Chernobyl Stag Parties: British Bachelors in Eastern Europe

The New Sin Cities

At the beginning of this century, there were already signs that Prague was getting pretty seedy. Between the end of the Velvet Revolution and 2001, syphilis rates rose eight-fold. In October 2001, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (OMCTP) was established within the U.S. State Department. Western sex tourists on cityxguide were comparing their experiences with the city’s more than 120 brothels. Predictably, there were some repugnant and racist comments:

“Street action is down, plus you don’t want to try it. There’s no Czech girl selling herself on the sidewalk. All you’ll get is Ukranians and gypsies.”

The first stag parties arrived a few years earlier, in the late-1990s. While strippers have long been a bachelor party “staple”, for a significant number of stags, brothel visits are now becoming an integral part of the weekend as well. According to one research report from 2005, the number of British men who said they’d paid for sex had doubled in the previous decade.

In 2010, the BBC reported on the relationship between stag weekends and the human trafficking of women and girls for the sex trade. The investigation revealed that the large number of British stag tourists visiting Prague — and other cities in Eastern Europe — had driven up local demand for sex workers. But even worse, some of the stag tourists knew that they were paying to have sex with women who had been trafficked.

As one John told the BBC, “I disagree with it, but at the end of the day it’s just what happens, like. You can’t do anything about it. You’re just here to have fun, and do things you won’t get away with back home.”

In Eastern Europe, “anything goes”. Men can engage in anonymous sex with large numbers of women, reaffirming their masculinity and economic “superiority” in such a powerful way that they do things in places like Prague, Kiev, Riga, and Sofia that might be considered emasculating back home, such as dressing in drag, enduring various types of public humiliation (e.g. being stripped naked and taped to a telephone pole) or having sex with “substandard types” of women. One man who’d recently returned from a stag do asked“Should Czech midgets be half price in a brothel?”

The same morals don’t seem to apply either, since discovering a trafficked middle class girl from England held captive in Eastern Europe would almost certainly provoke a different response from the stag party lads (to say nothing of the Daily Mail) than discovering a Ukrainian or Romanian girl trafficked in Eastern Europe, because “that’s just how it is in these places”.

In “Prague, Tourism and the Post-Industrial City”, Lily M. Hoffman and Jiri Musil describe the tourism sector’s effects on Prague and other post-communist cities:

“The rise of related activities such as casinos and gambling, sex workers, money laundering, drugs, organized crime, and casual street crime… which typically become place-based, give rise to organized citizens groups and complaints about the degradation of streets and neighborhoods. Mass tourism such as weekend outings by groups of British youth give rise to hooliganism and make certain areas off limits to locals. In comparison to the tightly controlled society that existed under the socialist regime, the post-communist, tourist Prague is, to many, an unruly and unlawful city.”

As stag parties moved into new EU member states and their picturesque cities, like Krakow, Budapest, and Riga, you could see the same effects. In “The Dark Side of Stag Tourism in Eastern Europe”, author Magdalena Lezak notes that “each year Krakow is visited by around 2.6 million foreign visitors and nearly 17 percent of them are British… Recently, British stag parties in Krakow have been associated with anti-social behaviour and sex tourism.” Most sex workers in Poland are Polish, but a sizeable number — between 40 and 50 percent — are from abroad, usually Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, and “Balkan countries”. While the majority are involved in sex work consensually, others definitely are not. In 2008, there were 60 individuals under investigation for sex trafficking in Poland.

Kasia Krol, who works at a bar in central Krakow, complained about the stag tourists and their preoccupation with paying women for sex. “’They hassle waitresses about sex and brothels. One stripped off in front of all the other guests. They’ve started drinking out of their shoes, which they think is really funny. They drop ash and spill beer and vomit, and then they go off to brothels.”

Stag tourists are hardly the only foreign men seeking sex in Krakow and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, but their numbers are not negligible. And they’re always searching for that elusive “new Prague” to terrorize. “There’s nothing quite so quintessentially British than grown men setting off for foreign climes before subjecting the local population to a barrage of colourful songs, vomit and innuendo,” reads the In Your Pocket guide to Krakow.

Low-cost carrier WizzAir started operating limited flights between London and Zagreb in 2006, and industry giant easyjet inaugurated its first flight on the same route in 2010. Maximise, the same stag trip organizer that takes bachelor parties to Chernobyl, has offered stag weekends in Zagreb since 2010. Their “Bullets, Babes, and Beers” package looks pretty standard (emphasis mine):

“Make sure your stag weekend in Zagreb starts with a bang! We’ll put you and your stags up in a hotel only a stones throw from the nightlife! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where the best bars are, our guide will take you on a BIG pub crawl, where you’ll be treated to some of the wildest nightlife, as well as 5 beers on the house! Once you’ve recovered, you’ll be partaking in some activities that aren’t quite legal in the UK!

Another stag and city break agency offers a “Sensual Zagreb Tour”. But even with all the enticing activities hinting at illegal sex procurement, the boorish bachelors’ reviews of the Croatian capital have been mixed. One unhappy Brit was clearly disappointed, calling sleepy Zagreb an “absolute dog hole mate, full of eastern europeans wanting to rip your heads off.” Another felt a bit bad because he and his fellow stag revellers dressed the groom-to-be in a clown suit and paraded him around town. “The poor Croats were completely confused, and a number of children were left traumatized as well,” he said.

At least one man had something nice to say about Croatia — if that’s where he was. “I’ve done most of Eastern Europe and loved all of it, and apart from Slovakia (Ljubljana in particular) Croatia was easily my favourite country. As long as you and your group of mates can visit other countries without being the typical twatty brits abroad that give us all a bad name you’ll be fine… If you just want to get leathered, shoot guns, insult local people, get into fights and get ripped off by ugly prossies then head to somewhere in Poland, or Budapest.” Prossies, if you hadn’t guessed, is British slang for prostitutes.

“Shooting a Kalashnikov was the best way to sober up you could ask for”

Today, Riga is arguably the “Stag Capital of Eastern Europe”, a distinction that Latvians have struggled with, to say the least.

There is a monument in the city center dedicated to the soldiers who died fighting in the Latvian War of Independence between 1918 and 1920. Today, it’s also seen as an important national symbol of the country’s sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, some notorious visitors have chosen to treat the Freedom Monument as a latrine. Over a several-month period in 2008, police caught an appalling eight British stag tourists urinating on the Freedom Monument. News of these public pissings was met with considerable rage in Latvia. Still, some people were more forgiving about it than others.

“Mainly they say they did not know the significance of this monument, they did not see the toilet nearby, so they peed in the place which seemed the most appropriate for them,” reasoned Eriks Trels, the Chief of Public Order at the Riga Police department.

Others were less lenient on the intoxicated lads. Mareks Seglins, who was the interior minister at the time, decried the “English pigs” who’d so flagrantly disrespected the national monument. Back in Britain, some hit back by calling the Latvians “xenophobes” or anti-British.

One expat seemed to sum up the sentiment Latvians had for the Brits quite well: “The Latvians think the Brits are loud, uncouth, lairy alcoholics with no respect for Latvia or Latvian culture.”

The city even formed a special “tourist police” task force in 2010 to manage all the prematrimonial misbehaving. A campaign aimed at young Latvian women urged them not to have one-night stands with British stag “hooligans” to prevent the city from becoming the “Bangkok of the Baltic”. As in Prague, restaurants and bars began turning large groups of British men away. But Riga’s was a more complete and decisive rejection, and few felt much loss as the stag crowds thinned a bit.

Outsiders thought it was irresponsible to deter tourists given the state of the Latvian economy. Some said that tolerating bad stag behavior was a “necessary evil”. They explained that even at the height of the global financial crisis, the market for stag tourism was fairly “resilient to the recession” and helped “buoy local businesses” across Eastern Europe. And perhaps there’s truth in that: Today, the mostly British stag market is estimated at $780 million a year.

But stag tourism often introduces a new set of economic burdens: Several cities have had to hire more police officers or create entire police units, public property has been damaged or destroyed, and tourism revenues may actually be lost if more refined visitors are deterred by a city’s association with “vulgar” bachelor parties. One city even protested when RyanAir announced it would be opening a new route between its airport and the UK, fearing an influx of “undesirables”.

While Riga may have sent the strongest messages in opposition to the stag weekend yet, other cities have pushed back in their own ways.

Little Bratislava has been a stag destination for over a decade. What it lacks in big city excitement it makes up for in great stag night activities, like “Bratislava Tacos & Tits” and “Bratislava Steak & Lesbos”. In addition to AK-47 shooting, of course.

In 2007, one groom-to-be stripped naked near the American embassy and climbed into a fountain. He was arrested for “causing a public nuisance”. Believing that his UK citizenship would grant him touristic immunity from criminal prosecution, he thought he’d be released after paying a cheap, Eastern European-sized fine. However, the authorities decided to make an example of him, and he was jailed for almost two months — nearly missing his wedding. The British media followed the story closely, and portrayed the English captive as a normal lad “just messing about”. But they chose to leave out one detail heavily reported on in the Slovakian press: Many bystanders insist the young Brit wasn’t just naked in the fountain — he was masturbating in public.

Around the same time, a security camera caught a group of British men knocking over one of Bratislava’s best-known attractions, the bronze statue of a beloved townsman born in 1897.

Wroclaw, Poland is a university town, which is probably part of why it’s become something of a stag destination. The fact that it’s a smaller city has allowed stags to get away with some even more obnoxious behavior — at least until fairly recently. For instance, Crazy Stag advertises the “Sexy Clubbing Van” experience for £250: “Even the Polish mafia will get out of you way as you blast down the highway in this jet-black clubbing machine, like you own the tarmac. Stick on some gangsta rap (the more obscene the better), break out the champagne, roll the LCD screens and start thrusting 50 zloty notes down the knickers of one of Poland’s hottest hos.”

Police have cracked down on public nudity recently, however, “and many bars and clubs have banned kilts.” Dziennik, a local newspaper, explained why: “Kilt-wearers leave behind broken tables and chairs in bars… Then they stop people and lift up their kilts to show what’s underneath.” Fair enough.

In 2009, Greek police arrested 17 Brits dressed up as “sexy” nuns for exposing themselves to other guests at a resort in Malia on the island of Crete. Bystanders claimed they’d flashed their “thongs”, “lingerie”, and “everything else”, while making lewd gestures. The men, who were on a stag weekend and aged 18 to 65, sat in a prison cell for two days before being marched in front of television cameras still dressed as nuns. They were on their way to court to face charges of exposing themselves in public and offending religious symbols.

Interestingly, there had been a protest against the “lewd and violent behavior” of British tourists in Malia less than 18 months prior to the infamous nuns incident. A series of gruesome injuries and deaths at the resort in recent years had made the locals too terrified to leave their homes. In one horrific episode, a British tourist bit off the nose of a bartender who asked him to leave the establishment because he was too drunk.

And Chernobyl isn’t the only insensitive choice of destination available to stag parties. Last Night of Freedom, a stag tourism company headquartered in northern England, started offering the “Auschwitz Experience Weekend” for just £124.00 ($198.90) a few years ago.

The first evening, stag revellers will get sauced on a bar crawl, and then stagger to a lap dance club. The Last Night of Freedom team promises it will be “a messy first night in Krakow”. But any hangovers will be cured during the next morning’s tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp, described as “an unforgettably sobering experience”.

UK news broadcaster discusses "migrant invasion"
A British news broadcaster discusses the “invasion” of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants in April 2013. But something’s not quite right with the maps… And what about that country bordering Romania/Bulgaria (or whatever?) — is that Yugoslavia minus Montenegro?

The Non-British Invasion

A few weeks ago, I was awakened at around 5 am by men with English accents singing songs with obscene lyrics and vomiting so loudly in the street I could hear it in my bedroom several stories up. When I pulled back the curtains, I saw five visibly intoxicated 30-something men staggering on the sidewalk opposite my apartment. A stag do in Belgrade.

I watched in horror as one gentleman took his iPhone out and began filming his friend who was spewing vomit.

But the more disgusting behavior came from another member of the group, who announced that he was going to “walk all over these cars”. He proceeded to climb on top of a neighbor’s blue Renault, jumping on the car’s roof like it was a trampoline until he created a craterous dent.

I called the cops, then opened the window and shouted that I was going to have them arrested. It was probably my third or fourth extremely negative confrontation with a stag party.

This kind of bad stag behavior, so typical in cities from Prague to Kiev, is particularly interesting given the anti-Eastern European hysteria sweeping Britain right now. As of January 1, 2014, Romanians and Bulgarians will finally be able to travel freely in Europe and the UK like other members of the EU, and work in Britain if they so choose.

Reading headlines gracing the covers of British newspapers these days, you’d think the country was facing the threat of an actual military invasion. Here’s an ironic one: “Eastern European gangs use budget airlines for crime sprees”. Like a RyanAir flight to Prague with 12 of your best mates where you will destroy property, get into bar brawls, and have sex with girls who’ve been trafficked into slavery?

Some other choice headlines from this year include: “How Romanian gangs terrorize our streets”, “Eastern European criminals blamed for surge in Britain’s prisons”, “’No Eastern Europeans’ sign placed at carp fishing lake by angry landowner who claims they have stolen his fish”, “Lord Tebbit Warns Of Immigrants Who ‘Recreate Their Country’ In The UK”, EU immigration concerns mount as Croatia joins EU” “Leaked memo warns UK of Romanian criminal invasion” (whoops, that one’s actually from 2006 and refers to the Romanian invasion that was supposed to happen after the country joined the EU).

The tone of these articles is on par with Fox News standards: Don’t worry about the women in Krakow who’ve been trafficked into the sex trade, or display a shred of sensitivity towards the people who once lived in Pripyat, but pity the poor residents of Gloucester, England: The city is “plagued by hordes of marauding migrant louts” who’ve been known to “play loud music and rampage about drunkenly.” These “Czech youths causing trouble” are believed to have engaged in a lot of “anti-social” behavior last year.

One local mother, Suzanna Brickel, said she’s too afraid to walk through the local park when Czech teenagers are out because they’re intimidating. “They get drunk, they shout and swear and spit at you and the litter they drop is disgusting,” the frightened mother explained. “If you try to talk to them they say they can’t speak English.”

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Lily Lynch

Lily is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Balkanist Magazine. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia.