The Red Riviera: Gender, Tourism, and Postsocialism on the Black Sea / Edition 1

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This compelling ethnography of women working in Bulgaria’s popular sea and ski resorts challenges the idea that women have consistently fared worse than men in Eastern Europe’s transition from socialism to a market economy. For decades western European tourists have flocked to Bulgaria’s beautiful beaches and mountains; tourism is today one of the few successful—and expanding—sectors of the country’s economy. Even at the highest levels of management, employment in the tourism industry has long been dominated by women. Kristen Ghodsee explains why this is and how women working in the industry have successfully negotiated their way through Bulgaria’s capitalist transformation while the fortunes of most of the population have plummeted. She highlights how, prior to 1989, the communist planners sought to create full employment for all at the same time that they steered women into the service sector. The women given jobs in tourism obtained higher educations, foreign language skills, and experiences working with Westerners, all of which positioned them to take advantage of the institutional changes eventually brought about by privatization.

Interspersed throughout The Red Riviera are vivid examinations of the lives of Bulgarian women, including a waitress, a tour operator, a chef, a maid, a receptionist, and a travel agent. Through these women’s stories, Ghodsee describes their employment prior to 1989 and after. She considers the postsocialist forces that have shaped the tourist industry over the past fifteen years: the emergence of a new democratic state, the small but increasing interest of foreign investors and transnational corporations, and the proliferation of ngos. Ghodsee suggests that many of the ngos, by insisting that Bulgarian women are necessarily disenfranchised, ignore their significant professional successes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The Red Riviera explores gendered inequalities in Bulgaria’s postsocialist tourist industry, focusing on the forces and factors that have enabled women, in particular, to dominate this sector. Kristen Ghodsee’s well-written study adds provocatively to debates on cultural capital and capitalism, gender, and postsocialist transformation.”—Gail Kligman, coauthor of The Politics of Gender after Socialism

“This engaging book draws readers into unfamiliar tourist playgrounds in Bulgaria. Kristen Ghodsee deftly intertwines ethnographies with widely held assumptions about how the transition from communism to the free market affected the economy, the society, and the people. Tourism has rewarded the highly educated women who dominate the industry. She further questions the relevance of women’s NGOs which emphasize non-economic issues rather than focusing on education and jobs.”—Irene Tinker, author of Street Foods: Urban Food and Employment in Developing Countries

“Where are the women in globalized tourism? On the Bulgarian beach front! Yes, the Bulgarian beach front. The Red Riviera takes us along on the surprising journeys that thirty-something, orange-haired Desi and the younger Svetla are navigating as they steer their ways through the postsocialist, capitalist market tourism economy. Suddenly we see waitressing as a privileged job; we see university entries shrinking; we see the whole meaning of being a woman in a tourism job changing. This is an engaging, smart, and feminist book.”—Cynthia Enloe, author of The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822336624
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 11/28/2005
  • Series: Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,008,709
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Kristen Ghodsee is the John S. Osterwies Associate Professor in Gender and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College.

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Read an Excerpt

The Red Riviera

Gender, Tourism, and Postsocialism on the Black Sea


All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3650-1

Chapter One

Shattered Windows, Broken Lives

It is impossible to understand the lives of Bulgarian women in tourism without understanding a little about the country they call their home, and almost every journey to Bulgaria begins in the capital city of Sofia. The Thracians called this city Sardonopolis; the Romans called it Serdica. To the Byzantines it was Triaditsa, while the early Bulgarians called it Sredetz. Some Bulgarian scholars claim that the area now surrounded by modern Sofia probably developed as a city at the same time as Troy and Mycenae, and point to selected writings of Thucydides, Herodotus, and Aristotle, who claim that it is the oldest city in Europe. Archeological evidence points to human habitation in the area since 7000 B.C.E., and something like the nation of Bulgaria has existed for over a thousand years. It is this rich history that at least partially makes the country so attractive to tourists.

Historically, Bulgaria was a convenient crossroads between Europe and Asia, and its capital is a natural geographic middle point between the Black and Adriatic Seas. Bulgaria's romantic allure and geopolitical significance faded during the Cold War when it was just anothercommunist country behind the Iron Curtain. After 1989, the nation peacefully emerged from communism as the "island of stability" in the Balkans-sandwiched between the violent revolution in Romania and the chaotic breakup of the former Yugoslavia. In 2003, Sofia was a bustling capital that was home to 1.2 million Bulgarians or more than 15 percent of the country's population.

Like Vesuvius towering over the city of Naples, Sofia has its own guardian mountain, Mount Vitosha, which watches over the chaos of Eastern European urbanity. The main boulevard and shopping district in Sofia is named after the mountain, and is diminutively referred to as Vitoshka, or little Vitosha. On this street meander many well-dressed and fashionable young people, heads cocked slightly to the side as they chat on their state-of-the-art GSM phones, no larger than a box of Tic-Tacs. Interspersed among the high-street shops purveying the latest styles of Max Mara and Krizia are roped-o sidewalk cafes brimming with animated locals sipping black Bulgarian espressos and chain-smoking American and French "designer" cigarettes from deliberately displayed packs. Several stores, called "Pretty Shops," sell the haute couture equivalent of cosmetics: Estee Lauder, Clarins, Lancôme, and Shiseido.

At the top of Vitosha is a classical Orthodox church, Sveta Nedelya, just thirty steps away from the entrance of the luxurious Sofia Sheraton, which shares a building with the Offices of the Bulgarian Presidency. Postcard vendors, old women selling bundles of wildflowers, and young men surreptitiously selling pirated compact discs fill the wide plaza around the church. At the other end, toward the street's namesake mountain, is the National Palace of Culture. It stands within a large public park that is also full of outdoor cafes and cocktail bars amidst overgrown trees and artfully landscaped concrete. On the side streets leading o Vitosha are a diverse collection of fashionable, up-scale restaurants serving international cuisines, Internet cafes with high-speed web connections, and cinemas showing the latest American blockbusters. There is, of course, a flagship McDonalds and a more humble but no less crowded Dunkin' Donuts. Down the center of the street runs a well-used, but distinctively European, yellowish-orange electric tram that sporadically sucks up and spits out pedestrian traffic onto the tree-lined sidewalks. The private car traffic that zips up and down the street consists of hundreds of bright yellow taxis and a disturbing number of black, armored Mercedes and BMWS.

From the very top of Vitosha Street just past the Sveta Nedelya cathedral, the other main corridor in the center of the city begins. This boulevard, now called King Liberator (Tsar Osvoboditel), is paved with dark, yellowish-gold clay bricks that were a gift to Bulgaria from the Austrio-Hungarian Empire. Scattered among embassies, cafes, cocktail bars, and office buildings are the King's Palace (now an ethnographic museum), the parliament building and the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. The boulevard ends at the doors of Sofia University, the most prestigious institution of higher education in the country. If Vitosha is the center of the new Bulgaria, King Liberator is the center of the old Bulgaria. The communists celebrated all of the major national holidays with parades down this street. Private car traffic was forbidden, and security was extremely tight. This was the part of Sofia used to impress the foreign dignitaries. Even today, many of the buildings here have been repainted, and the eighty kilograms of gold that decorate the domes of the Nevski Cathedral have been carefully restored. It is one of the few streets in Sofia that still has functioning streetlights.

Private cars and taxis drive freely over the cracking yellow bricks; the street is now one of the main thoroughfares through the city. Directly across from the parliament building and the Orthodox cathedral is the Taboo Club, the most "luxurious" strip club in the city. Slightly further down the street toward the King's Palace is one of the more fashionable cafe/cocktail bars in Sofia: Lipstick. In the summer, the tables are tucked between shady, chestnut trees that sparkle at night with white Christmas-tree lights wrapped around their branches and trunks. The patio area is edged with a dainty, wrought-iron fence. Private security guards pat all male patrons down at the door, and Bulgarians pay their bills and leave immediately when the G-class Mercedes sport utility vehicles pull up in front of the cafe. With their multiple girlfriends and bodyguards in tow, the Bulgarian mobsters take over the bar after midnight. Lipstick, with its open-air seating area facing onto the street, is perfect for drive-by assassinations. Bulgarians do not want to be caught in the crossfire. To the casual Western observer, however, the flock of German luxury sedans outside may be nothing unusual. For many visitors, Lipstick is a pleasant place to spend the evening, people-watching the Bulgarian elite and ordering exotic cocktails from the waitresses who all speak perfect English.

Vitosha is a Potemkin village that fools foreigners into believing that over a decade of capitalism has been good for Bulgaria. Foreigners often have a difficult time reconciling the economic data they have on Bulgaria with the fantasy of wealth and prosperity that a stroll down Vitosha Street or a night at Lipstick engenders in all but the most observant visitors. To the casual tourist, the fleeting business traveler, or the World Bank financial consultant on a ten-day mission to "understand" Bulgaria, Vitoshka, King Liberator, and their immediate environs create the impression of a slightly anachronistic European country impressively catching up with new imperatives of global capitalism.

On the lower corners of Vitosha Street that border the park of the National Palace of Culture, there is usually an old woman or an old man on each side with large brown-paper sacks full of gevretzi, a kind of Bulgarian bread that is a cross between a bagel and a pretzel. These pretzel-bagels are a good way to fill your stomach in the morning and cost only thirty stotinki (about eighteen U.S. cents). If you sit in a cafe across from these corners for an hour in the morning and watch the wide cross-section of Bulgarians buying these hot gevretzi, you begin to glimpse beneath the gilded veneer of Vitosha Street. On these two corners and others like them around the city, the gevrek venders feed the city's students, workers, and pensioners. They support an economy where the average monthly wage of the country's citizens is not enough to meet an individual's basic human needs for food, water, shelter, and the cost of basic utilities. And some cannot even afford the gevretzi.

Early in the morning, well before the shops open, and even before the dwindling handful of Roma children and amputees take up their begging posts-when the street is quiet and empty in anticipation of the orgy of real and imagined consumption that the day will bring-the curtain of dawn rises on the tragedy of Vitosha Street. Among the paper and plastic recyclers and the Roma "treasure" hunters, there are always a few pensioners, communism's forgotten mothers and fathers, sifting through the large metallic dumpsters for food. And not only on Vitosha, but in affluent and even semi-affluent neighborhoods around Sofia city, the "dumpster divers" have become a permanent fixture of the urban landscape. It is disconcerting to watch them, with their spotless, unwrinkled clothes, their polished shoes, and clean-shaven chins-these are not social misfits or homeless people. These are men and women who worked honestly for all of their lives under one economic system only to lose their rewards by the advent of another.

Sofia itself is like an old woman who was once remarkably beautiful. She does her best to bear with dignity her rapidly fading glory, but everywhere the signs of her steady degeneration are evident. Photographs of Sofia from as late as the 1980s show a clean, well-manicured city with long tree-lined boulevards and immaculately groomed cobblestone streets. The nineteenth-century buildings and monuments in the center of the city seemed always freshly painted or polished. I have been told that the streets and sidewalks in the downtown areas were once washed nightly with soap.

A stroll away from the main tourist pathways reveals the dilapidated underbelly of the city even in broad daylight. The unique hexagonal cement tiles that pave the wide sidewalks are now uneven and cracked from all the private cars parked on them. People in Bulgaria are forced to walk on the streets because the sidewalks are overrun with parked auto-mobiles. The streets themselves are full of deep gaps in the pavement. The cash-starved municipality seldom repairs them. Only recently have the rubbish bins begun to appear around the city to mitigate the epidemic of littering that plagued Sofia in the 1990s. Some residents still dump trash out of their third- and fourth-floor windows. The trees along the streets are now wild and overgrown. No one cares for the grass in the numerous neighborhood parks and playgrounds where thousands of stray dogs roam in search of food. In addition to the fecal messes they leave, which render the parks unusable, the strays often form themselves into dangerous packs that attack unwary pedestrians. The beautiful, grand buildings of Sofia's past are falling to pieces; their paint has faded or flaked away. There is random graffiti on even the most treasured national monuments.

In what used to be one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in Sofia, there are shattered windows covered over with multiple layers of plastic clingwrap. Since the early 1990s, many of Bulgaria's top organized criminals have built or hired apartments in the neighborhood, slowly settling in among the resident pensioners and children of the former communist nomenklatura. The increasing tensions between different factions of Bulgaria's new mobster elite mean that small bombs are routinely detonated in parked cars. Various assassination attempts have wreaked destruction on millions of leva of private property for which there is no compensation. If they survive, the targets can easily afford to do the repairs necessary to their own property. For the elderly inhabitants of this neighborhood, whose monthly heating bills alone already exceed their meager pensions, one nearby explosion can mean the difference between barely surviving and falling into poverty. They cannot afford to replace the windows shattered by the explosions. Even if they could find a way, one woman I spoke to said that she would not spend the money to replace them for fear that there would be yet another explosion. For now, the plastic wrap is the best that most people can do. At least it still lets the light in.

Even people working for the government are not immune to the general erosion in living standards in the country. I once met with a senior expert from the Ministry of Economy in an open-air cafe, where I ordered two draught beers and a bag of imported Rues potato chips. The waiter opened the bag and shook the chips out onto a white napkin on a porcelain plate. At the end of the interview, there were maybe five or six chips left on the plate. As I paid the bill, I watched the senior expert carefully fold the white napkin over the remaining chips, and put them into her bag. When she saw that I was watching her, she said simply, "For my son." The chips had cost one lev (seventy U.S. cents) in the restaurant, and would cost about seventy-five stotinki (fifty cents) in the supermarket. But from the way she gingerly put them away, careful not to crush one, I knew that they would be a special treat.

The hardships that characterize life in Sofia, however, are amplified when they radiate out from the capital, touching the lives of almost all Bulgarians, even the middle classes. In the carefully landscaped garden of a summerhouse about twenty-five kilometers outside of Sofia, I watched a gaggle of meticulously dressed housewives of the Bulgarian upper-middle class chatting together at a child's birthday party. As the mother of the birthday boy brought out the meat that she had prepared for the grill, another housewife cooed and said, "Steak tips? How nice that you prepared steak tips. They have become so expensive. We cannot afford to eat them anymore at our house."

The other housewives nodded in agreement. The mother shrugged, looking down at what had once been a staple of the Bulgarian diet. "These are his favorite," she said.

Almost everyday while I was living in Bulgaria, I saw painful evidence of the rapidly declining living standard at all levels of society. I often felt as if everyone and everything around me were still trying to shake o the sudden evaporation of communism in the Eastern bloc. In all of my casual conversations with Bulgarians, I found that they most frequently attributed their sorrows to what they simply called "the changes," a Himalayan understatement for the total collapse of an entire political and economic system. In order to understand how women's lives have been affected, how expectations and opportunities for women in tourism have been transformed since 1989, I first need to step back and survey the larger ramifications of the collapse of Bulgarian communism, the system that had given them their now-valuable cultural capital.

One of the greatest failures of both Eastern and Western social science was that no one really saw the collapse of the Soviet Empire coming. So-called "experts" were just as shocked as the ordinary people when the Berlin Wall suddenly came down. After almost half a century of a Cold War that had brought the world to the brink of total nuclear annihilation, the enemy just disappeared. As the sociologist Manuel Castells explained: "The Soviet experiment marked decisively a twentieth century that, by and large, revolved around its development and consequences for the whole world. It cast a giant shadow not only over the geopolitics of states, but also over the imaginary constructions of social transformation ... That all this effort, all this human suffering and passion, all these ideas, all these dreams, could have vanished in such a short period of time, revealing the emptiness of the debate, is a stunning expression of our collective capacity to build political fantasies so powerful that they end up changing history."


Excerpted from The Red Riviera by KRISTEN GHODSEE Copyright © 2005 by DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Shattered Windows, Broken Lives 21

2. Making Mitko Tall 43

3. The Red Riviera 76

4. To the Wolves: Tourism and Economic Transformation 115

5. Feminism-by-Design 151

Appendix A: Tables 175

Appendix B: Formal Interviews 182

Notes 189

Glossary 209

Selected Bibliography 211

Index 223

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