Venice sinks – What can be done?

“Can we save Venice before it is too late?” – asks Salvatore Settis on the Opinion Pages of the International New York Times. He is the chairman of the Louvre Museum’s scientific advisory council and the author of the – not forthcoming as INYT says – already published book “If Venice Dies.”

With a shrinking population – today only 56,000 inhabitants – and as many as 20 million visitors per year, Venice’s very existence is indeed threatened.

That Venice is in peril – well, that has been known for quite some time. And the diagnosis of the malaise is quite clear too: Greed, short-sightedness, corruption etc. being central catchwords. And fundamentally: the lack of appreciation of non-material, cultural creation that characterizes the ‘market’ lead, profiteering epoch in which we live.

Group Selfie: Tourists Turn Their Backs To Venice’s History @ Jan Oberg 2016

Fortunately, there are constructive initiatives – but they don’t seem to be able to turn the trend. Venice is also sinking physically…

One very important such initiative is the 40+ years one with exactly that title – Venice in Peril and its Fund. There is the wonderful initiative by globally renown photographers who took photos in Venice and put the income from auctioning them into doing good for Venice – see the book and website of Real Venice.

I’m sure there are many others, I haven’t investigated it.

I have been to Venice many times. I love it. It’s a favourite destination for my photography.

I love the city itself, the Venetians I have met, the charm, the stunning beauty – the compact of history, art – old and new – and cultural expressions such as film, architecture, literature, music and the arts. I’ve ploughed through Arsenale, Giardini and tons of palaces and art institutions during the Biennale over the last 10 years.

The street I lived in in 2015 © Jan Oberg 2016

I have, like my mentor Viggo Rivad, taken thousands of photos because few places on earth offer better photo opportunities – in the real sense of that concept – than Venice.

And I don’t only love Venice. I respect it. And I’ve tried to pay a little back for all it has given me.

Venice is uniquely unique in this world. There is nothing like it anywhere. It must be preserved. If we want to see ourselves as civilized. And it is not only a matter for local or national Italian politicians. It for all of us.

When I read this undoubtedly very knowledgeable author’s account I understand the extent to which it can be see as a human and cultural tragedy in-the-making!

A culture-cide! A mass killing of culture – like we can speak of an eco-cide (on the environment) and genocide (on a people)or omni-cide (nuclear destruction of humanity, killing all).

Short-sighted politicians and moneyed interests join forces to destroy a world cultural heritage and contemporary cultural centre with, among others, the Biennales.

Where is the EU? Can one say that it has a cultural dimension or policy if this is allowed to continue to the predictable, bitter end?

Will Europe and the Europeans continue to let Venice decay? 

Is it possible to raise a debate about something more important than money, trade, taxes, finance, material economic growth – and burkinis?

Venice is a city from which the last citizens will soon leave. Most of them in wheelchairs.

What is the essential difference between this destruction caused by primitive capitalist instincts and ISIS’ primitive destroying and looting of cultural heritage objects? Or the US looting of the Bagdad Museum?

Only the means and the time it takes. The end result is the same: Contempt for history and culture, for common human heritage and – mind you – for the future and its generations that will be deprived of every sense of their roots and cultural belonging.

A civilisation in which money is everything and culture and human creation nothing, doesn’t deserve to lead or being looked up to. Or survive. It will – should – become a periphery.

If Venice sinks, Europe sinks. The West sinks.

And Venice will be the symbol par excellence of that.

A Venetian Woman? © Jan Oberg 2016

It feels empty to only express despair. But I honestly don’t know what can be done and whether it is too little. But what about this:

  • Make it a requirement that any tourist who want to visit Venice must stay for at least 5 or 7 days. No short-term destructive visits by people who have little or no interest of culture anyhow.
  • Limit the – damn – cruise liners that deliver the main destruction. Or set a maximum size of the ship and the number of them allowed in per month.
  • Or set a minimum number of days the liners must be anchored up – say 5. Fewer would be willing to go there for such a longer time.
  • Set a maximum number of tourists that are allowed into Venice – not easy of course, but the experience of the Seychelles may be wise to explore.
  • Set up an international fund for collection of money and channelling funds into Venice only if the local decision-makers take action – a sort of development aid conditioned upon right behaviour.
  • The thousands of smaller and bigger goodwill initiatives like Venice in Peril mentioned above. Cultural workers of all kinds giving priority to saving Venice?

And what would you suggest – a lover of Venezia, I suppose, if you have read this far?


Would love to read your views, ideas or suggestions here

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