Our editor-in-chief Anna-Cara Keim intends to write about the Eurovision Song Contest and finds herself travelling to Riga instead.
The original topic of this article was this year’s Eurovision song contest. And the plan was to write about the performance of the Baltic Sea Region countries – why Poland and Latvia have not made it to the finals in some years, why Finland’s catchy DingDong tune did not succeed, despite Alexander Stubbs’ energetic tweets, and how regional voting patterns, especially in ex-communist Europe, persist until the present day.
Then two things happened:
First, a Lithuanian news website uncovered how Russians tried to buy Lithuanian votes for their Russian Eurovision contestant. And in return that same website experienced a cyber attack, most likely engineered by the Russians.
And second, I took an early morning flight from London to Riga. The purpose of this trip was originally to have a short break and to investigate an issue related to Russian influence in a certain Latvian municipality further. However, upon my arrival at the airport I realised what the majority of my fellow passengers would consist of: stag groups. For our non-British readers, stag parties, although stag trips seem to be more common nowadays, are the British equivalent of a bachelor’s party. Before a man enters matrimony it presents a great excuse for him and his best friends to misbehave – supposedly for one last time. This mainly means – as much alcohol as possible. Though of course, the whole affair does not end there.
Like in the case of Eurovision, regional choice patterns persist – but unlike in the Eurovision these are not influenced by a bygone Cold War world order; instead they are heavily gendered. The women, the bride-to-be in a pink crown and her hen party in matching pink T-shirts, tend to opt for Spain’s beach resorts, whereas the male destination of choice often lies within Europe’s eastern parts. The reason for this is simple, as someone explained to me: “The alcohol is cheap and the girls are beautiful.” This statement makes me cringe, although indeed these places are a perfectly legitimate destination for stag parties. Nevertheless, it also means that such a beautiful place like Riga, with a rich history and many interesting sights on offer, is reduced to two things: bars and strip clubs.
On my early morning flight to Riga there were three stag parties, one group was extremely loud, some of the guys were already drunk. Before 8am! The flight went as predicted – the stag parties continued drinking until the cabin crew runs out of beers, whereas my fellow Latvian passengers get increasingly annoyed. “It is the same every time I fly home” complains the woman sitting next to me. After arrival, while we are at the bus stop one of the guys asked a girl for cigarette and (jokingly?) offers her sex in return. The whole stag party scenario is completely unknown to an Italian passenger who is completely puzzled and slightly embarrassed by the stag party’s behaviour. Eventually I get off the bus but I am probably bound to encounter them again – Riga’s Old Town is small. Later on the same day I have a chat with a hostel receptionist. She tells me “We don’t take stag parties anymore.” Apparently, some people once trashed this place entirely. The same night, when I am wandering through the streets of Old Town with some friends the issue of British stag party trips to Riga is brought up again. The problem it seems is not the drinking – rather there have been incidents of how some badly behaving visitors have urinated on Riga’s monument of freedom. The historically important monument honours all those that fell in Latvia’s war for independence. In 2009 the situation seemed to have escalated to an extent that Riga’s mayor saw himself compelled to comment on the situation. Since then the situation has notably improved as many hostels and hotels refuse to take bookings for stag parties.
On my flight back I spot a few familiar faces – one of them is heavily bruised. This guy obviously got himself into a fight… The sad aspect of this is not that they have probably spent three days in a state of drunkenness, but rather that he will have not taken any interest in Latvian culture at all.
As I previously mentioned, Riga is a rather small place – on my last night I actually had a brief encounter with the singer of the band PeR that represented Latvia at the Eurovision contest in Malmö. Unfortunately they came last in the semi-finals and thus, they did not qualify for the finals.