RIGA - The Latvian capital, from the moment the country joined the European Union in 2004, has been a favorite destination for the British to carry on their stag party celebrations. In 2008 Latvia was visited by more than 92,000 British tourists, though not all of them stag party participants. Riga's accessibility was made even more so due to the many Web sites offering week-ends at a moderate cost.
One popular Web site, typical of the show, offers private parties with girls in a pool, go-cart racing, target shooting with a Kalashni-kov, free fall adventures and boating in the company of young girls. Included in the package are airport transfers and accommodation for two nights in a 'three-star' hotel. Obligatory in the offer is a guided tour of Riga's strip-clubs, and free entrance to one of them. The company specializes only in stag and ladies' parties.
According to news agency delfi, the new Riga mayor, Nils Ushakovs, reacted with strong criticism recently to the behavior of these British groups, calling for the formation of a special tourist police force to go after the disorderly individuals. The 33-year-old Usakovs' main claim is that their behavior is 'obscene.'
"So, their favorite place to urinate is on Freedom Monument, in the city center, which was established in memory of the soldiers battling for independence of the country. Many of those British get on the pedestal, naked, to be photographed," he said.
These kinds of celebrations are possible in Riga because of a lethal mix of inexpensive airline tickets, cheap beer and strip-clubs where the entrance fee is only about five lats (7 euros). Nonetheless, not all of the stag party participants are unruly, as it is usually just a few rotten ones in the bunch.
Stag parties in the center of the Old Town are only the tip of the iceberg, however, in explaining the negative image Riga has acquired. One contributing factor is the widespread illegal prostitution.
"Yes, we work here in the evenings. Walking along the street, we meet foreigners in a good and drunk condition. They pay us well, and, you know, there is a crisis in Latvia. The growth in unemployment is awful. So we need to earn money somehow. Besides, there is no law against prostitution, but there is one for pimping. The police don't drive us away. Their force has been reduced anyway," said one working girl named Cindy.
One of Usakovs' political opponents, Girts Valdis Kristovskis, thinks that Riga's city council should legalize prostitution, and tax it. "Legalization and intensified control of the prostitution would be additional income to the city budget. I think that strip-clubs should not be in the Old Town. It damages the reputation of Riga. We need to think about where we can relocate the strippers," said Kristovskis, reports news agency LETA.
Strip clubs, bars that charge excessive prices ripping off unsuspecting tourists, with staff who then get physically violent when the patrons refuse to pay, aren't problems brought into Riga by the stag parties, they are Riga's own home-grown creations.
So, the problem of strip clubs in Riga's Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, won't go away. In the previous city council, the LSDSP party tried to bring in restrictions on strip-club activities, and wanted to move casinos to a section on the border of the Old Town. However, all attempts failed. The only thing achieved by LSDSP was that the council allowed the municipality to regulate the work of strip-clubs and casinos.
According to public opinion, the majority of inhabitants of Riga, sixty five percent, consider that the Old Town should be a special zone where strip-clubs, tacky casinos and bars are prohibited.