All’Ateneo Veneto lo scorso 3 maggio abbiamo presieduto l’incontro delle realtà civiche mediterranee che a Venezia hanno portato le loro esperienze, confrontato i problemi rispettivi e discusso le possibili soluzioni comuni (“soglia di accoglienza”, per i siti UNESCO):
e (per chi non parla inglese):
Pubblichiamo oggi la relazione di Dubrovnik (Ragusa) per i molti punti in comune che presenta con la situazione veneziana: iperturismo, crollo del numero di residenti (una perdita pari ai 2/3 della popolazione presente negli anni ’50, percentuale simile a quella di Venezia) e gigantismo navale (navi da crociera “fuori scala” rispetto al contesto ambientale e monumentale).
Un grazie a Mara Kolić Pustić, per avercene inviato la versione scritta.
Active citizens and sustainable development of UNESCO heritage sites: the Case of Dubrovnik, Croatia
Mara Kolić Pustić, Udruga Grad
In 1979 the Old Town of Dubrovnik was listed as the UNESCO World Heritage site. Even though the city was considered a rare example of a populated medieval town completely surrounded by the city walls, only the architecture of the city was protected at that time. From the 1979 point of view, the fact that the town was populated, being a real town in every sense and context of the word, was something taken for granted. Back then, it seems that no one could have imagined that the life within the city walls would become endangered.
In 1953 the Old Town of Dubrovnik was a vital, populated city with 5181 inhabitants. A year earlier, a group of active citizens founded the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiques. Their goal was “to sensitize the broader public on the importance of preservation of Dubrovnik’s cultural and historical heritage, raising awareness and interest for them, appealing to the pride and appreciation of the public.” (http://citywallsdubrovnik.hr/drustvo/?lang=en) The Society was trusted with maintenance and management of the city’s most glorious antiquity – the city walls, which, at that time, were in poor condition.
Another proof of the way of life characterized by the appreciation of heritage and culture is the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. “The idea of founding the Dubrovnik Summer Festival’ in 1950 was harmonising the renaissance and baroque atmosphere of Dubrovnik and the living spirit of drama and music, actually derived from the intellectual way of life of the city itself, from its living creative tradition, which has bestowed upon Croatian cultural and scholarly history, especially in theatre and literature, many great names and works, and kept it continually in touch with contemporary currents in western Europe.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubrovnik_Summer_Festival) Back then, Dubrovnik was a vital town not only cherishing inherited values, but also creating new ones. Concerts, operas, dramas, and ballets were performed in different locations all over the city – the city was living with the Festival and the Festival was living with the city.
That was the spirit in which Dubrovnik was evolving, leading to the City’s listing as the UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. In those days, the town itself was raising generations of active citizens with a developed sense of community, aesthetics and measure.
The breaking point for Dubrovnik was the war in 1991 and the subsequent economic difficulties, which led to an exaggerated orientation on tourism in all its forms. Monocultural economy (tourism) and expanded house-short-term-renting have resulted in Dubrovnik following the international city centre depopulation trends – the number of inhabitants decreased to only 1557 in 2016 and, although only 3 years have passed, to a significantly smaller number today.
What happened with the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiques and the Dubrovnik Summer Festival? Well, they both still exist but fail to fully fulfil their original purpose.
Today, the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiques still exists and is active in preserving our material heritage – the walls and the buildings. Expanding tourism brings millions of visitors who pay to walk the city walls, not only maintained but also managed by the Society. The income is huge – only last year 1.300.000 tickets were sold. Sixty percent of the revenue is transferred to the budget of the City of Dubrovnik. This sounds like a great opportunity to invest in town management. However, the the opportunity has not been seized. Although it has been scientifically proved that if nothing changes the old town will lose all its inhabitants, so far the money has not been invested to increase the quality of life of the remaining citizens, nor in any active measures to increase the number of inhabitants.
As for the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, it still takes place every summer, but most of the former locations are now occupied by restaurant tables or are too noisy to be adequate for performing. Artistic creation no longer happens within the city as it used to. While in the past renown orchestras, ballet ensembles and theatrical companies stayed in Dubrovnik for weeks rehearsing and performing, today the programme is based on ready-made projects created elsewhere and only performed in Dubrovnik in the few remaining restaurant-tables-free-not-too-loud locations.
Today, Dubrovnik is facing an almost two decades long intensive process of „disneylandization“, depopulation, apartmanization, cultural heritage devastation, endangerment of the natural resources and urban planning malversations. We are facing a threat of losing the living city and remaining with a depopulated, dead city under UNESCO protection.
ACTIVE CITIZENS IN DUBROVNIK:
Is there anything UNESCO can do about that? The answer is positive. Unfortunatelly, UNESCO’s role is restricted to giving recommendations.
The crucial role that makes the very substance of the living city is the role of the citizen. The city is alive as long as there are active and engaged citizens concerned about their community, their heritage, their quality of life. With a decreasing number of inhabitants, with most of them already quite old, a legitimate question is – are there still active citizens not giving up on the city that is practically dying in front of their eyes?
The answer is – yes, there are. In fact, through active citizenship and appealing to UNESCO we managed to provoke a UNESCO monitoring mission in November 2015 that resulted crucial recommendations. For example:
- The State Party should ensure prompt finalization and approval of the Management Plan for the property
- The “Bosanka 2”, a project envisaging apartment resort on Srđ, the hill directly above the City, should not be allowed to proceed
- The plans to construct the quay in front of Lazaretto, with the connection to the Old Port, should be stopped and no construction should be permitted in that area
On the political level, both in Dubrovnik and the Capital, there is a consensus that Dubrovnik’s value is the value of a living city. No party is openly advocating the idea of a city-museum, a tourist site, a huge restaurant and resort, a former town. Unfortunately, in practice, there had been no real measures towards keeping the living city alive until a Management plan was requested by UNESCO in 2015.
Active citizens, aware of the problem, responded to the Management plan activities with extreme engagement. In the beginning, no representatives of the inhabitants nor NGOs were planned to participate in the Monitoring Board for drafting and implementation of the Management Plan. Thanks to the active citizens’ pressure, the original decision of the City authorities was changed, allowing the representatives of the citizens and NGO’s to participate in both the Monitoring Board and the workshops and focus groups organized by the Monitoring Board. The citizens and NGO representatives initiated a new population census and volunteered for the field work. The new population census gathered materials for socio-demographic study, one of the crucial documents on which the Management plan should be based.
Aware that politicians and political parties are too often interested in short term projects useful in their campaigns instead in long term strategies useful for the local community, the citizens have also formed their own lists in the elections for the city quarters, held in 2018. In the Old Town district the citizen list won the elections.
Active citizens encounter strong opposition from all levels of authority. Instead of addressing effectively the obvious issues of over-tourism, gentrification, unsustainable growth in tourist numbers and offering effective solutions, the authorities use the mechanisms they control to undermine the efforts of the citizens and civil organizations. An active citizen often encounters exaggerated PR from the City authorities aimed at calming public opinion and undermining all efforts seeking for real solutions.
Instead of taking care of public interest as a priority, politicians often choose to serve the interests of private investors. In such cases, active citizens have always reacted, writing petitions and gathering for public protests. The latest example was an attempt to change spatial plans of the city, adjusting them to suit the project of a private investor but in the end the city council did not vote for the changes due to citizens public protests.
Even though ruling politicians are always personally invited to public protests to share their point of view with the concerned citizens, they avoid these situations and instead use their influence in media to minorize such events.
Our very Network is also a network of active citizens willing to give their contribution in a very challenging moment for the UNESCO sites that we are concerned about.
In that context, one of the tasks of our Network should be raising the awareness of the importance of active citizens’ involvement. The Network should encourage and support active citizens’ actions among the members of the Network.
The Network could also establish a communication line with UNESCO emphasizing and communicating facts and information to UNESCO from the active citizens’ point of view, contributing to the common universal interest.
To be more precise, our activities could be defined by 3 main goals:
- Reinforcing and encouraging of active citizens’ engagement as part of UNESCO’s monitoring missions, as well as periodic reporting whenever possible.
- Many Management Plans of the UNESCO Sites have so far been adopted by local authorities just to fulfil the formal obligation with no real measurable results. Management Plans are documents which can allow active citizens participation in the decision-making, implementation, and monitoring phase, especially if they are legally binding documents. These documents should be empowered by the appropriate legal status and enriched with the obligatory active participation of the citizens. The UNESCO support and monitoring in their creation and implementation would be more than welcome.
- Finally, in the light of the fact that depopulation and musealization of once living cities is a huge problem inevitably changing the sites and threatening their outstanding universal value, it is high time we stopped taking inhabited towns for granted. With that in mind, it would be necessary to reconsider the role of the “living city” within the OUV criteria and try to establish new modalities to recognize and protect the value of the inhabited historical city either through OUV criteria or the qualification conditions of authenticity and integrity.
Such an effort would result in all stakeholders being more active in dealing with the aforementioned negative trends that heritage sites have been experiencing for the last several decades.
Many well-meaning people often tell us: “What you are saying is true, but nothing can be done. That battle has already been lost.”
As long as there are active citizens willing to fight for the public interest, the battle has not yet been lost. If in the end the battle should be lost, the losers will not be just us, the citizens. The looser, in case of a UNESCO site, will be the entire humanity.