Janos Gereben
Janos Gereben

Fellowship Title:

Sex and the Single Comrade

Janos Gereben
July 24, 1969

Fellowship Year

July, 1969

Lerchengasse 28/43
1080 Wien, Austria

LJUBLJANA, Yugoslavia—Strip-tease, once scorned in East Europe as capitalist aberration, is all over in the Communist countries while the gentle art of graceful peeling is being replaced in the West by the likes of I Am Curious, be they in shades of yellow, green, or purple.

Major hotels, catering to foreigners, all have night clubs in Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Soviet Union is beginning to catch up (Kiev is now sporting a bona fide “bar” featuring “Gold Ball” cocktails) but still has lady comrades respectfully covered, while East Germany sternly holds the line of that otherwise “oppressor of the people” queen, Victoria.

(The East German allowance for what they call “human needs” is in the form of semi-pornographic cartoons and some cheesecake in army papers, but there is little discussion of moral problems in the press other than through criticism of “Western decadence.”)

Strip-tease shows, amply advertised in hotel lobbies and in travel literature—with bold but somewhat misleading illustrations—were established in East Europe, notwithstanding puritan Communist mores, because of the importance of Western tourists.

Visitors from the West bring hard currency and therefore they are welcome. To make them happy and “feel at home,” Communist governments are willing to go into extremes, limited only by the decreasingly thin line of G-strings.

INSIDE AND OUT A SOCIALIST SHIP—A Yugoslav ship, anchored at Umag near Trieste, caters to sailors from Italy with gambling, strip-tease, and informal hostesses in the casino and on the pier.

(Taking in one show in Karlovy Vary—for the sake of authentic reporting only, of course—the writer swears having seen a red G-string, although minus the hammer-and-sickle.)

However as tourists from Akron are more likely to take in the round sights of New York or San Francisco, strip-tease “sex shows,” as they are called here, are more likely to be frequented by local people who couldn’t possibly make it to Akron, much less to San Francisco. Unfortunately, for them and for the management, local people have no hard currency to spend—and so, the purpose is defeated.

The promoters of such capitalist frivolities have not done their research well. Instead of charging ten times the normal price for liquor, as their decadent Western colleagues do, they have cheap drinks and ask timidly for a moderately priced admission fee.

The inevitable result is that East European night clubs do not make money, and therefore must be subsidized. It has not been established, however invitingly humorous possibilities the research may have, which ministerium handles this rather un-Marxian budget problem and what job classifications the comrade dancers may show in their occupation cards.

Prague’s Rude Pravo finally saw the light and it stated recently: “Western visitors to our baths are believed by our economic managers to be keen on strip-tease and similar Western follies. We took a poll to find out what our visitors are looking for and not a single person expressed the desire to see strip-tease. Quite naturally, they don’t travel abroad to see something they can see at home. They are looking for romantic Czech folklore, not strip-tease dancers; they want to hear the mellow sound of our bagpipes, not the beat of jazz.”

Yugoslavia, way ahead of the other countries in the East while slightly behind the West, even introduced “bunnies” near Belgrade, at the Hotel Putnik of Novi Sad.

The small farming community nearby was somewhat upset when a tailor—who had never before made anything but men’s suits -created costumes with plunging necklines and high-cut thighs. The local newspaper suggested that such things would be more at home in wicked Belgrade.

Yugoslav bunnies are paid about $68 a month—a trifle under Hugh Hefner’s scale, but well over double the average salary here.

Hungary appears quite proud of its establishments. “Strip-tease Is Over 100 Years Old in Budapest,” tooted the magazine Magyarorszag recently. In 1863, the article states, “variety artists from Berlin and Paris” performed in the Uj Vilag (New World) theater, which in a few years became the home of the famed Debardeur Ballet featuring 120 dancers wearing only masks.

Uj Vilag is still performing in that noble tradition, the magazine said, with shows entitled Unfair Lady and—the best of the lot—Hungarosex.

But enough is enough, and when a restaurant in Budapest added strip-tease to its menu, the government struck down on the enterprising restaurator, saying that he should concentrate on the quality of gulyas served at his establishment.

The manager quickly reported that introduction of the unusual menu item was his contribution to the New Economic Mechanism.

The same state policy of relaxed controls for the sake of higher productivity was also invoked this week on Hungarian television when an actress playing a callgirl in a cabaret program complained: “Others in the private sector are allowed to run their own business now—why discriminate against me and my colleagues?!”

The “libertarian” way of life in Czechoslovakia aroused the wrath of the East German puritans as early as 1965. There were articles then about “bourgeois life and decadent morality” in Prague, and by the time of the 1968 Czech liberalization attempt, Herr Ulbricht was positively livid.

Besides raging about nightclubs and strip-tease in Prague, East German papers let loose a barrage about the condemning presence of Shirley Temple there—to them an obvious proof positive of orgies running rampant.

The East German indignation culminated in a story expressing “disgust” with Czech morality when Dubcek was kissed by a girl in public (!) after one of his speeches in Prague. There was no mention of Communist leaders kissing each other in public—and all men at that!

Prostitution, ranging from B-girls at the strip-tease shows to juvenile brothels, is a big business in East Europe, but—with the exception of Poland—it is not licensed.

HUNGARIAN DOMESTIC PRODUCT AND CUBAN EXPORT—Girls of the Budapest Uj Vilag theater at it, above, while Cuban cabaret singer Rosita Fornes livens things up in Varna, Bulgaria.  She is a member of the Music Hall Habana group which, besides tobacco and sugar, is Cuba’s No. 1 export asset to East Europe.

WAIT UNTIL WALTER SEES THIS ONE! — A typical cover for East Germany’s Eulenspiegel (caption: “Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if you couldn’t fit into the only dress we are selling today!”), part of the incongruous world Herr Ulbricht presides over. Similar cartoons, photographs of nudes and out-and-out dirty jokes are everywhere in the East German press which, at the same time, consistently refuses to discuss such problems as prostitution, abortions, contraceptives.

If prostitution is not licensed then it cannot exist. Occasional brief news items about sentencing a large number of women (along with men who operate “call-girl rings” of the nonexistent prostitutes) name the crime as “violation of currency regulations,” “parasitism,” and the like.

But it’s there, all the same, and Western Europe’s “comparison shoppers” make weekend trips to East Europe for good reasons.

One such “shopper” was quoted in the Literarni Noviny of Prague:

“How little you have to pay for them in comparison with Vienna! A ride in your big foreign car, a dinner for local currency … and, just in passing, three pairs of nylons bought on sale for about 20 schillings (80 cents). That’s just peanuts, considering you’d have to give a Viennese professional 300 schillings ($12).

In Poland’s Argumenty, a long article “breaking the curtain of silence about this problem” points out the importance of knowing languages (“especially German and English”) and concludes: “Prostitutes learn languages in large numbers in the Palace of Culture and the Methodist School to further their trade. They do not spare money for private classes either.”

But it’s worth it, the article says, because “they do not have to pay taxes when they are not licensed.”  Poland today has 7,500 registered prostitutes, but the unofficial, non-tax-paying kind must vastly outnumber them.

Even in Romania, which is more secretive than the other countries, Romania Libera recently published an angry article about the situation in Bucharest where “prostitutes, many as young as 13, blatantly sit all day in restaurants, wearing only a raincoat over a bikini.”  The article did not mention the season or the prevailing temperature at the time of this observation.

As a result of widespread but unadmitted prostitution, venereal disease is on the increase in all the East European countries (except in East Germany, which claims—through official statistics and without comment—a decrease).

A Hungarian newspaper reported last year that from 2-3 cases of syphilis and 3,000 cases of gonorrhea in the early 1960’s, the rate shot up to 396 for the former and “well over the previous figure” for the latter by 1966. Poland reported 16,000 syphilis cases in 1968, East Germany 388 for 1967, along with 18,356 cases of gonorrhea -a “significant decrease,” according to their statistics.

CAPITALIST IMMORALITY? — No, just an East German deodorant ad for the Leipzig Fair. The clever slogan: “Prevents Odor!”

“Notwithstanding some statements,” said Hungary’s Nepszava, “foreign visitors cannot be held responsible for the increase in VD.” (Is there a country, which does not try to blame the spread of disease on “some foreigners”?) The paper said only about two percent of venereal disease cases in Hungary can be traced to visitors.

A rare survey of unwed mothers (all minors) in 1968 revealed more about the underlying reasons for the domestic spread of disease.

Of 95 girls questioned, five said they were “enticed while under the influence of alcohol,” nine said they were simply curious about sex, and 13 gave as reason “shame of still being a virgin” at the ripe age of 16 or 17.

Birthcontrol pills (Infecundin in Hungary, Antigest in Czechoslovakia) have been introduced in all Communist countries, but the press is complaining that they are not being used sufficiently.

Surplus production of the Chemapol company in Czechoslovakia (which is the third largest producer of contraceptives, after the U.S. and Japan) are now being purchased by Cuba, Syria, Lebanon, and North Korea.

The reason for the Pill’s unpopularity in East Europe is twofold: Although it is cheap (about $1 for a month’s supply), free and legal abortions are cheaper still and “less trouble” than daily pill-taking. Second, although the Pill is available, there is little or no discussion of it in the press against the background of no public education at all.

Sex education in the schools of East Europe is in an early and primitive form, according to an occasional brief newspaper article on the subject.

Meanwhile, all East European countries are fighting a dramatically low birth rate.

While there were 186,000 legal abortions in Hungary in 1966 (and over 100,000 in Czechoslovakia where every third pregnancy is terminated), birthrate in the same year declined to an all-time low (13 per 1,000) in the country whose birthrate has traditionally been among the world’s smallest.

In Bulgaria, the figure of 42 live births for 1,000 people per year at the turn of the century declined to 17.9 by 1958, and to 14.9 last year.

SOCIALIST REALISM—An illustration for poems in the East German magazine Fur Dich.  This women’s magazine, in the strange company of army papers, often publishes nudes and cheesecakes and even a column resembling Dear Abby.

This, against the fact that the Bulgarian government offers a bonus of 500 leva ($250) to mothers having more than three children, along with six-month paid vacations for each child. The Romanian rate is an even lower 14 per 1,000, and East Germany’s is 11.5.

It’s a confusing and contradictory picture, the attitude and policies of East European governments toward sex in its philosophical and practical aspects. They have no consistency or guidelines in this matter.

Communist ideology has always been extremely vague about “the role of sex in building the Socialist tomorrow” except in recognizing that it is necessary to have a tomorrow at all. But the advocated “purity” of party members did not exclude widespread rumors about sexual problems and venereal diseases among Soviet leaders from Lenin on down.

And one of the heroes of World War II, celebrated in a novel especially written for young people by Valentine Katayev, was a young girl who contributed to the defense of the glorious fatherland by infecting “thousands” of German officers and soldiers with gonorrhea.

Today, with the over-all decline of the role of ideology in favor of practical or nationalistic causes, the traditional “now you see it, now you don’t” Communist attitude to sex presents an even more confusing picture.

Good Queen Victoria had a heck of a lot more “ideology” in this matter (a consistent, however silly, way of thinking and trying to act accordingly) than the East European governments of today.

IT’S ALL IN THE FAMILY—A brief and unusual story (more a slogan than a discussion) about abortions in Fur Dich. The text reads: “Our Socialist state gives every woman the right to determine the time of her pregnancy by medically directed abortions…”

GIRLS OF YUGOSLAVIA—Models from around the country have participated in a Ljubljana parade, where these pictures were taken. It’s quite a change from the traditional Communist parades of soldiers and devoted members of the Youth League.  Appreciation for this “Western type” event was loud and unanimous.

(Photos by Janos Gereben)

Received in New York on July 24, 1969.


Mr. Gereben is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner, on leave from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. This article may be published with credit to Janos Gereben, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Alicia Patterson Fund.