Subject:  Organised Prostitution in Macedonia
Sent: September 6, 2000
From: Olia Andronova-LaMar

Organised Prostitution in Macedonia 

While prostitution and trafficking of women in Macedonia thrives, the authorities appear incapable of halting the spread of this illegal trade.

By Veton Latifi in Skopje (BCR No. 166, 22-Aug-00)

Organised prostitution networks have been active throughout Macedonia for at least a decade. The number of prostitutes currently working in the country is believed to be somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000. The trade is thought to generate profits of between 325 and 430 million German marks per year for its organisers. An owner of a bar or nightclub with five prostitutes could feasibly earn around 40,000 to 50,000 German marks per month. The potential for such fiscal power to corrupt civil servants, the police or even to help with the election of an amenable candidate to Parliament is very real.

The economic rewards from organised prostitution are substantial, which tempts an ever-increasing number of people into the business. Illegal networks facilitating the trafficking in women have sprung up throughout the country. They operate on a supply and demand basis, and oversee the distribution of prostitutes to various countries, including Western Europe, as well as in Macedonia itself.

Austrian police estimate around 3,000 Eastern European prostitutes operate in Vienna alone. In April 1998 one raid in the Austrian capital freed 20 Hungarian and Slovak women from forced prostitution. The business was run by Yugoslav and Turkish criminal gangs. In February of the same year German police in North Rhine-Westphalia raided 20 brothels, nightclubs and flats, liberating 24 women. The women had been sold for an average of $1,700 each.

Many prostitutes brought to Macedonia originate from Eastern European states, particularly Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, and Russia. But Serbia is also an increasing source of new recruits. The women are often deceived into believing they are coming to the West to work as dancers, waitresses, or even striptease artists. But even those who understand they are to work as prostitutes do not anticipate the slave-like conditions awaiting them.

Around 1,000 trafficked women are thought to have entered Macedonia last year. To avoid detection by the authorities the women often enter the country disguised as tourists in small groups of around five. The new arrivals are accompanied by their 'agents', which cater for 'orders' coming from the illegal brothels. These 'agents' deliver the women to their new 'owners', receiving around 3,000 German marks per person.

Later, either willingly or by force, the women are obliged to prostitute themselves. The initial step in this process is for the owner of the bar or nightclub to take away the individual's passport on the pretext of presenting the document at the police station. The women then find themselves trapped in the country without official papers. Furthermore, some police officers appear to be in league with the owners of these establishments and receive bribes in return for turning a blind eye to this illegal activity. Corruption aside the police are trying to deal with the problem by focusing their investigations on the organisers and mediators of the prostitution networks. Last year the Macedonian Ministry of Interior charged 50 persons in 19 cases related to prostitution. Eleven prostitutes were also arrested during police raids on brothels. Compared to previous years, this marks an improvement. In 1998 police arrested only 21 persons on prostitution related charges. However, these official figures also point to the substantial increase in prostitution in Macedonia over the past decade. Police methods and activities are proving insufficient to tackle the growing problem. A lack of professionalism on the part of some officers as well as police involvement in the prostitution business itself is partly to blame.

Further adding to the problem is the increasing demand for prostitutes, partly due to the presence of NATO and other international and non-government organisations during and following the Kosovo crisis. But it needs to be stressed that this alone cannot account for the growth in trade.

Prostitution was already thriving in Macedonia before the arrival of the enlarged international community.

The growth in the prostitution trade dates back to the late 1980s and the appearance of groups of 'exotic dancers' from Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia in the handful of discos, nightclubs and coffee bars in the Skopje area.

But the trade has blossomed since then and spread across the entire country.

Two years ago a police raid on a nightclub in the village of Velesta near Struga in southwest Macedonia uncovered five prostitutes of foreign citizenship. The police estimate the nightclub owners earned around 300,000 German marks from prostitution.

Many brothels are situated in hotels, bars and nightclubs out in the countryside, to avoid the increased police presence in urban areas. Police recently raided a brothel in the village of Dabila near Strumica in the southeast of Macedonia, making a number of arrests.

Although there are no official statistics concerning the numbers of such brothels, the figure is believed to be large, especially when one considers Macedonia is a relatively small country. The last census in 1996 put the population at just over 1.9 million.

In Tetovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian town located in the northwest Macedonia, there are thought to be some 30 premises where prostitution is conducted. The situation is similar in predominantly ethnic Macedonian areas. The summer holiday resort of Ohrid also appears to have a thriving network, which prospers on the back of the tourist industry.

In Skopje, the capital city located in the north of the country, the prostitution network appears to be more sophisticated. Taxi drivers are allegedly involved in the trade, receiving orders by telephone to ferry prostitute to customers. Already this year police have raided several brothels operating in the city. Unlike other areas of the country most of the prostitutes arrested in Skopje come from Serbia.

Nevertheless, police investigations this year have resulted in the arrest and deportation of only 20 foreign prostitutes, of which fifteen were from Bulgaria, four from Romania, and one from Moldova.

Increased demand, high profits and improved organisation among the organisers of the prostitution networks point to continued growth for the trade in Macedonia. Continued police difficulties, including corruption, can only benefit the pimps and traffickers.

Veton Latifi is an independent journalist from Macedonia.


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