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The "Give me a break" summer edition

The "Give me a break" summer edition
By Weekly Focus (beta archive) • Issue #1 • View online
This newsletter was part of the beta version of n-ost’s Weekly Focus and originally published on August 14, 2020.

Dear cross-border friends,
When we started to discuss this week’s topic most of our colleagues were already vacationing and a nice summer breeze was blowing through our empty (Zoom) offices… So what could have been more fitting than to ask ourselves: How are Europeans spending their summer holidays this year during Covid-19?
Sadly, parallel to the drafting of this edition, disturbing events unfolded in Belarus. In recent days we have witnessed how the country’s dictator has been using dreadful violence to desperately secure his grip on power. Let’s make sure that the sunny weather and the lure of the sea don’t distract us from the heroic struggle taking place there.
To support the free flow of information between journalists in and outside the country despite the internet shutdown, we established a Belarus helpdesk – in the very spirit of European cross-border journalism that also this newsletter experiment is all about.
We wish you a pleasant reading, 
Kaja Puto (Warsaw), Nikita Kuzmin (Kaliningrad), Sanja Kljajić (Novi Sad), Krisztian Simon (Budapest), Evgenia Genova (Odesa) & Christian-Zsolt Varga (Berlin)
This week's editorial team
This week's editorial team
🇷🇺 To Russia with love
Yatarni Beach, Baltic Sea
Yatarni Beach, Baltic Sea
Overcrowded beaches and jam-packed resorts – that’s what Russian tourists must face if they plan to visit the beach during the summer of corona. Due to a lack of hotel rooms, some operators have already stopped selling tours. The country’s weak tourism infrastructure has sparked many critical discussions on social media about the poor options for domestic holidays.
While in the past, Russians preferred to spend the summer in Turkey, Finland or Italy, during this time of pandemic most are being forced to stay in the country. Suddenly, the Black Sea coast of the Krasnodar region (primarily Sochi), and the Baltic Coast around the Kaliningrad Region are topping the list of Russians’ most popular destinations.
Another trigger for Russians’ growing discontent with their own resorts are the higher costs and lower quality in comparison with their usual international destinations. The cost of a week-long stay at Black Sea resorts for the simplest set of services (where tourists pay a lot of money for a bed plus breakfast, if they are lucky, and face steep charges for every other luxury) equals a week at an “all inclusive” five-star Turkish hotel. 
Officially, prices at the Baltic Sea only increased by 20% for hotel rooms and other services, while other estimates observed them skyrocketing up to 200%. Even Kaliningrad’s tourism officials admitted that the demand is comparable to record peaks from 2018, when the region hosted the FIFA World Cup.
🇺🇦 Number of the week
According to official numbers from Odesa’s Regional Ministry for Culture and Tourism, 3,3 million tourists visited the “Pearl by the Black Sea” in 2019. In recent years, the number of visitors has continued to surge (2013: 1,3 Mio; 2017: 2,5 Mio) in what experts are calling a tourism boom due to the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014.
Although the port city of Odesa, with its warm sea and unique atmosphere, has never suffered from a lack of tourists, it is now literally overflowing with vacationers. Most of them are Ukrainians who won’t travel to Crimea anymore out of a fear of Russian reprisals.
One can also find foreigners from Belarus and Moldova resting on Odesa’s beaches. And even Russian tourists were returning to their favorite Odesa haunts only a year after the war between the two countries started in 2014 – without serious repercussions. 
In 2020, the city is again full of tourists, but now, due to the pandemic, almost exclusively Ukrainians, who prefer to spend the summer in their home country. It’s too early to talk about any exact number for this year, but judging by the crowds of people in the city’s crowded bars and hotels in the evenings, not even Covid-19 will stop Odesa’s tourist boom anytime soon.
🇧🇦 Bosnian roulette
An old proverb from the Balkans says: “Until dusk falls for one man, dawn cannot come for another.” While Croatia and Montenegro are struggling to save this latest tourist season, hoteliers in the small town of Neum in Bosnia are having the time of their life. 
Neum is Bosnia’s only access to the Adriatic and therefore the only seaside location where Serbian and Bosnian tourists can visit without tests or self-isolation. And that’s how this tiny town suddenly became the most desirable destination for this summer, although it used to be just a nameless city on the coast.
Social networks are full of pictures about Neum’s crowded beaches and local hoteliers are reporting that rooms are sold out till the end of summer. The hype reached its apex with media reporting that Neum is even “nicer than Monte Carlo”, a term that harks back to two years ago, when Bosnian politicians campaigned on the promise of making Neum the new Monte Carlo
And as for Corona… Well, it looks like even the virus couldn’t find a place to stay, so far there has been only one reported case of Covid-19. Safety measures have been forgotten and at the full beach it’s almost impossible to keep any social distance.
Although state officials from Sarajevo are warning that all Bosnian citizens will suffer because of Neum tourism, hoteliers, bar owners and local authorities are rubbing their hands with glee, hoping Corona will change the image of Neum irreversibly.
🇵🇱 1 question to...Jan Bińczycki
Jan Bińczycki, urban activist in Kraków
Jan Bińczycki, urban activist in Kraków
Mr Bińczycki, Kraków is Poland’s most popular international tourist destination. How is Covid-19 affecting the city? 
“The number of foreign tourists has significantly dropped and many local businesses are fighting for survival. People are now realizing that tourism is not a stable and predictable industry and that the city must reorganise its economic structure.
Of course, this new situation also creates opportunities. I have the feeling that the restrictions have boosted the idea of a “slow city”: Cycling infrastructure is being developed, street lights were turned off at night and the local authorities are encouraging Cracowians to discover local sights and less well-known neighbourhoods of their own city.
Also, Airbnb, a highly controversial business that has been destroying the city’s urban fabric, seems to have halted for some time. However, there are still many flyers being distributed now on streets and in mailboxes offering to buy up even more apartments.
We also see many spontaneous grassroot activities from local residents. People are helping seniors in their neighbourhoods, supporting local shops and cleaning up green areas. The new difficulties in organizing cultural events are being solved by concerts in small venues, exhibitions in gallery windows and open-air movie screenings in public parks.
In every tragedy there is a hope and a chance to build a better tomorrow, in Krakow’s case – developing a more sustainable and socially responsible kind of tourism.”
🇭🇺 The call of the Hungarian sea
Illustration: “Viktor Orbán protects Baby Yoda from the coronavirus” oil painting by Dr. Máriás
Illustration: “Viktor Orbán protects Baby Yoda from the coronavirus” oil painting by Dr. Máriás
“More Balaton, less Adriatic Sea” – that’s the recommendation from Hungary’s prime minister for summer holidays in the year of the coronavirus pandemic. Although most of Hungary’s neighboring countries are rated as relatively safe, the government has not let its citizens forget that the virus can easily be carried back from abroad. 
In support of Orbán’s new catch-phrase, many of his high-profile party members started sharing photos of themselves enjoying the country’s largest lake, also referred to as the “Hungarian sea”. Orbán also used the opportunity to make a political statement while being photographed at his son-in-law’s luxury estate: “More Balaton, less Brussels” – the Facebook post says.
Fun fact: The government has spent large amounts of taxpayer money and EU funds to develop the lakefront area – port and hotel developments alone have received close to 200 million euros. In the meantime, Orbán’s cronies – especially his childhood friend Lőrinc Mészáros and son-in-law István Tiborcz – were busy acquiring dozens of hotels and camping places around the lake. 
In this sense, Orbán’s viral campaign and the concern for his vacation-hungry population have a little bit of a selfish component, as well. Not to mention a touch of hypocrisy: the development of the coastal area was actually partly financed by “Brussels”.
5 summer holiday memes you need to know
1 “parawanoza” = “windbreak disease"
Poles love to build fences between each other and not just in politics. Urbanists often complain about gated housing estates that destroy neighborhoods, so you can imagine what happens when Poles are forced to spend the holidays together on a single sea coast. There are more windbreaks than people – that’s what we call “parawanoza”
2 “парадајз туристи (paradajz turisti) = “tomato tourists"
That’s how Serbs call themselves with more than a touch of irony, because they carry all their food in the fully packed trunks of their cars when travelling to their usual top holiday destinations - Croatia and Montenegro. This definitely arouses the ire of local restaurant owners who don’t really like them as tourists because they don’t spend any money.
3 “горячая кукуруза” (goryachaya kukuruza) = “hot boiled corn”
Russians love to eat on beaches, despite the hot sun and health guidelines. The star of the resort menu both on the Black Sea and the Baltic, is hot boiled corn with various toppings. Buy and eat boiled corn in everyday life? No way! But on the summery sea coast this is a guarantee of a good income for many vendors. They walk along the beaches and quite intrusively offer ears of corn at 100 rubles a piece. 
4 “Fagyis doboz” = “ice cream container”
In Hungary, beach fun is not complete without ice cream boxes. At Lake Balaton, the scenery is dominated by families sitting in the grass with picnic bags full of these containers; they use them to transport portions of home-made food: schnitzel, meat stew, potatoes and pickled gherkins. Basically everything you need in order to have a good time.
5. “Рачки” (Rachki) = Crustaceans
Local delicacies are widely available on Odesa beaches. Usually it is boiled corn with salt, but the local specialty is shrimps known as “rachki” and pickled mussels. When you relax on the beach, you always hear the cry of seagulls and the cries of sellers who advertise their wares.
Meet this week's authors from the n-ost network
Kaja Puto is a Polish freelance journalist and the coordinating editor of n-ost’s cross-border publication „Off the beaten track“ with a focus on Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, migration and European issues.
Nikita Kuzmin is a Russian journalist and editor at in Kaliningrad with a focus on regional politics and economics. He is an experienced investigative journalists and cross-border practicioner.
Sanja Kljajić is a Serbian freelance journalist from Novi Sad. In 2016, Sanja quit her job with the Serbian TV channel RTV in protest against growing censorship. For her courage she was honoured by the Serbian Journalists Association.
Krisztian Simon is a freelance journalist and media scholar from Budapest. Previously, he was an editor at the Hungarian Weekly Magyar Narancs and the deputy editor-in-chief of the Green European Journal.
Evgenia Genova is an editor and investigative journalist of the independent publication IzbirKom in Odesa. She’s been working in regional journalism for 15 years. 
Christian-Zsolt Varga is the coordinating editor at n-ost with a focus on European cross-border journalism.
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