Tourism und imperialism Ruthless Criticism

[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 3-2000]

Mrs. Wallert did not book this!

Tourism und imperialism


Of course, the tourist is not an imperialist. He does not “conquer” his vacation paradise on behalf of his fatherland, but rather as a peaceful private citizen and guest. He doesn’t want to take over the country he visits, he just wants to see it and enjoy its charms for a few weeks. He comes with the best of intentions and with money. He pays his bills, so he is not taking anything away from anyone, but rather generating income for the locals. The fact that his money is gladly accepted everywhere, and often urgently needed, ensures that he immediately feels at home in the most foreign of countries and cultures. Even without knowing the language, he makes himself understood by the locals with this medium. The basis of the modern traveler’s entire relationship with the host country and its people is based on the fact that he is welcome with his money. It makes no difference whether a tourist is a party animal who brazenly acknowledges this fact, makes demands with the money in his pocket, and goes wild at the vacation destination, or whether he denies this fact and considers it a falsification of his deeper understanding of the foreign culture and his personal love for the host country. Even the alternative tourists who want to immerse themselves in the cherished way of life of the host country can’t get away from the banal basis of their popularity on southern shores, as well as the basis of the friendliness of the local people.

Neither group wants to know that the world is not open and available to their wanderlust because this need crossed their minds, because they love far-off places and/or can pay their expenses. The worldwide efficacy of their monetary power and the global demand for their money presuppose a somewhat more specific relationship than that of buyer and seller – namely, a complete global economy, including an imperialist order of states. The modern citizen of the world does not let the memory of such things spoil the “best weeks of the year.” It’s enough for him that he can travel the world with his money. On this basis, it’s then all individual choice and preferences, hobbies and wanderlust, which everyone satisfies in their own personal way.


The very first tourist experience contradicts the idea that travel is something going back to personal initiative and individual choice. Wherever the tourist goes, he encounters people like himself – usually to his displeasure. And it is always the same people for whom the wildest deserts, the highest mountains, the deepest gorges, the most beautiful beaches with the steadiest winds, the best surf, and still intact coral reefs are reserved: the money earning members of the capitalist centers in North America, Europe and Japan. This collective has swelled enormously since the tourism industry and the nations that depend on it have accepted to the ability of ordinary wage earners to pay. They are also made an offer; and their limited income is also catered to. After all, their work at home is so cheap and profitable for those who use it – their exploitation is so great – that the owners of capital dominate the world market with the products of this work and push the offers of others, e.g. those of the beautiful vacation countries, out of the market so successfully that there is not much left there suitable for the world market apart from nature, or is not even created in the first place. The nations in question thus become vacation destinations and the proletarians of the centers become long-distance travelers. With the purchasing power of their vacation money, they gain a validation that contradicts their financial calculations the rest of the year. They compare themselves to the people in the vacation countries who can’t afford such things and feel like they are participating in the global economic success of their nation. The satisfying comparison with those who earn much less than they do – or nothing at all – is their reward for refusing to compare themselves at home with the incomes of the higher earners.

The international tour operators sell the collective of travelers, who are not born out of individual decisions, a product that is itself not very individual: so that they hand their money over to them and not their rivals, they woo tourists with exoticism, adventure, and “pure nature.” To create their offer, the operators shake up the existing natural and social conditions, clear away some huts and urban districts, and create a lot of stuff. The “last paradises” are artificial products of the adventure industry.


Entire countries live from the business with vacation dollars developed by international companies. Tourism is how they integrate into the global economy. And that means a lot. Obviously, even in these latitudes, states and people are dependent on money that cannot or can barely be earned domestically. These countries are subject to global capitalism without themselves having capital and an internal capitalist business life. All the same, those in power are able to gain a certain amount of access to the money that is in foreign hands for themselves and their followers by hawking to foreigners everything that is typical of the country and that is worth its price: natural resources, tropical fruits, and just the landscape. Annoying locals, who only live their lives unproductively, are driven away from the fertile soils and scenic regions. For them, jobs as waiters and chambermaids are the best, and often only, opportunities for earning money. The others, who are not lucky enough to be allowed to do domestic work for Europeans, eke out a living as small farmers and slum dwellers with a bit of haggling, drug dealing, theft, or begging. The people who are forced to survive under economic conditions that they cannot live on are just an annoyance for the tourism business and a danger to the tourists, who in their eyes are rich and therefore a worthwhile object of their attention. That is why the beach resorts which provide their guests with the appropriate comforts, flown-in food, and select local residents must be shielded from the poverty that is typical in the country. Fences and security guards testify to the fact that the natural paradises that are sold to tourists are not just an abstract achievement of the tourism operators, which are staged at some expense. They also require that the guests do a lot of looking away if they want to feel comfortable in the tropics. The organized separation of the two worlds is the basis of business and customer satisfaction. Once this fails and the tourist is confronted with the economic and political basis of his travel-loving cosmopolitanism, there is great shock: we didn’t book that!


The basis of the tourism business in the Third World is a misery that does not always, but often leads to insurgencies by regional gangs and clans against the state authorities – often with the bleakest slogans and objectives. The German-French-Finnish diving group in the Malaysian-Philippine border region got caught up in one such little war – and not by chance either. It’s not just that they have money worth collecting. They are European lives and as such worth much more to kidnappers than local ones. Almost at the same time as the kidnapping on Jolo, the Philippine government demonstrated how it deals with hostage-taking by insurgents when it has a free hand: the national military “freed” a kidnapped school class and its teachers so thoroughly that most of the hostages were killed along with the terrorists. European hostages, on the other hand, are better commodities. Higher ransoms are paid for them, and only they offer a chance of political bargaining with the government – and in all this, European hostages offer their kidnappers a certain degree of protection against immediate attacks from anti-terrorism units. The powerful EU, which the government in Manila does not want to ruin its relationship with, demands restraint and wants to see the lives of its citizens placed above the Philippine reason of state. The separatists, who want to carve a small Islamic state out of the territory of the Catholic Philippines, are relying in their powerlessness on the global balance of power, in which their oppressors are also just a small number, against the militarily superior central government. They are using the little piece of European sovereignty represented by the kidnapped EU citizens to blackmail the central government. This “internationalization” of the civil war puts the government in the aforementioned predicament of either having to strain its good relations with important EU states or having to abandon its way of fighting terrorism. It therefore agrees to negotiate with the kidnappers about the release of the hostages. In doing so, it upgrades these “criminals” into a negotiating party, officially acknowledging their political objective completely against its own line, and promises concessions. Only after the hostages have been freed is the “fire at will!” policy – in keeping with the state’s interests – reinstated. Of course, the kidnappers know this too – which does not exactly improve the prospects of the hostages being released quickly.


In their distress, the hostages remember quite well the business basis of their world citizenship, which they don’t want to know anything about as long as they acquire this beautiful world through travel. They get to experience what it means to be of interest as citizens of world powers, and they do not become suspicious of the world order that their home countries play a decisive role in determining, but instead rely on their citizenship as the best protection of life and limb. Like their kidnappers, they hope that their passports will command the respect of the government. Because when it comes to the Philippine state, they know exactly how threatening state power and its self-assertion is for people who stand in the way: They fear nothing as much as military action by the government against their captors. The power of their own countries, on the other hand, seems only benevolent to them: The hostages demand, via the journalists who are always present, that Europe do exactly what they fear from the Philippine government. Europe should use its power and influence in the western Pacific archipelago and enforce a “humanitarian solution” against the government there, the likes of which Germany, France and especially Spain would never allowed in fighting their own terrorists – one only needs to remember Hanns Martin Schleyer, Mogadishu and Stockholm. Of course, foreign politicians do not need to be called upon to intervene because the home states see respect for themselves violated when violence is inflicted on their citizens abroad. Of course, they defend this respect for themselves, as well as their political weight in the region. The rescue of the hostages is in good hands with them. The respect that “Europe” has to defend or gain for itself, of course, forbids paying the ransom without any further fuss and without delay – great powers cannot be blackmailed by random gangsters! It also rules out the possibility of the three EU states bypassing the friendly Philippine government and cutting a deal with the kidnappers, indifferent to their security needs, in order to bring their citizens home – after all, there is an interest in stable conditions in this country. The original misfortune of the hostages was that they, as representatives of their nations, became the object of local political disputes; they themselves demanded to be made the subject of international politics. Now they are. It remains to be seen how well the Wallerts will benefit from European interference. But this much is certain: no one will be any the wiser from this experience: If things turn out well, it will be clear that German and European foreign policy is fully dedicated to protecting life. If it ends badly, it will only show that “we” are still far from having enough control over countries like the Philippines, and that Europe needs more power – probably to enable tourists to enjoy themselves. Travel does not broaden the mind after all!