fled 1991 to Germany at the beginning of the war and of the ethnic persecution in Yugoslavia, suffer nowadays from the expulsion to the miserable slums in Kosovo.
In July 2010 Nicolas Sarkozy started the deportation of Romanies from France. These measures have bean heavily criticised by the institutions of the European Union.
The omnipresent phenomena of poverty and hoplessness are claimed to be the mark of the Romanies. The stigmatization worsens the social, economic and educational problems. Antiziganism is a special form of racism, and is one of Europes biggest challenges.
Travel to new horizons
Gelem, Gelem is the hymn of the Romanies. Gelem means 'I went, I went on long roads' and relates to the expulsion and the killing of Romanies in Croatia during the second world war. The melancholic song has a sad actuality for many Romanies.
Tourism relies on spectacle and the consumption of the exotic. Spartan and precarious living conditions are perceived by tourists as an archaic picturesque Romanticism. They are even used increasingly as sources of inspiration in debates about architecture and aesthetics. Romany villages offer these motives. People live in derelict cottages or old trailers, some settlements are in caves or under the free sky. Often there are no sanitary installations. But the view from the outside translates the struggle for existence to contemplative live.
The Art project is neither a dramatisation, nor a provocation or documentation, but a multilayered controversial intervention that shows impacts on all sides – knowing well that observation also changes the object of perception. Hospitality, openness, and the overcoming of their own shame will be demanded of the Romany communities. Instead the tourists will be put to the test themselves. Who would I be if I had to live in poverty? The tourists act at the same time as observers of the stigmatisation and exclusion, and as guardian of the Romanies. Visitors also raise attention. They can save the community to a certain extent from violations by their presence alone.
Own impressions and experiences of all involved parties are part of the intervention. This project teaches us that it is of fundamental importance to re-think components of our identity as well as our views and beliefs. HOTEL GELEM initiates an intervention that integrates, provokes and overcomes the seemingly received wisdom of current socio-cultural and political tensions. HOTEL GELEM won't be a short term Art spectacle but a sustainable, self-critical observation across ethnical, social, cultural and national borders, and open a new view of the world.