Keyword in Focus

Keyword in Focus: Tunisia

Too few jobs or too many graduates? Image: courtesy of Stefano Benetti

“A socio-economic oasis in a political desert”: this is how Diogo Noivo describes Tunisia in a 2009 briefing paper for the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS). It got about by now that the notorious tourist destination is not a paradise for critical spirits and democratically-minded people. But now it seems that even the socio-economic oasis Tunisia was supposed to be is drying out.

A desperate, unemployed university graduate, who was denied the right to have a vegetable stall on the local market in a provincial town and slapped and insulted by the police, burnt himself in protest. Demonstrations organized by otherwise loyal trade unions were not crushed by the government’s security forces for a change and the autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali reacted to the protests by firing his youth minister and allocating more money for the country’s youth programs. However, the angry crowd didn’t let itself calm down by this and Ben Ali returned to his old methods: guns and batons.

In this excellent report, the German-language Swiss public radio reveals the socio-economic causes of this unrest: Tunisia’s good education system brings out tens of thousands of university graduates every  year, which the country’s low-tech industries such as textiles and cheap tourism can’t absorb.

One Person’s Dream and Another’s Nightmare

When in Milan last week, my eyes were seduced by big posters showing picturesque coastlines and romantic sceneries with ruins of antique temples in the foreground. Pure beauty, a pleasure for the eyes and the traveller in me craving. „Tunisia“ it said on the posters, „la vacanza piu’ vicina ai tuoi sogni“ – the holidays closest to your dreams.

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My emotions still captured by the beautiful images, I started to realize that these were the work of the Tunisian tourist industry, which was running a big scale advertisement campaign in the Metropolitana, the Milanese underground. But not only there: On a piazza close to Milan’s famous Duomo Tunisia Turismo had built a tent where it presented the destination with music, food and folklore.

Whereas the latter seemed corny and did not appeal to me the posters did. But there was one problem. The beautiful images clashed in my head with the notion of Tunisia being a country where civil liberties have been restricted and where government censorship and self-censorship has infected the society. Over the last decade or so, Tunisia has become an autocratic regime under the rule of the president with the poetic name Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Nevertheless, in times when the Italian people seem to be hit hard by the economic crisis, the advertisers have a very good argument: “Tunisia, un Paese vicino, dall’atmosfera esotica”. Even though Tunisia is very close to Italy (read inexpensive to visit), it is an exotic place.