Bridging Europe over the Cold War Divide: East-West Encounters on the Romanian Black Sea Coast, 1960s–80s

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:40 AM
Salon B (Hilton Atlanta)
Adelina Oana Stefan, University of Pittsburgh
This paper will examine how the Romania Black Sea coast became a hub of consumption and vivid interactions between Western and socialist tourists during the socialist 1960s-1980s. As of 1958, A Travers la Roumanie, a newly branded state-sponsored tourist magazine, advertised communist Romania as a glamorous and modern tourist destination and invited both Western and socialist tourists to visit the Romanian Black Sea coast and discover its “casinos, jazz and beauty contests.” Although a socialist regime, Romania wanted first and foremost to develop its tourism with capitalist countries, as Western tourists brought in the coveted hard currencies. This strategy proved effective in part, as towards the 1970s more foreign tourists poured into the country (from 100,000 in 1960 to around 4 million in the mid-1970s, and 7 million in the early 1980s, with almost 40 % from Western countries).

However, the communist government faced an unexpected challenge as a result of foreign tourists’ arrival on the Black Sea Coast. Soon, it came to realize that ordinary Romanians were the ones to benefit most from the presence of foreign tourists. For ordinary Romanians, these tourists opened a window into the material culture of the “West,” otherwise hardly accessible to them. For Western tourists visiting Romania, it was a first-hand experience with socialism and an opportunity to challenge, or by contrast, reinforce their own pre-conceptions about the Cold War. Proposing a bottom-up approach to Cold War relations, this paper will examine how interactions between Romanian, eastern and western tourists on the Romanian Black Sea Coast prioritized exchanges of goods, ideas, and mores over ideological conflicts. This paper draws on extended archival material (Central Committee of the RCP files, Council of Ministers Collection), oral history interviews with both foreign and Romanian tourists, and visual materials such as photos and films.

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