Socialist Modernism is a ‘trendy topic these days’1 – the editors of Holidays after the Fall write. Indeed, post-war modernist architecture and urbanism in Eastern Europe have received much attention lately. However, some specific topics have remained almost unexplored. One such topic is seaside architecture.
Holidays after the Fall (2013) and Enchanting Views (2015) are the first publications with the ambition to give a far-reaching perspective on seaside planning and architecture in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe (in Croatia and Bulgaria the first, in Romania the second). Reading them together is interesting not only for gaining a more comprehensive view on tourism architecture under communist regimes, but also for understanding two different editorial strategies, which give different perspectives on the subject, in spite of the similarities between their objects of research. Comparing these perspectives is the purpose of this article.
Context and Common Grounds
Communist seaside architecture has so far been addressed only tangentially, in the margin of other subjects – for instance when researching an architect whose body of work includes seaside architecture2 – rather than as a topic in itself. The scholarly literature on socialist architecture has paid much more attention, for instance, to housing rather than to relatively marginal subjects, such as tourism architecture (and even less to narrower ones, like seaside tourism architecture). The interest shown lately in secondary specific subjects is significant for the advancement of the field, bringing about a more detailed and diverse view on communist architecture and urbanism.
There is also a tendency in the recent literature on the communist period to see the brighter side of it too, the side of pleasure and leisure.3 Recent literature tries to provide ‘a more nuanced understanding’ of socialist architecture than the usual ‘terse image’ of a grey dull environment, as Juliana Maxim observed.4 However, this preoccupation has so far addressed mostly housing, or various aspects of the everyday life other than the built environment. The two books discussed here are the first ones that make the seaside architectural environment part of this relatively positive picture.
The authors of the two publications were aware of each other’s research. At the EAHN conference in 2012,5 Michael Zinganel and Elke Beyer chaired the Holiday after the Fall session, where Juliana Maxim, who would be a contributor to Enchanting Views, made a presentation about the Romanian seaside. Elke Beyer’s and Anke Hagemann’s chapter on Bulgaria from Holidays after the Fall was partially reproduced in Enchanting Views. Michael Zinganel reviewed the 2014 Enchanting Views exhibition, which preceded the book with the same name.6 And two of the contributors of Enchanting Views, Irina Bancescu and Carmen Popescu, reviewed Holiday after the Fall.7
Although the two books address specific national contexts (Croatia, the inheritor of most of Yugoslavia’s Adriatic coast, and Bulgaria and Romania, on the Western Black Sea coast), their objects of study are similar and can easily be put together into the same bigger picture. The coastal regions of these three former socialist countries have been developed most consistently and for the same reasons: in order to provide their working class with democratic access to a place of leisure, but also to catch up with (and make profits from) the larger phenomenon of international mass tourism. They achieved this development approximately during the same years, from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, at a time of openness towards the West (although to different degrees). In all three countries, seaside resorts have contributed to lifestyle changes and have been effective instruments of modernization. In terms of architecture, they were considered showcases of modernity at the time, displaying modernist architecture as physical evidence for their social and economic national performance.
Before and After the ‘Fall’
One major difference between the two books is that Holidays after the Fall includes both the socialist and the post-socialist story of the Bulgarian and Croatian resorts, while Enchanting Views is about Romanian resorts during the socialist years only. The title of the first book even seems to indicate the focus on the post-socialist period. However, this is somehow misleading, given that its main objects of study are architecture and urbanism produced during socialism. The editors of Holidays after the Fall argue that, in the context of a ‘trendy’ Socialist Modernism in research today, the truly novel way to address it is to go beyond the story of the making of socialist architecture and look into its current physical state and recent reconsiderations.8
Holidays after the Fall has a carefully studied balance between the socialist and the post-socialist historical perspectives. This is clearly staged in Elke Beyer’s and Anke Hagemann’s chapter on Bulgaria.9 The chapter is structured on five successive ‘moments’, each occurring in one major resort. The first two ‘moments’, from the late 1950s to the early 1960s and from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, are presented in the resorts of Druzhba and Golden Sands respectively, which appear in their initial contexts (and these two ‘moments’ before the Fall are also reproduced in Enchanting Views). The next two ‘moments‘ occur in other two socialist resorts, during their capitalist afterlife: Albena and its privatization in the 1990s and Sunny Beach and its expansion in the 2000s. They reveal two types of transformation: Albena was privatized as a single entity with centralized management and remained almost intact; Sunny Beach was sold piece by piece and dramatically altered by deregulated booming construction. In four out of five ‘moments’, the object of study is still the architectural legacy of the communist regime. This imbalance is somehow compensated by the fifth ‘moment’, which refers to the impact of the real estate market upon the Bulgarian seaside after the 2008 crisis, with no focus on any specific resort.
For the Croatian seaside, three articles by different authors draw three distinct pictures. Michael Zinganel gives a social and political perspective on seaside tourism both before and after the Fall.10 Maroje Mrduljas writes a systematic history of planning and design, on all scales, from regional planning and urbanism to architecture and interior design,11 referring only to the period under state socialism, that is, when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia. Meanwhile Norbert Mappes-Niediek gives an account of the specific problems independent Croatia faced when confronted to the post-socialist processes of privatization.12
The double balance in Holidays after the Fall (between before and after the Fall, on the one hand; between Bulgaria and Croatia, on the other) is emphasized by the two packages of colour pictures that begin and end the book. The one at the beginning is a collection of illustrations from a Croatian tourist agency, giving a nice sense of the commercial modernity during the 1970s. The ending package is a contemporary photographic report by Nikola Mihov, picturing the ‘architectural monstrosities’13 of the recent developments in Bulgarian resorts. These pictures express with no words, but with the force of the image, two possible conclusions for the parallel research: first, that there is a huge difference in quality between the modernist architecture of the socialist years and the consumerist kitsch of the liberal post-socialist overdevelopments; and second, that there is a considerable difference between the evolution of Croatian and Bulgarian resorts after the fall of the communist regimes.
If addressed, the issue of post-socialist developments on the Romanian seaside would probably have shown similarities to those in Bulgaria. However, this was not a subject for the editors of Enchanting Views. The only reference to the current state of the Romanian seaside architecture is made in a photographic report by Nicu Ilfoveanu, whose camera carefully avoids the post-communist horrors and shows pieces of socialist modern architecture that are now abandoned and swallowed by vegetation – more like some of the examples in Croatia. This gives Enchanting Views a sense of nostalgia, although the editors were aware of this risk.14 In order to avoid it, all sorts of mythization mechanisms – what Ana Maria Zahariade called ‘the ephemeral myth of the seaside’15 – were repeatedly emphasized and exposed.
However, the fact that the focus was limited to the 1960s–1970s, with their unspoiled image of a clean and pure modernist seaside environment, inevitably gives Enchanting Views an aestheticizing perspective. The visual pleasure of the content is further increased by the beauty of the form of display. Zinganel too remarked on this aesthetic quality in the review he made for the Enchanting Views exhibition.16 Also the book received much attention as an aesthetic object – highly designed, hardcover, quality paper –, unlike the rough austere design of Holidays after the Fall. All in all, as both titles show, Enchanting Views gives a more idealized perspective on the socialist seaside than the programmatically realistic one in Holidays after the Fall.
Both books develop comparative approaches. The very subject of Holidays after the Fall is to make a parallel between the Croatian and the Bulgarian seaside architecture and urbanism. The introduction compares them explicitly,17 while a second introductory article addresses an East-West parallel, by putting the two seasides into the bigger picture of mass tourism development in Europe, both before and after WWII.18 In Enchanting Views, apart from the fact that many of the articles also put the Romanian seaside into wider contexts, a quarter of the book (three of the twelve thematic chapters) addresses seaside tourism in the other countries that surrounded the Black Sea (Bulgaria, USSR and Turkey – articles by Elke Beyer and Anke Hagemann, Olga Kazakova and T. Elvan Altan),19 implicitly creating a comparative frame.
One of the ideas clearly underlined by both books is that seaside developments in communist Europe were closely similar to their Western counterparts. The Black Sea coast became ‘an interface between the socialist and capitalist worlds’,20 while Croatia itself (Yugoslavia actually) ‘blurred the black and white picture’ of the East/West division,21 as Beyer, Hagemann and Zinganel write. Carmen Popescu finds many similarities with the Western modernism of the time, so she can fairly state that some of the principles that guided Romanian architects were ‘adopted directly from Western practice’;22 the seaside world produced ‘the illusion of an immediate connection with the West’,23 she remarks. The specific socialist feature of centralized planning and control characterized some of the Mediterranean coastal developments; the similarities with Languedoc-Roussillon, for instance, are mentioned by both books. However, geographical location was important. The Croatian Adriatic coast had a very different story compared to the Bulgarian and Romanian Black Sea coast. The Croatian seaside enjoyed a ‘broad spectrum of planners, including those operating privately on a small scale’,24 unlike the extremely centralized planning on the neighbouring seashores of Romania and Bulgaria, which are almost identical.
Halfway between socialism and capitalism, Croatia (Yugoslavia) was atypical in the context of the former communist regimes. It remained wide open to the West, did not abolish private ownership and combined centralized planning and management with decentralization and local control, developing a social economy of ‘socialized companies’ and ‘workers’ self management’.25 After the Fall, the Croatian coast seemed to be the happiest case of all socialist seasides (if it were not for the destructions in the 1990s war); it remained almost unspoiled, while the Bulgarian seaside (and the Romanian one, for that matter) fully experienced the unfortunate consequences of post-socialist privatization and unregulated overdevelopment. That Croatia is indeed an exceptional case stands out implicitly from Holidays after the Fall.
On the other hand, one of the recurrent ideas in Enchanting Views is the exceptionality of the Romanian seaside architecture and urbanism; several authors state this explicitly.26 However, it is precisely the comparative perspective that relativizes this exceptionality. The Romanian seaside project was indeed exceptional compared to the rest of the Romanian architecture at the time; but placed within the context of other similar developments on the Black Sea coast, and especially those in Bulgaria, Romanian resorts appear rather common. They resembled the Bulgarian ones so much that from a western perspective the two seasides appeared as a single entity, as Irina Bancescu writes.27
The relative importance that seaside tourism had for each of the three countries is also comparable. In Bulgaria, the shore length is considerable in relation to the surface of the country, and it is of major importance for its economy; therefore Bulgaria was ‘“the country most specialized in tourism” among the Comecon member states’.28 Croatia too inherited most of the former Yugoslavia’s shoreline; recently, the tourist sector accounted for 25% of Croatia’s GDP.29 For Romania, the sea coast was also significant, but somehow a little less important than for Bulgaria or Croatia, given the country’s larger dimension and tourist diversification. However, one can contrast this relative importance of the Black Sea for Bulgaria and Romania to the more symbolic rather than effective significance, in terms of tourist economy, for the huge USSR.
Even if the three chapters about the other Black Sea countries in Enchanting Views only give hints, unevenly moreover, about their seaside projects, they allow for interesting comparisons to be made. For instance, the USSR developed the same centralized developments as Romania and Bulgaria, in which the controlled production and consumption of the seaside resorts were concerned. On the other hand, for the Russians, the Black Sea holiday was rather a once in a lifetime experience,30 while in Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania it was the very idea of the annual summer holiday. For the USSR, the modern seaside resorts never achieved the importance in lifestyle modernization that they had for those three countries. On the other hand, Turkey – with a different political system and less interest in the Black Sea compared to its other sea coasts – developed the same general idea of tourist environments as agents of a larger modernization project and lifestyle change.31
As far as the tourists were concerned, besides their own citizens, all three countries tried to attract the hard-currency-spending Western Europeans. Croatia was the ‘leading leisure periphery for the European middle-class’,32 more specifically ‘lower middle class’, with tourists coming from Germany, Austria, Italy, England, the Netherlands etc.;33 the non-Yugoslavians made more than half of all the seaside tourists in Yugoslavia.34 Bulgaria however, just like Romania, received tourists mostly from the Central European socialist countries, and also a few from the West, especially West Germany.35 In Romania, West Germans made up one third of foreign tourists by early 1970s,36 the others coming from Scandinavia, France and even the USA and Israel. But this influx lasted only from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s; during the 1980s, the general conditions in Romania had degraded so much that foreign tourists avoided it.37
Both books consider architecture and urbanism to be their main subjects. However, only Holidays after the Fall presents examples of planning projects and architectural objects. Each of the two parts, on Bulgaria and Croatia, contains a package of ‘case studies’, with typical representations – axonometric views, plans and cross sections. These architectural files even stand for any other conclusion in the book. The editors (who are also the main authors) argue that an architectural history of the seaside is all but absent today, unlike other disciplinary perspectives (from geographers, economists or cultural scientists and even planners), which is why an explicit architectural perspective is necessary.38
In Enchanting Views, although architecture is central too, the editors (who are the curators of the Enchanting Views exhibition, but not contributing authors to the book) have a different standpoint. They plead for putting the architectural perspective in balance with other disciplinary perspectives; therefore they invited authors from other fields (monumental art history, political history, anthropology and film studies – Magda Predescu, Adelina Stefan, Claude Karnoouh and Adina Bradeanu respectively). These four specific disciplinary perspectives follow and somehow relativize the first four contributions by architectural historians (Carmen Popescu, Irina Bancescu, Juliana Maxim and Irina Tulbure). The book privileges the entire Romanian seaside as a whole, rather than specific resorts or architectural projects (with one exception, Magda Predescu’s chapter on Costinesti; however, it does not address the urban and architectural project of the resort, but a perspective from the field of arts, as Costinesti was an interesting case of relating monumental art to architecture).39 A particular case study is nevertheless Cezar Lazarescu, the only architect and urbanist who receives his own chapter in the book40 (while in Holidays after the Fall there is no such architect, standing out to become a ‘case’); however, because of the central position Lazarescu held for the seaside project on the whole, this chapter too gives just another perspective on the entire Romanian seaside. Maybe a possible conclusion after one has read Enchanting Views is the large variety of perspectives that can be developed as part of the seaside topic, the awareness that the architectural perspective gives only a partial view indeed.
Each book carefully constructs its own methodological and formal consistency. Holidays after the Fall does not end with an explicit conclusion other than architecture itself (the case studies). Enchanting Views has a conclusive article, which is a critical perspective on the other chapters in the book (developed by Ana Maria Zahariade). For the editors of Holidays after the Fall, the main objective was to research and reveal objects of architecture; for those of Enchanting Views, it was to bring to light as many different perspectives and interpretations as possible.
Modernism and Modernization
As Maroje Mrduljas explained somewhere else, modernism can be understood as ‘a social formation’ and processes of modernization can become an ‘instructive lens’ when researching the link between architecture and its social context.41 This is where the two books definitely meet: in the emphasis they both put on the wider modernizing effect of the seaside modern(ist) environments. Both books underline the showcase character of a truly remarkable modernist architecture. Seaside resorts were crucial in defining architectural modernism in all three countries; they were the ‘testing ground for the renewal of resolutely modern design’,42 as Beyer and Hagemann write for Bulgaria. In Romania too, the seaside architectural projects were a true laboratory of new technologies and the producers of ‘stylistic markers’43 for socialist modernism in general, as Juliana Maxim holds.
The seaside project became ‘a formidable machine of modernist visuality’,44 staging a ‘mechanics of seeing’, a ‘visual mechanics’,45 as Carmen Popescu writes. Architecture has been indeed ‘irreparably reduced to a “visual representation”, endlessly reproduced in catalogues, postcards and snapshots’,46 as Zinganel and Beyer observe.
The modernity of these new resorts acted deeper than just as a visual propaganda machine. The modernist seaside became ‘a motor of modernization’ for a ‘primarily agricultural society’,47 as Zinganel writes in the case of Yugoslavia. Maxim also speaks about ‘the pedagogical holiday’48 at the seaside, which was meant to educate Romanians, through the modern environment, for a new kind of urban modern sociability, and to eventually replace the traditional countryside holiday, religious or based on family relations. In both books, seaside resorts are glorious moments for architecture and urbanism as effective instruments of social progress.
However – as the critical voice of anthropologist Claude Karnoouh reminds us – in spite of its mass character and its propagandistic claims, the seaside was not for everybody. In Romania, an entire class, the peasants, by no means insignificant in number, did not know what a seaside holiday was like; even working-class holidaymakers were scarce. Most of those who were successfully extracted from their countryside vacations were teachers, technicians, state functionaries etc. Karnoouh demythicizes the attractiveness of the Romanian communist seaside for the foreign tourists too; they immediately remarked the clumsiness of the tourist services and the unpolished character of the recent urban culture, he claims.49 However, Karnoouh also remarked that the seaside holiday has effectively contributed to a mentality change, by ushering in the consumer society; this led to the emergence of a middle class, the same one that would eventually determine the fall of the communist regime.50
The influence of the seaside holiday upon the lifestyle of the people who experienced it was an issue of interest for both books, albeit in different degrees. As Fred Gray wrote in his book Designing the Seaside,51 there are three distinct cultural processes that should be considered in which seaside environments are concerned: first their design and construction, second their representation and, last but not least, ‘the holiday making’, that is, the way people themselves produced these environments by the way they lived them.52 While Holidays after the Fall goes a little deeper into the study of architectural cases and both books insist on the overstatement of visual representations, it is Enchanting Views that scores a little more from the point of view of the seaside as a social phenomenon.
Socialist or Communist
One last difference between the two books concerns terminology. All the authors of Holidays after the Fall use the term ‘socialist’ to designate the Eastern European regimes before the fall of the Berlin Wall (‘state socialism’, ‘the socialist community of states’,53 etc.). In Enchanting Views the term ‘communist’ prevails. Indeed, for Yugoslavia with its regime halfway between East and West, the milder term of ‘socialism’ seems natural. In the proper sense of the word, ‘Yugoslavia was a socialist country’, as Norbert Mappes-Niediek writes.54 However, Beyer and Hagemann also speak of Bulgaria as a ‘socialist regime’ and ‘state socialism’ country,55 even if Bulgaria endured a hardline communist regime; the attribute ‘communist’ does not appear at all in their chapter. Strangely enough, it is Zinganel who uses the notion once, when it better serves his argument for Yugoslavia’s peculiarity: ‘a communist country that was unable to count on Soviet support’.56
On the other hand, in Enchanting Views (almost) all the authors write about ‘the communist period’,57 ‘communist Romania’,58 ‘Romanian communism’,59 ‘the communist countries of Eastern Europe’,60 or ‘the communist world’.61 Juliana Maxim however uses the term ‘socialism’,62 but she is an exception (along with the editors and Carmen Popescu, the latter using both terms). In this context, it is maybe also interesting to remark that for the USSR, Olga Kazakova does not face such a dilemma at all; she uses none of the two words, but rather the more specific terms Soviet and Stalinist (‘Soviet architects’, ‘post-Stalinist era’63 etc.).
The socialist vs. communist dilemma might reveal a slight difference between the way Eastern and Western researchers address terminology (for instance, Juliana Maxim is based in the United States, Elke Beyer and Anke Hagemann in Germany, while most of the researchers in Enchanting Views belong to the Romanian research community).64 Indeed, one could argue that in the way communism was defined, as a perfectly egalitarian society, it was an ideal never actually achieved and perpetually postponed to the future. Communist regimes admitted they were not perfect yet; what they provided was only socialism. This argument looks solid in principle, especially if the issue is addressed from a neutral external position. However, the researchers who still keep the living memory of those regimes might develop a different perspective. For them, it is the totalitarian extreme character of these regimes that carries more weight. Therefore they might consider that the negatively charged label of ‘communism’ is more appropriate for the world that these regimes created, rather than the more benign term of ‘socialism’. From this point of view, it is Enchanting Views that idealizes less than Holidays after the Fall.