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Alex Tomazatos | Homeland

The youngest land in Romania has fascinated people and still does. Every year, the beauties of this wetland bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. This paradise is inhabited by approximately 16000 Romanians, Russian Lipovans and Hahol (Ukrainian descendants) in 26 rural settlements and a small town – Sulina. They share less than 20% of the Delta’s surface which represents the dry land. The rest is water.

Advertising the touristic potential of the Danube Delta after 1990 meant the emergence of many itineraries. This led to a “make-over” beyond recognition. Prices soared to “european level” and the landscape is now dominated by kitschy pensions and villas built by anyone who lands here from the country who can afford it, and of course, is allowed to do it. If those who live in villages situated along the touristic areas are making some profit and manage to make it through the year, in other parts of the delta, people are as isolated as 50 years ago, abandoned by authorities and surrounded by waters.

Fish is one of the main sources of income for the Danube Delta’s inhabitants. At the same time it is one of the most affected resources in the region. Here, man used to coexist with nature, but in the chaos which followed the fall of the communist regime in 1989, fish stocks have been exploited irrationally at unsustainable rates. Nobody thought about the consequences which were to follow. Poaching became something normal, being conducted either for mere survival or for building another colorful motel. With the border police involved in the illegal fishing, fishermen have to pay a tribute, make way and close their eyes. The profit is fueling the destructive transformation of this paradise, through the depersonalization of the traditional houses, which now exude bad taste, and the loss of an authentic, traditional way of life. Everywhere in the delta, the locals await the inevitable – they know that it is just a matter of time until fishing will be halted for good and they will not be able to survive in the most remote part of the country. Instead of the real Danube Delta, all that will be left are the hundreds HP speedboats sweeping with their waves the incredible wildlife nesting on the banks and their music rumbling in Europe’s most important wetland.

(From PRIVATE 51 – Global Report 2, p. 40 -45)

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