Russian to the riverside

2010-08-20

Take the narrow road next to the river Kamchia, about 25km north of Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna, and the first sign of Russian identity is a monument in "eternal memory" of Bulgarian communists landed in the area by Soviet submarine during World War 2. Turn the corner, and the Russian presence becomes ever more vivid, and somewhat more latter-day. In the heat of August, when usually such activities are banned to prevent disruption of the tourist season, heavy machinery is at work, laying pipelines and adding layers to the mammoth complex being built for the thousands of Russian youths for which Kamchia resort is to become an exclusive seaside preserve. Construction began in 2009 and a year later was proceeding apace, special permission having been given by Krassimir Todorov, the mayor of Avren, into whose territory Kamchia and the nearby village of Bliznatsi fall. The existing Kristal "club restaurant", a pink confection at the centre of the elongated and wide beach, is serving as a canteen for construction workers, although outside customers are served – conveniently, it too is owned by the Moscow municipality, as is the Longose Hotel, not far from where the river flows through the protected biosphere to which it has lent its name since its proclamation as a preserve some decades ago. Dispensation to continue building the huge complex was given to allow the project to meet a deadline of August 26 for an opening ceremony of the Raduga youth camp, to be attended by Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and, reportedly, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin. Already, large troupes of Russian teenagers are escorted on outings at the beach, with uniformed Bulgarian police sent from Varna to help direct traffic and act as security backup. Further, the nearby Russian-owned facilities have their own security personnel, all with sidearms at their hips. On the beach, Bulgarian beach lifeguards usher away Bulgarians who attempt to sit on the part of the beach where umbrellas have been set up for the Russians. Bulgarian-language media said that the current group of Russian youths numbered 600, and Todorov had proposed that space could be found in local accommodation for Russian children as a refuge from the wildfires. Quoting a draft of the 2011 budget for the Russian capital city, Moscow-headquartered news agency RIA Novosti said that Moscow city authorities planned to invest about 1.77 billion roubles, about 45.3 million euro, in developing the resort in Kamchia. Media reports said that the total investment would be close to 50 million euro, and the resort, once fully operational after 2011, would be able to accommodate about 1600 Russian teenagers and children, with 100 teachers accompanying them. The top part of the complex, over which cranes still loom, is already a landmark, visible above the treeline of the remaining part of the seaside forest. In the second week of August, graders were working to lay a large waste water pipeline, apparently to run into the bay about 100m from the mouth of the Kamchia. Russian touches are becoming ubiquitous. Boat cruises along the Kamchia, offering glimpses of the Unesco-protected biosphere, blare out Russian popular songs. Earlier in August 2010, a six-day Bulgarian-Russian literary seminar was held in Kamchia, involving the Stanka Shopova Foundation, the Union of Bulgarian Writers and the Moscow Literary Institute Maxim Gorky. The event brought together Bulgarian and Russian poets and writers to discuss, according to a local media report, "globalisation, literature in a globalised world and the preservation of national identities".