Who´s Town Is It? Immigrant Investors, Gentrification and Politics of Belonging and Place Making in Karlovy Vary

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Ludek SYKORA, Charles University, Czech Republic
Klara FIEDLEROVA, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic
Neither James Bond Casino Royale, nor annual international film festival are the key reasons that attracted Russian investors, entrepreneurs, life-style immigrants and visitors to Karlovy Vary, a spa town in Western Bohemia. It was fragmented privatization of spa and hotel complexes that repelled German capital while opening opportunities for Russian investments to utilize market potential of historic tradition of spa guests ranging from tsar Peter the Great to Soviet Astronauts. The environment of close cultural proximity offered somewhat hidden shelter for families, while keeping business operations in Russia. Contracts with Russian partners and direct flights from Russia paved the way for a massive inflow of spa guests from post-soviet spaces, thus making Russian the most heard language in the spa zone. It provided further business opportunities as well as jobs for less paid labor drawn from post-soviet republics. The superiority of foreign over domestic finance capitalized in spa zone residential sector though wholesale gentrification and displacement of locals by wealthier Russian life-style immigrants. Not surprisingly, local population began to name the town spa zone Ivan Vary (Ivan is Russian name) calling for negative and xenophobic media representations of socially polarized town landscape. On the other hand side, a local statement that “every smart Karlovarak (manager) found its Russian (investor)” refers to functioning multiethnic partnerships in everyday business life. Building on interviews with Russian speaking immigrants as well as original local population, with managers, employees, residents as well as political representatives, this paper discusses the patterns and politics of belonging and place (re)making in a town of dynamic urban transformations, ethnic tensions and transnational linkages.