Holidays and Cold war at the Black Sea

Petruț Călinescu

The Black Sea is at the heart of centuries of warfare, turmoil and historical drama. This site of totalitarian regimes and young democracies is a melting pot of ethnic minorities and a point of convergence for Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Its waters, shores and inland suffered massive transformations as the surrounding countries tried to tame, reshape and reinforce the areas around the coast while exploiting its resources for trade, defence and tourism. Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014 and insurrection in east Ukraine have transformed the foreign policy in West Europe, the U.S, Turkey and the former Soviet Union. Now countries from the Baltics to Turkey experience an escalation of military, naval and air force activity. In May 2016, NATO opened a missile defence site in Romania aimed at protecting Europe from ballistic rockets. This angered Russia, which opposes a strong foreign military presence in its former sphere of influence. “We have slid back into a new Cold War,” said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. But this divide no longer runs through central Europe. With Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia tore apart by frozen conflicts, the Iron Curtain has moved eastward to the Black Sea. Yet for generations, people from countries surrounding the sea have worked hard all year with one dream in their minds: to spend a holiday on its shores. Its beaches and waters are the trophies for millions who assault the seaside every summer. Whatever political upsurge these citizens experience at home, where they find love, freedom and memories to treasure. I was born at the seaside in Romania and am fascinated by the sea and its power over people. Since 2010 I have been documenting the role of the Black Sea in the countries and separatist republics that share its basin, seen in the pictures below. Signs of historic conflicts remain all over the shores: from World War II seafront bunkers turned into bars in Romania, to sandy beaches shelled in the 1990s in Abkhazia, which is packed with Russian tourists in the summer. Here wrecked battleships, parades of naval strength and war games are a background to tourists’ long sunny days at the beach, in a landscape where leisure and tension entwine.