The two most significant global events of the last decade, the 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 Arab Spring, left their greatest mark in the Mediterranean region. When we add the global drop in oil prices in 2014 and the European migrant crisis of 2015, and take into account that the Middle East remains the world’s key crisis flashpoint, we can conclude that the Mediterranean is the region most exposed to turbulent events in the last ten years. Many Mediterranean countries, especially those that are EU Members States, have yet to completely recover from the crisis, and the countries that have experienced the least economic growth are also located in the Mediterranean. The most significant economic declines since 2008 have taken place in Greece and war-ravaged Syria and Libya, while other Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Italy, Croatia or Cyprus, figure prominently among other countries facing various economic issues.
The Arab Spring left no Arab Mediterranean country untouched, and its consequences are still strongly felt in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as in Syria and Libya, which have descended into still unresolved civil wars. Both Tunisia, despite its democratic political system, and Egypt, which is ruled by the army, have been buffeted by terrorist activities, and in both countries conservative Islamic forces show signs of growing stronger. Neighbouring wars and terrorist activities have also had a negative impact on the economic situation in Turkey, while Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories have been in a state of constant instability for decades in spite of their nominal economic growth. Even the relatively peaceful region of south-eastern Europe has, since 2016, shown evidence of increasing ethnic tension, primarily in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
These turbulent events have had a strong impact on tourism, one of the most important industries throughout the Mediterranean, especially in those countries in which it is the main economic activity, such as Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. This has consequences for tourism sustainability from an ecological standpoint, as well as in terms of sociocultural and economic aspects. Therefore, it would be interesting to determine how these changes may affect the sustainability of tourism development in the near future, although the events of the last years make it exceptionally difficult to make accurate predictions. Given that many important processes for tourism sustainability changed course in the escalating turbulence after 2008, the following analysis also took into account the period between 2000 and 2009. For the purposes of simplification, three crucial years were taken into consideration: 2000, the start of the new millennium; 2009, the year marking the beginning of the new turbulent period; and 2016, the most recent year, with the caveat that the tourism data used were from 2015 due to the lack of newer data.
Key Features of Demographic and Economic Trends in the Mediterranean in the New Millennium
The data in Tables 1 and 2, which show the population and per capita GDP figures for Mediterranean countries in 2000, 2009 and 2016, reveal major differences between the countries in terms of both population and economic growth. Three basic groups of countries can be established:
- Western European Mediterranean EU Member States, primarily Spain, France and Italy: These countries have, for the most part, experienced modest, but constant economic growth based on very low or negative population growth, which, in turn, is the consequence of higher economic development and immigration, mostly from other EU Member States and non-EU Mediterranean countries. The somewhat higher population growth in some countries, especially Spain, is largely due to the conversion of holiday homes into permanent residences for older people from developed European countries, primarily Germany and the United Kingdom.
- Eastern European Mediterranean countries: These countries have mostly seen their populations drop as a result of rising living standards and the corresponding decline in the number of children per family. Another reason is emigration due to the lack of quality employment, mostly to developed countries in the EU. This is especially true for poorly developed countries that are not EU Member States and have not started the accession process: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Kosovo. However, other countries have also seen a decrease in the number of inhabitants or minimal population growth, including the three most developed EU Member States in the region, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia.
- Asian and African Mediterranean countries: These mostly moderately developed countries have for the most part experienced strong population growth based on high birth rates, with the highest overall growth being registered in Lebanon and Jordan, countries that have received an influx of refugees from neighbouring regions scoured by war. Somewhat lower growth is seen in those countries that have witnessed robust economic growth in the new millennium, but also intensive emigration to Europe: Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia. Libya and Syria are a case apart, having registered negative population growth despite very high birth rates due to the exodus of their populations as a result of war.
TABLE 1 Populations of Mediterranean Countries in 2000, 2009 and 2016
|Population in 000||Population in 000||Population in 000||Population|
per sq km
|Change %||Change %||Change %|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||51,197||3,836||4,613||3,862||75.4||20.3||-16.3||0.7|
1 Including the population of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. 2 Population data are for the year 2015 instead of 2016. 3 For the year 2000, population data were taken from the 2003 census. 4 Including Israeli settlers in the West Bank. 5 For the year 2000, population date were taken from the 2002 census.
Sources: CIA, The World Factbook 2001, 2010 and 2017, www.cia.gov/library/publications; City Population, Population Statistics for Countries, Administrative Areas, Cities and Agglomerations, www.citypopulation.de/.
TABLE 2 GDP per Capita in Mediterranean Countries in 2000, 2009 and 2016
|Country||GDP per capita in $||GDP per capita in $||GDP per capita in $||Change %||Change %||Change %|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||1,700||6,600||11,000||288.2||66.7||547.1|
1 For the year 2000, data for GDP per capita refer to the whole state of Serbia and Montenegro. 2 GDP per capita data are for the year 2014 instead of 2015. 3 GDP per capita data are for the year 2015 instead of 2016.
Source: CIA, The World Factbook 2001, 2010 and 2017, www.cia.gov/library/publications/.
The economic processes do not correlate with the demographic processes. This is because practically all developed European Mediterranean countries, including Israel, were badly hit by the 2008 economic crisis, and most have not fully recovered. At the same time, all moderately developed countries, except for Syria and Libya due to their wars, have experienced notable economic growth, especially Asian and African Mediterranean countries. However, significant economic growth can also be found in moderately developed Eastern European Mediterranean countries, which have seen negative population growth and emigration, although this growth was much slower in the 2009-2016 period than in the preceding period after 2000. Rapid economic growth in many south-eastern European countries after 2000 was partly due to the improvement in the security situation following the end of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 and the NATO intervention in Serbia in 1999.
Although data on per capita GDP growth needs to be taken with a grain of salt due to differences in currency exchange rates, it is interesting that the greatest growth in the 2000-2009 and 2009-2016 periods occurred in Turkey and all the Arab Mediterranean countries except for Syria and Libya. Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey registered the highest growth, while growth in Tunisia was much lower, largely because of the Tunisian economy’s much greater dependence on tourism. According to recent data, only Algeria, Turkey and Malta registered real GDP growth rates consistently higher than 3% in the last three years, with the latter being a special case due to the recent growth of its financial and IT sectors.
Tourism Development Processes in the Mediterranean and Consequences for Sustainability
Like the demographic and economic processes, the data on tourism development point to three similar groups of countries. However, the trends are significantly different and there are numerous discrepancies, mostly due to political and security aspects. Based on the data on the number of foreign tourists and tourism revenue shown in Tables 3 and 4, the countries can again be divided into three groups in keeping with three characteristic trends in tourism development:
- Growth in tourism in the western part of the European Mediterranean, which includes the three countries with the strongest tourism sectors (Spain, France and Italy), has been moderate in the last six years, although still significantly higher than the economic growth in these countries. The comparatively small number of registered foreign tourists in 2009 compared to 2000 signifies that tourism in all three countries, as well as in neighbouring Portugal, was hit hard by the 2008 economic crisis. Information on tourism revenue shows comparatively higher growth between the years of 2000 and 2009, followed by a decline in the 2009-2015 period. This is partly due to disturbances in currency exchange rates with the euro, but it can also be attributed to the drop in tourism service prices as a result of the crisis. Somewhat similar trends can be seen in Cyprus, Israel and, to some extent, Malta, which is the only Mediterranean country in the EU to have fully recovered from the crisis. Another interesting fact is that Spain, the western Mediterranean country most affected by the financial crisis, exhibits significantly higher absolute and relative tourism growth than both Italy and France, which were less significantly hit by the crisis.
- The eastern part of the European Mediterranean has also seen proportionally high growth in tourism, especially in those countries that started at very low levels in previous periods, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia. Tourism also grew strongly in other south-eastern European countries, including Turkey and three EU Member States: Greece, Croatia and Slovenia. The most impressive growth was registered in Albania, where the number of foreign tourists is now twelve times higher than at the turn of the new millennium, such that the country is now a respectable tourism destination. Indeed, when tourist numbers are taken into account, it outperforms states that it previously lagged far behind, such as Cyprus and Israel. Strong tourism growth can also be found in both Turkey, a country that has experienced significant demographic growth since 2000, and those countries that have seen rapidly declines in their populations and strong emigration. Additionally, tourism growth rates are positive in both countries where the entire economy is growing, such as Montenegro and Albania, and Greece and Croatia, countries that were hit hard by the 2008 economic crisis.
- With the exception of Morocco, Arab countries in the African and Asian Mediterranean experienced a large drop in the number of tourists after significant growth in the 2000s. This is especially the case in Egypt and Tunisia, the strongest tourist destinations in the African Mediterranean, where the number of tourists fell by more than 20 per cent between 2009 and 2016, as well as in Syria and Libya, where tourism has virtually disappeared due to the wars. The decline in tourism is also evident in other Arab states, both in Lebanon and Jordan, which have somewhat developed tourism industries, and in Algeria, which has just begun to open up to tourism. Seeing that, with the exception of Syria and Libya, these countries are experiencing high demographic and economic growth, it is clear that this decline is primarily due to the Arab Spring. In this regard, it is worth noting that Morocco, despite registering the greatest tourism growth of all the Arab Mediterranean countries, is following unfavourable demographic and economic trends, not only compared to Algeria, where tourism has never played a significant role, but also Egypt, where the tourism sector is experiencing major problems.
TABLE 3 Number of Tourists in Mediterranean Countries in 2000, 2009 and 2015
|Country||Tourists in thousands||Tourists in thousands||Tourists in thousands||Change %||Change %||Change %||Concentration of tourism near theh Mediterranean coast|
|Albania||317||1,792||3,784||465.3||111.2||1,093.7||very high (over 90%)|
|Algeria||866||1,912||1,710||120.8||-10.6||97.5||undeveloped tourism industry|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||171||311||678||81.9||118.0||296.5||low (5-25%)|
|Croatia||5,831||8,694||12,683||49.1||45.9||117.5||very high (over 90%)|
|Cyprus||2,686||2,141||2,659||-20.3||24.2||-1.0||very high (over 90%)|
|Greece||13,096||14,915||23,599||13.9||58.2||80.2||very high (over 90%)|
|Jordan||1,427||3,789||3,761||165.5||-0.7||163.6||not on the Mediterranean|
|Lebanon||742||1,844||1,518||148.5||-17.7||104.6||very high (over 90%)|
|Libya1*||174||34||…||-80.5||…||…||undeveloped tourism industry|
|Macedonia||224||259||486||15.6||87.6||117.0||not on the Mediterranean|
|Malta||1,216||1,182||1,791||-2.8||51.5||47.3||very high (over 90%)|
|Montenegro2||…||1,044||1,560||…||49.4||…||very high (over 90%)|
|Palestinian territories||330||396||432||20.0||9.1||30.9||undeveloped tourism industry|
|Portugal||12,097||6,439||9,957||-46.8||54.6||-17.7||not on the Mediterranean|
|Serbia2||239||645||1,132||…||75.5||373.6||not on the Mediterranean|
|Syria||1,416||6,092||…||330.2||…||…||undeveloped tourism industry|
|Tunisia||5,058||6,901||5,359||36.4||-22.3||6.0||very high (over 90%)|
1 Data for the number of tourists are for the year 2008 instead of 2009. 2 For the year 2000, data for the number of tourists refer to the whole state of Serbia and Montenegro.
Sources: UNWTO, Compendium of Tourism Statistics (Data 1999-2003, 2006-2010 and 2011-2015), 2005, 2012 and 2017 editions, UNWTO, Madrid; and internal data from the Institute for Tourism Zagreb.
TABLE 4 Tourism Receipts in Mediterranean Countries in 2000, 2009 and 2015
|Country||Tourism receipts in mill. $||Tourism receipts in mill. $||Tourism receipts in mill. $||Change %||Change %||Change %||Expenditure|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||178||772||713||333.7||-7.6||300.6||1,052||185|
1 Data for the number of tourism receipt are for the year 2008 instead of 2009. 2 For the year 2000, data for the number of tourism receipt refer to the whole state of Serbia and Montenegro.
Sources: UNWTO, Compendium of Tourism Statistics (Data 1999-2003, 2006-2010 and 2011-2015), 2005, 2012 and 2017 editions, UNWTO, Madrid.
In light of the listed differences, it is clear that over the entire period from 2000 to 2015, tourism in the Mediterranean grew the most in the north-eastern part of the region. The strong tourism growth in the eastern European Mediterranean is partly due to the redirection of tourists who previously went to Egypt and Tunisia, but also to improvements in the security situation in the aftermath of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. In recent years, most south-eastern European countries generally became safer than Western Europe, especially France and Germany, which have been exposed to terrorist attacks and problems with large immigrant populations from Islamic countries in Africa and Asia. Another significant pull factor for tourism in south-eastern Europe is the more competitive prices, which have emerged as an important consideration given the economic crisis in the EU, the main tourist market for the whole Mediterranean region.
Turbulent events have had a strong impact on tourism, one of the most important industries throughout the Mediterranean, especially in those countries in which it is the main economic activity
The consequences of these trends for the sustainability of tourism development in the Mediterranean are also different for each of the three groups of Mediterranean countries, although the numerous specificities of individual states and areas within them must be taken into account. In this context, special importance should be given to countries primarily oriented towards beach tourism on the Mediterranean coast, including most of the eastern European Mediterranean, as can be seen in Table 4. It is especially the case in Greece, Croatia, Albania, Cyprus and Montenegro and, to a lesser extent Turkey, while in the other Mediterranean states, tourism is highly concentrated on the coasts only in Malta and Tunisia and, to a lesser extent, Spain, Italy and Israel. However, problems of tourism concentration in coastal areas can also be found in countries in which tourism is not primarily focused on the Mediterranean coast, such as Egypt or France, as well as in countries that have very short coastlines, such as Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
One important indicator of the growing pressure on the natural environment in the Mediterranean is the increase in airplane passengers, as shown in Table 5. In the last ten years, this growth has also been highest in the eastern European Mediterranean, especially in Croatia and Montenegro. A significant increase in the number of airplane passengers was also seen in Morocco, as well as in certain Asian and African Mediterranean countries that did not register significant growth in tourism as a whole, such as Egypt, Lebanon or Algeria. The growth of low-cost airlines and the renovation of airports, such as the one in Alexandria in Egypt, should also be taken into account. Although the growth in airplane traffic in the western part of the Mediterranean was significantly weaker, there were differences in specific areas. The highest growth was registered in regions that have historically been less developed in terms of tourism, such as the southern Adriatic coast of Italy, while air traffic increased the least in the two main French tourism regions of Provence and Occitanie, as well as in the Balearic Islands, the area with the highest tourism concentration in Spain.
TABLE 5 Number of Passengers at Airports Located Less than 100 Kilometres from the Mediterranean Coast
|State / region (airports with 100,000 or more passengers in brackets)||Total number of passengers||Total number of passengers||Total number of passengers||Change %||Change %||Change %|
|Spain – Andalusia and Melilla (Malaga, Almeria, Jerez de la Frontera, Granada-Jaen, Melilla)||11,767,528||14,975,390||19,592,293||27.3||30.8||66.5|
|Spain – Valencia and Murcia (Valencia, Alicante, Murcia)||8,411,957||15,519,140||19,241,029||84.5||24.0||128.7|
|Spain – Balearic Islands (Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca)||26,650,293||28,209,526||36,848,862||5.9||30.6||38.3|
|Spain – Catalonia / Barcelona (Barcelona, Girona, Reus)||21,167,650||34,415,267||46,637,067||62.6||35.5||120.3|
|France – Occitanie (Montpellier, Perpignan, Carcassonne, Béziers, Nîmes)||2,733,337||2,372,118||2,715,706||-13.2||14.5||-0.6|
|France – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (Nice, Marseilles, Toulon)||16,556,441||17,697,756||21,453,936||6.9||21.2||29.6|
|France – Corsica (Ajaccio, Bastia, Figari, Calvi)||2,212,419||2,503,239||3,349,413||13.1||33.8||51.4|
|Italy – Tuscany, Liguria and Piedmont (Pisa, Florence, Genoa, Cuneo)||3,825,663||6,963,966||8,910,999||82.0||28.0||132.9|
|Italy – Lazio / Rome (Rome Fiumicino, Rome Ciampino)||27,117,643||38,565,915||47,140,468||42.2||22.2||73.8|
|Italy – Campania and Calabria (Naples, Lamezia Terme, Reggio Calabria, Crotone)||5,463,046||7,451,333||10,059,392||36.4||35.0||84.1|
|Italy – Sicily (Catania, Palermo, Trapani, Comiso, Lampedusa, Pantelleria)||7,393,302||11,699,011||15,551,570||58.2||32.9||110.3|
|Italy – Sardinia (Cagliari, Olbia, Alghero)||4,068,064||6,534,526||7,587,521||60.6||16.1||86.5|
|Italy – Puglia and Abruzzo (Bari, Brindisi, Pescara)||1,980,157||4,325,771||7,224,523||118.5||67.0||264.8|
|Italy – Emilia-Romagna and Marche (Bologna, Rimini, Forli, Ancona)||3,959,391||6,114,379||8,403,320||54.4||37.4||112.2|
|Italy – Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Venice, Treviso, Trieste)||4,991,715||9,180,923||12,986,554||83.9||41.5||160.2|
|Croatia (Split, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Pula, Rijeka)||1,079,987||2,861,663||5,377,124||165.0||87.9||397.9|
|Montenegro (Tivat, Podgorica)||696,678||982,532||1,855,836||41.0||88.9||166.4|
|Greece – Ionian Islands and Epirus (Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefallinia, Preveza, Ioannina)2||3,742,000||3,498,000||5,328,404||-6.5||52.3||42.4|
|Greece – Attica and the Peloponnese (Athens, Patras, Kalamata) 2||12,010,448||16,383,589||20,377,368||36.4||24.4||69.7|
|Greece – Crete (Heraklion, Chania)2||6,492,726||6,847,840||9,854,160||5.5||43.9||51.8|
|Greece – Aegean Islands (Rhodes, Kos, Santorini, Mykonos, Mytilene, Samos, Karpathos, Chios, Lemnos)2||7,213,175||7,708,111||10,886,116||6.9||41.2||50.9|
|Greece – Macedonia, Thrace and Thessaly (Thessaloniki, Skiathos, Kavala, Alexandroupolis)2||4,409,027||4,985,195||6,868,791||13.1||37.8||55.8|
|Turkey – Aegean (Izmir, Dalaman, Bodrum, Balikesir, Çanakkale)||5,610,050||12,349,941||20,695,048||120.1||67.6||268.9|
|Turkey – Mediterranean (Antalya, Alanya, Adana, Hatay)||8,405,474||21,512,170||26,708,664||155.9||24.2||217.8|
|Cyprus (Larnaca, Ercan, Paphos)1||7,764,915||9,053,235||12,414,729||16.6||37.1||59.9|
|Israel (Tel Aviv Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv Sde Dov, Haifa)||10,849,076||11,638,477||18,750,730||7.3||61.1||72.8|
|Egypt * (Alexandria, Borg El-Arab)||263,491||1,514,017||2,788,710||474.6||84.2||958.4|
|Tunisia (Tunis, Enfidha, Djerba, Monastir)||9,435,103||11,046,316||11,465,757||17.1||3.8||21.5|
|Algeria (Algiers, Oran, Bejaia)1||3,775,701||5,795,623||8,282,702||53.5||42.9||119.4|
|Morocco (Tangier, Nador, Oujda)||531,628||1,106,880||2,035,163||108.2||83.9||282.8|
Sources: Airports Council International, www.aci.aero/; internal data from the Institute for Tourism Zagreb and national statistics.
In line with these developments, since 2000, the state of environmental sustainability has declined the most in countries in the eastern European Mediterranean, and much less in countries with more developed tourism industries, such as Spain, France and Italy, although a proportionally larger share of the Mediterranean coastline is filled with tourism infrastructure in these three countries than in most of the eastern European Mediterranean ones. Unfortunately, in Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Montenegro and, especially, Albania, insufficient sensitivity has been shown towards the environmental aspects of the rapid expansion of tourism. As a result, in the last twenty years these countries have been exposed to very intense and, for the most part, unplanned development of tourism infrastructure and secondary residences along a substantial proportion of their coastlines, repeating the numerous mistakes made by western European Mediterranean countries in the past.
Special importance should be given to countries primarily oriented towards beach tourism on the Mediterranean coast
The widespread perception that tourism has an overwhelmingly positive impact on the sociocultural and economic spheres, the other two primary pillars of sustainability, has led to declines in its environmental sustainability. This is especially true in Albania, Montenegro and Turkey, which are currently undergoing processes of very strong demographic and economic growth in coastal areas as a result of tourism, with the corresponding demographic and economic decline in inland regions. In these countries, tourism jobs are still considered more desirable than most other types of jobs, despite the relatively low salaries compared to developed European countries and the seasonal nature of the employment. In recent years, this has also been the case even in comparatively more developed countries, such as Greece and Croatia, where the economic crisis led to job loss and a drastic decrease in salaries in almost all basic types of jobs other than tourism. It is to be expected that sensitivity to the negative impacts of tourism would be even less pronounced in the African part of the Mediterranean, where many tourism jobs were lost due to the Arab Spring, and doubt has been cast on the continued profitability of existing tourist businesses due to the drastic price cuts implemented to stay in business.
Challenges of Future Sustainable Tourism Development in the Mediterranean in Light of the New Circumstances
Although tourism continues to grow in the Mediterranean in the new millennium, especially in the eastern European part, compared to other regions of the world, this growth is much weaker. For example, the number of foreign tourists in the Mediterranean in the 2000-2015 period increased by 44%, a rate similar to that found in the regions of Western Europe, North America and the Caribbean, with the lowest growth being registered in countries in which sustainability was jeopardized in many areas due to intensive development in the past. At the same time, in areas of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Far East, Southeast Asia and Central America, tourism more than doubled, although it should be borne in mind that many destinations carried out large projects of dubious environmental sustainability, which were only moderately resisted due to the economic benefits of tourism.
Excessive development of tourist infrastructure has not been stopped, despite widespread awareness of the numerous negative consequences of this form of development, primarily, low utilization and occupation of large and valuable tracts of coastline
Significant resistance to the expansion of tourism in the Mediterranean occurred mainly in specific areas of extremely high pressure, mostly consisting of exceptionally attractive urban areas. This was especially true in cities exposed to large numbers of cruise ships, such as Barcelona in Spain, Venice in Italy, Dubrovnik in Croatia or Rhodes in Greece. Increasingly, there is resistance to the development of tourist apartments and secondary residences in coastal areas, which are seen as an especially aggressive form of endangering the environment that has been too often ignored in the past. However, excessive development of tourist infrastructure and apartments, such as on the Costa del Sol or in the Balearic Islands in Spain or on the Adriatic coast of Italy, continues on the Mediterranean coast of Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Egypt and other countries, often in even worse forms due to unplanned expansion and poor-quality buildings. Unfortunately, this has not been stopped, despite widespread awareness of the numerous negative consequences of this form of development, primarily, low utilization and occupation of large and valuable tracts of coastline, as well as the fact that excessive development of such infrastructure and overestimation of its value were one of the causes of the economic crisis in Mediterranean EU Member States in the first place.
In light of the above, it can be concluded that these processes will continue, but that increased awareness of environmental issues and even greater awareness of their negative economic effects will partially mitigate them. It is also to be expected that the overall demographic and economic trends in the European Mediterranean will result in slower tourism growth compared to other regions of the world. Finally, there is a danger that the political situation could worsen, especially in the hitherto fastest-growing area in terms of tourism, the eastern European Mediterranean, due to increasing ethnic tensions, especially in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia, along with the existing problems in Turkey due to the effects of the wars in neighbouring Syria and Iraq. However, this does not mean that these countries, like any other Mediterranean country, should ignore the negative impact of tourism, especially excessive construction in coastal areas, the primary tourism resource for the whole Mediterranean.
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