Globalization in the life of small island towns: changes for better or worse? The case of the island of Kos (Greece).

Author:Kaurinkoski, Kira
Position:Case study


Globalization describes the process by which regional economies, societies and cultures have become integrated through communication, transportation and trade. The term is most closely associated with economic globalization: the integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, the spread of technology and military presence (Bhagwati, 2004). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "globalization" was first employed in a publication entitled Towards New Education in 1930, to denote a holistic view of human experience in education. However, it was only in the 1960s that the term began to be widely used by economists and other social scientists. Since its inception the term has inspired numerous competing definitions and interpretations. Most of them acknowledge the greater movement of people, goods, capital and ideas due to increased economic integration which in turn is propelled by increased trade and investment. Tom G. Palmer defines globalization as "the diminution of state-enforced restrictions on exchanges across borders and the increasingly integrated and complex global system of production and exchange that has emerged as a result". (1) Thomas L. Friedman argues that globalized trade, outsourcing, supply-chaining, and political forces have changed the world permanently, for both better and worse. He also argues that the pace of globalization is quickening and will continue to have a growing impact on business organization and practice (2008, 49).

Globalization and international tourism are interconnected processes. Tourism in the small island context involves people who come from other countries to enjoy the special atmosphere of living on an island. Usually, the tourists who come to the islands have been attracted by the image of the island environment: the sun and the sea, white sandy beaches and waving palm trees, lush vegetation and friendly natives. Tourism thus depends for its success on the quality of environment, and good tourist development requires protection and even improvement of the environment.

Economically, tourism can create jobs for local people and bring money. However, many tourists like the comfort they are used to at home, and increasingly, import a large part of their requirements, so that much of the money may leave the country again to pay for these imports. Moreover, if the hotels have been financed by foreign investors, they want to export their profits. The social impacts may also be important. Tourists often come from other societies with different values and lifestyles, and because they come seeking pleasure, they may spend large amounts of money and behave in ways that they themselves would not accept at home. Out of ignorance or carelessness, they may fail to respect local customs and moral values. Overall, tourism tends to be a mixed blessing in its benefits and impacts on the island environment. If it is allowed to grow unplanned, it can have serious social and environmental repercussions while providing little real economic benefit. If developed with care, it can bring advantages to small island communities with few other resources (Dahl, 1982).

For Western and Northern Europeans the Mediterranean region has for a long time had a special aura of relaxed and restful atmosphere. In this case, it is similar to the Soviet Union, where the idea of rest and vacation was closely linked with the Black Sea. The local populations of both the Mediterranean and the Crimean and Caucasian coasts to a large extent live off tourism, yet they tend to dislike and despise holidaymakers. (2)

Likewise, the opening of borders following the political changes in Europe since 1990 has been often accompanied by opposing processes of closure at the level of the local society. Border regions are particularly interesting places for the observation of such phenomena as has been demonstrated by recent research (Green, 2005; Sutton, 1998). The aim of this essay is to reflect on the effects of globalization, international tourism and migration on the island of Kos. Particular attention will be paid to the integration of "foreigners" and to the coexistence of different ethnic groups in the context of an island community in contemporary Greece. (3)

The case of the island of Kos

Kos is one of the main islands of the Dodecanese and one of the most important islands from an administrative, demographic and economic point of view. Because of its geopolitical location, its history and the diversity of cultural and religious influences across time, this island group is a particularly interesting place for fieldwork. In the Middle Ages, the Dodecanese belonged to the Knights of Saint John (1309-1522) and from 1522 to the Ottoman Empire. In 1912, after a war between the Ottoman Empire and Italy, the Dodecanese were subjected to Italian administration (1912-1943). During World War II, it was occupied by Germany and then placed under British control. It is the last region incorporated into the Greek State in 1947.

There are substantial differences in the manner these islands have developed in the course of the twentieth century. The Italians undertook important infrastructure work on the main islands, Rhodes and Kos. They created a naval base and settled 14 000 colonists in Leros. Yet, they did little to retain the inhabitants of Kalymnos, Symi and Kastellorizo after phohibiting sponge fishing on the Libyan coast and when cultivation of land in Asia Minor, where "many had their fields" was no longer possible. As a consequence, many inhabitants, in particular from these islands, emigrated overseas. Others, coming from smaller islands, find seasonal work in Kos and Rhodes (Kolodny, 2004).

Since the 1970s Rhodes and Kos have mainly followed a development pattern meeting the demands of the tourism sector. Each island has an international airport and both were among the first international charter flight destinations in Greece. The other islands have followed a different development pattern in the field of tourism. Patmos is mainly known as a place for pilgrimage for Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics, whereas Kalymnos, the only island where sponge fishing is still practiced, has gained international fame as a favorite meeting place for rock climbers.


Kos is also known as the spiritual home of Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), considered to be the greatest physician of antiquity. The ancient sanctuary of Asklipeion and a plane tree are consecrated to his memory. There are Roman and Greek ruins, as well as Latin, Byzantine and Ottoman monuments there. The remains of an old synagogue and the Jewish cemetery remind us of the local Jewish community of the past.

Rich and culturally diverse history of Kos is reflected not only in its monuments but also in its population. Today, the great majority are Greek Orthodox but there is also a Muslim population of ethnic Turks, as well as a small number of Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Since the 1980s Kos has been a home for large numbers of foreign residents, as well as economic migrants and refugees. The former are mainly Western and Northern Europeans, whereas the latter mainly come from the Balkans, Eastern Europe, South-East Asia and the Middle East.

Moreover, Kos is an island that has water, an important resource lacking on many Greek islands. All in all, the island covers an area of 295 square kilometers and has a population of approximately 30,000 inhabitants. The principal socio-professional activities of the population are tourism and agriculture; a smaller number of residents are employed in the public sector.


A brief overview of tourism development in Kos

The first tourist groups arrived in Kos in the 1970s. The 1980s saw the opening of the first larger hotels. In the 1980s, the socialist government of Andreas Papandreou granted long-term loans to returning ethnic Greeks who wanted to...

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