Something you wouldn’t noticed while just strolling through Crisan is the kindergarten. The small white house looks just like the other small white houses around. And even if you’d identify it as a kindergarten it would not surprise you to see a swing and a slide in it’s backyard. Well, for the people in Crisan a slide and swing isn’t something they take as given.
Not too long time ago the children had no possibility to play outside. The backyard was just another hole of an unfinished construction-project. It changed because of Peter and Caroline. Sometimes the easiest ideas are the best: Peter and Caroline just placed a donation-box in their guesthouse and after a few years they raised enough money for a swing and a slide. But unfortunately raising money was the simplest part of their project. It was much more complicate to get permission to change the construction-hole into a proper backyard and to do so.
Peter has a friendly, weather-beaten face and a calm charisma. Even if he talks about bureaucracy and other obstacles in regards with the kindergarten-project, everything seems to be manageable. Monica recommend to me to talk to them an he and Caroline seemed to be surprised about my interested in the kindergarten. Maybe because raising money for it was just a matter of course for them. Nevertheless they offer my a glass of wine once I entered their house and not just shared the kindergarten-story but also the story of rural tourism in the Danube Delta with me.
The story of rural tourism in the Delta is intimately connected with the story of Peter’s life. He grew up in Crisan and always enjoyed being in the nature. Though he didn’t wanted to be a fishermen like all the men around him when he was young. It might be that he was the first one who ever had the idea of a guesthouse in the Delta. He just built another bathroom in his mothers house and opened one of the bedrooms for tourists. It seems like that worked out good since nearly every house in Crisan has done the same by now. On a volunteers-workcamp in France Peter met Caroline. Caroline liked Peters idea about making the Delta accessible for tourists and so she went back to Romania with him. It must have been a big adventure for the French girl to move to the Danube Delta. But Caroline managed to learn Romanian and fit in the local culture. By now they are not only having a beautiful guesthouse with a reed-roof but also two daughters who speak French and Romanian.
While Peter was the first one who had the idea, tourism is now quite developed in the Delta. Peter estimates that about 70 people in Crisan are able to live from tourism. Mostly they just have a guestroom which the woman takes care of while the man is fishing.
But there isn’t only the rural tourism from witch the locals benefit but also the big, commercial tourism which they fear. Big companies like TUI organize cruises to the Delta and investors are building resorts and offer jet-ski on the canals. This kind of tourism destroys the nature and with it the livelihood of the locals. The EU developed a strategy for the whole Danube Region and one of it’s goals is to “promote culture and tourism and people-to-people contact” When I ask Peter if he can see any impacts of these efforts in Crisan and he laughs. Yes, there is at least one. Even though everyone in the villages wishes there wouldn’t.
Yay, let’s build a Hotel
Traditionally, the houses in the Danube Delta are small, white and have a reed-roof. A house with three levels is already a little sky-scarper here. That’s why the building lot in the middle of Crisan is more than eye-catching. The steal beams rise higher than every other house into the blue sky. It’s useless to mention that no other house in Crisan has a steel construction. Nobody knows who is building the house in the middle of the village but everybody knows that it will be a hotel once finished. The big hotel will be able to beat all the locals prices and most probably, just like the resort on the village’s end, have contracts with the big companies in order to get more tourists. In front of the building lot is a big sign which tells little about the future house but says at least that it’s funded by the European Union. Peter explains me that the EU covers 50% of your construction costs if you “help” the tourism in the Danube Delta. Not just in Crisan but all over the Delta investors from abroad or Bucharest use the funding of the EU for building new hotels.
The locals can’t benefit from that since they don’t have enough money to build something new and won’t ever get loans for doing so since they don’t have any starting capital. Basically, the EU money is destroying the locals livelihood here. And this isn’t the first time in Romania where I have seen an example of “good idea, bad realization”. Under this circumstances I’m quite happy that Romania is just using 9.5 % of the money which could be used for development projects.
Peter and Monica got an easy idea how to stop the madness. If the people of the village could do more decision on their own, and for example decide all together about new building projects in Crisan, things like this wouldn’t happen. Instead of Brussels giving the ok for a new project locals could decide what happens with the EU money. I very much like this idea of more federalism and could even imagine that it helps to prevent corruption.
But at the moment that’s still pie in the sky and the locals will have to deal with a new, big hotel in their village. While it drives me nuts to think about it, Peter is still calm and friendly. Just like ever they will find a possibility to deal with lives obstacles.