This Europe: Old hippies declare war on noisy newcomers to a haven

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The Independent Online

Naked men and women sun themselves or play backgammon as peaceful, silvery, Black Sea waves lap at the beach. The peace is deceptive; Vama Veche is the setting for a bitter summers.

Naked men and women sun themselves or play backgammon as peaceful, silvery, Black Sea waves lap at the beach. The peace is deceptive; Vama Veche is the setting for a bitter summers.

An influx of tourists and entrepreneurs, as well as noisy jet-skis, blaring pop music and tasteless hotels, has angered the students and ageing hippies who enjoy the Romanian resort's bohemian charm.

So purists and regular visitors have launched an international "Save Vama Veche" campaign to try to preserve their nudist paradise from what they see as uncontrolled tourist development. And the hippies seem to have the upper hand in raising opposition to Romania's capitalists, who want Vama Veche to become a money-making resort.

Last weekend, a concert was held featuring jazz, classical and rock music. There were 10,000 people, a forest of tents, and Romanian and foreign journalists.

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 Andrei Oisteanu, a writer who has been coming here since 1967. "It became a big colony of intellectual nudists, which 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.

They welcomed the end of Communism in 1989. They were less welcoming about what it meant for the resort. Weekend tourists began flocking to Vama Veche, which was free from the throbbing discos, mass tourism and high-rise hotels built elsewhere under the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Vama Veche, a strategic border point constantly under observation, saved it from that kind of desecration. Buildings would have blocked the gaze of police trying to keep people in and out of the country.

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

Mr Oisteanu calls the transformation of the area "wild capitalism". He said: "There are 30 pubs on the beach, and this has started to destroy the atmosphere of freedom and tranquillity."

The entrepreneurs and the new tourists say they are 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 has invested in a hotel and a disco modelled on an Inca temple.

"Save Vama Veche from what?" said Petre Soporean, 45, from the city of Cluj who started coming here 15 years ago. "It is better than it was before."

But Beny Zilberman, a photographer and painter, said prices of food and accommodation had shot up. "Vama Veche is coming under the heel of people with no taste. There is only one value for them: money."

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