Glänta focuses on what the editors call the ‘tensions between city and countryside, centre and periphery’. Suddenly, they argue, rural life has taken centre stage; that is where things are happening now, things that ‘are deciding the future of the world’.
In an article originally published in Sociology of Development and amended for Glänta, Saskia Sassenclaims that today’s migration differs from that of the past. ‘These … are not the migrants in search of a better life who hope to send money and perhaps return to the family left behind. These are people in search of bare life, with no home to return to.’ People leave rural areas land-grabbed by countries or international companies and move to big cities, where they are confronted with gated communities and violence – only to have to leave again. ‘These trends are enormous challenges to the international system, with Europe the destination of most of these flows.’
The Riace model: ‘Welcoming refugees is a way forwards for a European countryside caught up in the crisis of rural depopulation,’ writes Olav Fumarola Unsgaard in a reportage connecting the small city of Riace in southern Italy with the Swedish municipality of Lessebo.
In 1998, a ship carrying 218 Kurdish refugees landed close to Riace. Domenico Lucano, the mayor, has since become something of a legend (even making it onto Fortune’s list of the world’s 50 most important politicians). Ever since he and the inhabitants of Riace decided to take the newcomers, their community has been different. ‘Riace is poor and down at heel,’ writes Unsgaard. ‘But as far as the economy is concerned, the arrival of the refugees saved this city.’
Lessebo, one of the cities in Sweden – and in Europe – to have received most refugees per capita, is the northern equivalent of Riace. Two years ago, people started to talk about schools having to close down. ‘Today’, says the ‘refugee strategist’ of the municipality, ‘we have had to build additional pavilions to be able to accommodate all the students.’
Is there a Riace model? Is there a Lessebo model? Yes, argues Unsgaard. ‘These cities certainly need investments coming from afar. But they also need people who move into the empty villas, the apartments and hotels that just stand there without any guests. Only then can wealth be sustained and schools be kept open.’