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Romanians Fight Over Future of Nude Beach

Thu Aug 21
By ALISON MUTLER, Associated Press Writer

VAMA VECHE, Romania - Naked men and women sun themselves or play
backgammon as peaceful, silvery waves lap at the Black Sea beach.

But the peace is deceptive: Vama Veche has become the setting for a bitter
summer dispute.

An influx of post-communist money, entrepreneurs and tourists - along with
noisy jet skis, blaring pop music and flashy hotels - has irked students
and aging hippies at the beach resort.

As a result, the purists and longtime visitors have launched an
international "Save Vama Veche" campaign to try and preserve their nudist
paradise from what they see as uncontrolled tourist development.

So far, the hippies seem to have the upper hand raising opposition to
Romania's new capitalists who would see Vama Veche become a moneymaking
resort region: This past weekend a concert featuring jazz, classical and
rock music that was organized by the hippies to call attention to their
fight drew a crowd of 10,000 people.

Vama Veche, just a few minutes walk from the border with Bulgaria, became
famous in the 1960s as an oasis of freedom far from the prying eyes of
what was then a communist state.

"Poets and writers came here and cohabited with the fishermen," said
writer Andrei Oisteanu, who has been coming here since 1967. "It became a
big colony of intellectual nudists that upset the communists."

Under the communists, writers and intellectuals dozed or sunbathed naked,
and discussed philosophy on the sandy beach, sitting under reed umbrellas.
Some stayed in tents on the beach, or rented rooms from peasants in the
tiny village next to the beach.

Apart from occasional police controls, Vama Veche was a small oasis of
tolerance, they say.

"They harassed you from time to time checking your identity papers because
it was near the border, but mostly they left you alone," said one die-hard
resort-goer Simona Kessler.

Kessler and others welcomed the end of communism in 1989. They were less
welcoming about what it meant for their surf paradise.

Weekend tourists began flocking to Vama Veche, which was free from the
throbbing discos, mass tourism and high-rise hotels built elsewhere under
Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator.

Vama Veche's location - a strategic border point constantly under
observation - saved it from that kind of desecration. Buildings would have
blocked the gaze of police keeping people in and out of the country.

Ceausescu's overthrow meant an end to the ban on construction. Now,
hotels, motels and discos are cropping up across previously pristine
stretches, many exploiting an absence of laws regulating development.

Oisteanu calls the transformation of the area "wild capitalism."

"There are now 30 pubs on the beach, and this has started to destroy the
atmosphere of freedom and tranquility," he says.

The entrepreneurs and the newcomer tourists to Vama Veche say they are a
bit baffled by the "Save Vama Veche" campaign.

"This place was an abandoned village, and we have raised the standards
here," said Iuliu Neamt, 33, who invested $168,000 in a hotel and a disco
modeled on an Inca Temple.

"Save Vama Veche from what?" said Petre Soporean, 45, who hails from the
city of Cluj and started coming 15 years ago for annual stays in a
peasant's cottage. "It is better than it was before."

At beach bars like "At the Hospital" teenagers dominate and tequila and
other nontraditional drinks are the rage. Tables have signs above
designating them as different "wards" - gynecology, pediatrics and so on.
The hoards of tourists have driven up prices.

Some purists say that is too much.

"Change is normal," said Bogdan Preda, who has coming to Vama Veche for
more than 10 years. "But everything has been built without logic, taste
and style_ it's too chaotic.

"I'm never going to come here again."

21 Aug 2003

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