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Communism is still Alive: Ethical Issues in Former Communist Nations

Communism is still Alive: Ethical Issues in Former Communist Nations
Author: Jo-Anne Hewitt
1 Commentries

Communist heritage tourism is associated with political, cultural and economic struggles in past history (Hubbard and Lilley, 2000) and these political philosophies and economic circumstances vary from country to country. Heritage tourism has many facets; the main focus will be communist tourism, with political influences that will concentrate on the ethical impacts of change in post communist destinations.

Keywords: Communism, political influences, ethical impacts


Since 1989, the growth of communist tourism has expanded in East and Central Europe (ECE). Increasing numbers of tourists are now visiting sites that are significant to socialist heritage. Since the collapse of the communist era in the Eastern Bloc of Europe, governments have found a market in promoting the communist past to gain political benefits that attracts tourists and produces revenue (Timothy and Boyd, 2003).

Poria, Butler and Airey (2001, 2003, 2004) contend that "motivation behind visits to heritage sites depends on the perception of that site in relation to tourist's personal heritage." Therefore, potential communist heritage tourists would visit communist related resources because they perceive them as part of their own history or they have lived in communist times, were party members, or was embraced deeply with the communist ideology. Visitor's perceptions of communist heritage sites differ to the above criteria as their involvement with communism is less. Some people visit communist sites for recreational purposes without any ideology or history involved.

In most ECE countries the period of communist rule is now regarded with distaste. Many post communist countries are eager to erase the past events. For this reason, post communist countries have attempted to reinvent themselves since 1990. Using tourism was important to support socialist regimes. Therefore, in countries that retain some form of socialist/communist political structure, tourism remains a significant ideological instrument.

Contested heritage is defined as "discordance or a lack of agreement and consistency in understanding and portraying what is and what is not heritage" (Tunbridge and Ashworth, 1996, p. 20). This is a concern of most post communist destinations as they are complex and multidimensional in ethic and social constructs this is why there is some measure of contestation among groups of the same standing in regards of its heritage.

East Berlin is a popular destination for post communist tourism. The Berlin Wall has had a central focus to tourism curiosity as to what lay on the other side of the Wall. Western visitors that were visiting West Berlin could gaze upon East Berlin via the wall where visitors could discover an easy and brief opportunity to experience another form of political system (Light, 2000). Yet in Cuba where communism still exists, an argument made by Sanchez and Adams (2008) recognised that tourists were treated differently to Cuba's own citizens that caused resentment towards the Government and also to foreigners that had more rights and privileges (demonstration effect). Tourist's go to Cuba to experience socialist cultural heritage, they stay in nice hotels and use dollars as currency as opposed to the local currency of peso's this further segregated the citizens of Cuba as they were excluded from doing the same things that the tourists could so freely do. This provides evidence of dissonant heritage.

Dissonant heritage has many contestations around identity vs. economy with the need to move beyond the nations past to reflect new national ideas verses using a socialist history to market heritage that can bring in revenue into the country (Timothy and Boyd, 2003). Commoditisation is more than packaging of culture and heritage for tourist consumption it is blamed for creating spectacular events that the tourists have become dissatisfied with. This statement confirms that communist history is a politically deliberate attempt of wider issues in the post-communist era of memory and identity and the way that it is presented

To conclude, communist heritage tourism is a niche product that has grown due to the demand of visitors to explore and experience this form of heritage. Tourism is one way in which these countries can create their self-image and aspirations both to themselves and to the wider world. As such there are particular pieces of their heritage which are considered acceptable and unacceptable for the tourist gaze.

Governments have realised that selling communist heritage tourism has economic benefits that can also strengthen relations with Western counter parts. Heritage tourism gives everybody the right to know about their past history yet Governments dictate what is shown and what is not.

Reference List

Hubbard, P. and Lilley, K. (2000) Selling the Past: heritage-tourism and place identity in Stratford-upon-Avon. Geography. 85(3), pp. 221-32.

Light, D. (2000) Gazing on communism: heritage tourism and post-communist identities in Germany, Hungary and Romania. Tourism Geographies. 2(2), pp. 157-176.

Timothy, D. and Boyd, S. (2003) Heritage tourism. Harlow: Prentice Hall.
Review of Communist Heritage Tourism
Author: Hayleigh Redman
Jo-Anne, this paper lends itself to a very interesting read. I have chosen to summarise this paper as there are a few points which link to my discussion paper on African American travel.

You use references from Poria, Butler and Airey (2001, 2003, 2004) which explain that "motivation behind visits to heritage sites depends on the perception of that site in relation to tourist's personal heritage." When researching for my paper it became clear that African American tourists travel to destinations which have a strong link to their personal heritage, this is one of the main factors when they are deciding on which destination to visit. It is interesting to read that some tourists who visit communist areas do so purely for recreational purpose without any historical link to them. During my research I only found information relating to where African American tourists travel to, the majority these were areas in American, Brazil and Africa which all had strong links with the slave trade. After reading your paper it would be interesting to see if any tourists visit these slave trade destinations for recreational purposes rather than through a personal heritage connection.

In your paper you mention the issues surrounding tourists visiting Cuba and the conflict that these visitors bring. Whilst I was conducting my secondary research I read an article by Brunner (1996) concerning tourism in Ghana. This country was an area which had huge links with the slave trade so it is a very popular destination with many visiting African Americans. The majority of the Ghana locals wanted to use this popularity with tourists to boost their economy but the visiting African Americans felt that this was exploiting the area for greed. This can cause conflict between the local residents in Ghana and the visiting African Americans. This conflict can be seen too in the research which you undertook with your example of Cuba and the resentment towards the government. In my work I didn't look into the local government of Ghana to see if they had any participation in promoting the attractions linked to the slave trade but it is clear from your work that 'governments have found a market in promoting the communist past to gain political benefits that attracts tourists and produces revenue' (Timothy and Boyd, 2003). This would be an interesting area to look into; does this promotion actually work in attracting visitors? And are the local residents in favour of this advertising or will it cause more conflict? It would have been interesting to see some examples of where government intervention in marketing these attractions has proven positive.

There is clearly a huge link between an individual's destination choice and their personal heritage. It would have been nice to see some primary research in your work. Perhaps a focus group or questionnaire would have been useful to take the information you have found and link it with some statistics in your work. The primary research could have found reasons for tourist to visit these communist destinations and what in particular is of interest to them.

This is a good piece of work which could be improved with some primary research. Well done.

Bruner, E. (1996). Tourism in Ghana. American Anthropologist. 98 (2), 290-304.