A Visit to the Real Sochi, 'The Florida of Russia'
Friday, February 07, 2014
As the Olympics kick off, it's impossible to ignore the socio-political context. But in addition to the athletes, and the questions about Russian policy, there are also the people of Sochi. In 2007, after hearing that "the Florida of Russia" had been awarded the winter games, Dutch photographer Rob Hornstra and writer/videographer Arnold van Bruggen traveled to Sochi to begin documenting life in the resort town as it prepared for the 2014 games. The result is the multimedia reporting site "The Sochi Project" and the new book An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus (Aperture, 2013). They discuss their years of reporting, the history of the region, and the effect the Olympic games will have on the everyday lives of Sochi residents.
The railway line from Sochi to Sukhum in Abkhazia hugs the coast. Behind it rise the hotel-style sanatoriums of Adler. Ordinary hotel rooms are marginally cheaper, which is immediately apparent on Adler's seafront. The beach is full of overweight bodies sweating beer and spirits, bare torsos, noisy eaters surrounded by drunken bluster and tacky music. The locals have little choice but to put up with the visitors. Well heeled Russians take refuge in Sochi's fancier hotels or opt for Italy, Turkey or Thailand. The Games may bring a level of quality that will discourage cheap tourism, but more likely the city will just become more expensive, chaotic and crowded.
Hamzad Ivloev, 44, was a policeman in Karabulak. One night he discovered a booby trap: a grenade had been lodged in a glass in such a way that the slightest movement would have set it off. At that moment reinforcements arrived. Hamzad started screaming and telling them to run away. But no one responded. He decided to throw himself on the grenade. ‚ÄúIn retrospect, it was all for nothing. I sacrificed myself for a bunch of cowards', he says bitterly.
Every year, Mikhail Pavelivich Karabelnikov, 77, travels three thousand kilometers from Novokuznetsk to take his vacation in Sochi. He was a miner for thirty-seven years and gradually worked his way up to foreman, in charge of some 150 miners. His promising career came to an abrupt end when he refused to become a member of the Communist party, he says proudly.
Cover of the book The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus (Aperture, 2013)