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  • “Our Black Sea Coast”The Sovietization of the Black Sea Littoral under Khrushchev and the Problem of Overdevelopment
  • Johanna Conterio (bio)

In May 1962, Nikita Khrushchev traveled to Bulgaria, where he toured the Golden Sands resort and industrial and agricultural sights. At a mass meeting on 16 May 1962, under banners declaring “Forward, to Communism!” he introduced the idea of a shared, socialist space, “our Black Sea coast,” proclaiming in his speech: “Comrades! The Black Sea coast of Bulgaria is a true pearl. I would even say that the entire basin of the Black Sea, with its shores, warm water, and mild climate, is an exceptionally rich region of the globe. I am here and praise your region and am gladdened by how good our Black Sea coast is.”1

Khrushchev presented the development of the Black Sea coast as a project of Sovietization. He even took credit for the decision to transform the Bulgarian coastline. As he recalled, in an earlier tour of Bulgaria in 1955, when his host mentioned that the state was thinking of building a health [End Page 327] resort, Khrushchev had wholeheartedly approved: “I said, it is not permissible to allow this good place to come to nothing. Here one can create a wonderful international health resort, which will be of great use to people who travel here from different countries to rest and to the hosts, the Bulgarians, who build such a wonderful health resort.”2 Khrushchev publicly and enthusiastically promoted the idea that the health resorts of Bulgaria were part of a shared, Sovietized space, “our Black Sea coast,” which had developed under Soviet tutelage. For him, the development of health resorts along the socialist side of the Black Sea was evidence of the peace-loving and welfare-centered nature of the socialist countries, which contrasted with the militarism of the NATO-dominated West, represented by the Black Sea coast of Turkey. For Khrushchev, “the Black Sea should be a sea of peace and of friendship of peoples.”3

The Sovietization of the Bulgarian and Romanian Black Sea coast has been understood in the history of urban planning and architecture as an imposition of the Soviet urban model in the region.4 Certainly, in the interwar period the Soviet Union developed a model of a socialist health resort, and over the course of the late 1950s and 1960s, health resorts on a truly mass scale and of striking similarity developed all around the socialist Black Sea coast, in the USSR as in Bulgaria and Romania, alongside other urban settlement types. Yet this idea of the “Sovietization” of the Bulgarian and Romanian Black Sea coast, based on the dissemination of a Soviet model under Soviet leadership, is problematic in many ways. The idea of a shared approach to planning the Black Sea coast was not the invention of Khrushchev but rather had roots in the work of architects in the early days of the Soviet opening to the socialist world and the West after the death of Stalin. Moreover, it was not a project of centralized Soviet architectural planning alone but of architects and urban planners from the USSR, Bulgaria, and Romania, and, indeed, from socialist countries beyond the littoral. These architects increasingly came into contact and, over the course of the late 1950s and 1960s, [End Page 328] conceptualized the Black Sea coast as a shared, urban space for health, well-being, and leisure. Together they began to advocate for a regional approach to planning, extending beyond state borders. Black Sea urbanism also drew on traditions and developments in urban planning from before the socialist period in Russia, Bulgaria, and Romania and on the models of resorts from beyond the socialist world, on the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Pacific coastlines.5 Finally, the myth of the socialist Black Sea coast as a zone of health obscured the significant development of other economic sectors in the region, including industrial and military configurations and transportation. All of this suggests that our understanding of the concept of Sovietization needs to be extended to include more complex flows and circulations of ideas, models, technology, and expertise, including from the nonsocialist world.

This article explores the Sovietization of the...


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