First, Russians are told that they will have to alter their eating habits thanks to a non-importation ukaz issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin covering Western food products. Now they are catching grief in a Black Sea resort for the way they look.
Summer along the Black Sea coast can only mean one thing: an invasion of flesh-baring Russians. Most Russian men and women tend to sport teeny-weeny speedos and bikinis while soaking up the sun on beaches and in resort towns, demonstrating little regard for local dress-code conventions. One tourist destination in the conservative Caucasus region – the separatist territory Abkhazia – has decided enough is enough, and is calling on Russian visitors to cover themselves up.
The City Council in Sokhumi, Abkhazia’s capital, has banned walking in swimwear outside of beach areas. Signs essentially saying no naked Russians allowed are being placed around the city.
Abkhazia, which during the Soviet era was considered a communist Côte d’Azur, remains a popular destination for budget-conscious Russians who cannot afford a vacation in Turkey or Egypt, and who are not deterred by the disputed status of the region. Abkhazia, with Russian assistance, broke away from the Republic of Georgia following a war fought in the early 1990s. The region’s status has remained a touchstone of tension ever since.
The City Council’s August 11 decision is seen by some local observers as a bold move, given that Abkhazia’s economic livelihood for the past two decades has been largely dependent on Russia’s largesse. Just about the only economic sector that still shows a pulse in the territory – which though recognized as independent by the Kremlin, de jure remains part of Georgia – is tourism, and Russians comprise the overwhelming percentage of foreign visitors.
With this, no doubt, in mind, Sokhumi’s de-facto authorities stopped short of introducing fines for violating the new sartorial rules. Public signs will merely instruct visitors to dress appropriately, or just to get dressed.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi. He is a frequent contributor to EurasiaNet.org's Tamada Tales blog.