Where will the girls go when the UN leaves town?

WAR can be good business. A visiting foreign army is even better if your business is sex. Certainly, the deployment in Croatia of 12,000 peace-keepers three years ago has spawned a flourishing trade in prostitution and associated professions to service Unprofor, the UN Protection Force.

Although illegal the new brothels, most operating as strip clubs where punters could select the dancer of their choice, were tolerated by the authorities for some time. In the past few months (perhaps since the visit of the Pope last September, when 10 per cent of the population attended open-air Mass) the police have cracked down, forcing some brothels out of business and others to tone down their acts. But a greater threat looms: the scheduled departure of Unprofor when the UN mandate expires next month. "Mandatus Interruptus" is not a happy thought for bordello owners.

"I'll tell you a secret - I spent 33,000 deutschmarks (£14,000) to start up this place; I made it into the black in 23 days," said Goran, owner of the Paradise club, a brothel judiciously sited a five-minute drive from the UN's main air base at Pleso, outside Zagreb. "War is good for some things, bad for others. . . I was shot twice when I was in the army."

At the next table, two young, attractive Ukrainian women giggled and flirted with four French peace-keepers who said they had just come for a drink and a chat. And indeed, they left alone. "A lot of the soldiers don't have sex," Goran said. "They just want to talk and drink and laugh - they want companionship."

The two women did not look disappointed when their escorts left. One, Goran said, had already made DM300 that day, some of it her cut from the bar takings. The house takes 90 per cent of the drinks tab, the women 10 per cent; at DM16 for a glass of champagne and DM6 for a beer, the tips add up quickly.

At Venus, a rival club nearby - surely one of the very few Croatian houses with a video entryphone - the management's paranoia about security is such that at least half the crew-cut young men stalking around were bouncers. The owner was leery and refused to talk; we were only admitted as friends of a friend, though a UN ID card will get most punters in. "He is convinced you are with the fraud squad," we were told.

"Zagreb Vice" is not the problem as far as brothel-keepers are concerned: the financial police are the real enemy. At a former strip joint in central Zagreb a dozen policemen, half in uniform, arrived to check ID cards. "It's perfectly normal," a waiter said quickly. "It will be over in 10 minutes, no problem." The venue is now "just a nightclub", he added. He did not explain why the prices were astronomical, the women arrived alone wearing postage-stamp-sized lycra skirts and made friends immediately with groups of men.

At the Tropicana, once well-known for its floor show and the enthusiasm with which its employees welcomed customers, the atmosphere was muted. Two months ago the police cracked down on its no-holds-barred programme (because, it is rumoured, senior politicians were targeted by a blackmailer). "So now we have just a simple programme, not very big, but nice," the blonde manageress explained. "There used to be lots of Unprofor here," she said sadly. "You could go off with the girls then, but not now."

On the small dance-floor, all flashing lights and dry ice, a young woman sashayed around in an orange day-glo swimsuit for a couple of songs, before removing it and dancing around naked. The Tropicana dancers, who seemed to be Croatian (the managements were not keen on interviews with the staff) were rather more professional than the Ukrainians working for Goran, but in general the emphasis was more strip than tease. At Venus, a young French soldier danced with far more abandon than any of the scantily clad women surrounding him.

In a country where the average monthly salary is around DM400, it is easy to see why Goran's customers are almost all foreign: the cheapest drinks cost DM15, while the brothels charge DM200 per hour for sex, or DM800 for the night - the fee is split 50-50 between women and management.

Since Unprofor's arrival, some 15 strip clubs-cum-brothels have opened in Zagreb, keeping up the UN's reputation worldwide for boosting the sex industry -and fear of Aids spreading - wherever task forces are sent. Pre-war, there was only one club, plus the topless floor show at the city's best hotel. Goran, a former military policeman who said he spent 47 days in Vukovar during the Serbian siege in 1991 that shattered the city, plans to move into a different business once he has made his fortune, and does not - will not - believe the UN is really on its way out.

"I can guarantee Unprofor will not leave - they need a logistical base for Bosnia for example," he said. "Pleso will be here for five or six years at least." Goran is just disappointed that the UN will not allow his business to join Burger King and the video clubs out at the base.

The atmosphere at the Paradise is wholesome, almost innocent; but a visit to the rooms behind the dance-floor dispels the image. Small, bare cells, a dim red light-bulb, a white sheet and a hand towel judiciously positioned in the centre of the single bed must kill any thoughts of romance or fantasy. The ultra-violet light on the dance-floor highlights the white stockings one woman wears - it also means Goran can see instantly whether a banknote is genuine. This is strictly business.

"The girls very rarely enjoy the sex. Maybe if a guy comes here seven or eight times and she knows him she might enjoy it, but not often," Goran said. "But I don't feel that it's exploitative. I give the girls as much as possible. If you ask them, they are happy here. . . Well, not happy exactly, but as happy as they could be." Besides, the punters, at least, are having a good time and paying handsomely for it.

News
people

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Cloud Support Engineer

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a team player who likes...

Recruitment Genius: Skilled Machinist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled machini...

Recruitment Genius: Toolmaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled toolmak...

Langley James : Head of IT; e-commerce; Blackburn; up to £55k

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Langley James : Head of IT; e-commerce; Blackburn; ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game