Young Polish author Agata Pyzik’s acute new book Poor But Sexy tackles the persistent divide between east and west Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall: “The passengers of low-budget airlines go east for stag parties, and they go West for work; but the East stays East, and West stays West.” She uncovers the secret histories of Eastern Europe, infused with the spirit of the cold war; post-punk, Christiane F, Bowiephile obsession with the Eastern bloc and growing Ostalgie trips. She writes: “If your joy is a Joy Division, and you dream to the sound of Depeche Mode, you’ll follow me…”
We in Eastern Europe have a strange relation with sex. First, during the communist years, in many countries within the Soviet Bloc, 'anti-sex' was one of the anti-capitalist propagandistic weapons. On many newsreels you can see the accusation of the West of being spoiled, lazy, and therefore somehow 'sleazy', and our cinematography after the sexual revolt of the 60s especially was much more prudish when it came to depiction of sex. Pornography didn't officially exist (and prostitution was ardently fought with), and if at all, was usually smuggled from the West, mostly West Germany. Yet it was Teresa Orlovski, a Polish woman from Silesia, who became the first German star of cheap 80s X films, to the extent that in 1988 she starred in a dystopian video by a German punk group Die Arzte, where she played dominatrix presiding over a censorship factory.
Yet towards the end of 80s we started developing our own kind of sleaze: first men's magazines and porn, as video players started being at all available. This in a way anticipated the capitalist years, in which, as many of post-communist countries endured a fatal economic collapse during the shocking capitalist transition, many started selling the only thing they had: their bodies.
This relationship of a “poor but sexy” sex worker and a john can be traced throughout our contacts with the capitalist West, which has been allowed to freely conquer and privatise our countries, to the great eagerness of our politicians ad oligarch businessmen. Therefore, if you'll go for a trip to the East – so popular in the last decade as a direction for stag (but also hen) parties (the fact men and women are wilfully calling themselves like this was and still is a source of disbelief for me) - or simply sex tourism, as it has become well known that there, in Cracow, Riga, Tallinn, Minsk, Kiev, Odessa, Moscow and countless smaller towns a never-ending stream of young pretty women will do whatever kinky stuff you want and for very little by comparison to the western sex workers. The latter may by now have even gathered social and economic rights. Not with us: here, wherever you go, you get leaflets informing you of the rich offer and sex infrastructure of strip-tease, go go and brothels and such premises can be found in the middle of the historical old towns.
Yet, the more sleaze, the more hardcore, the less sexy it all seems. Women who might have been teachers, librarians, office workers, suddenly, after '91 had to take their lives in their hands. Even today, when they come to one of the Western European countries, either because they are EU citizens or they obtained a visa, they often have to work in the sex industry, as their skills from home are not of interest there. Several post-communist countries noted a radical nationalist and religious shift from what was before. Currently ruling conservative-neoliberal parties influence women's rights legislation negatively almost everywhere (Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary). Yet the EU is not interested in intervening, more keen on controlling the flow of money. While we're all capitalist in Europe now, at the same time, Eastern Europe has both a shittier version of neoliberalism and no civil rights or any residual welfare state to compensate this.
Yet the image of prudish communism would be false. Recently a film made the rounds on the internet, called 'Do communists have better sex?' comparing societies in East and West Germany, in which it turns out that in fact, it was the easterners who had more sex, despite the fact that no pornography was flocked at them. Coincidence? Maybe in more equal society there's less need for a certain part of it to prostitute themselves? Maybe less overstimulation with porn and less compulsion to enjoy yourself and feel pleasure leads to less numbness towards the experience of sex? Sexuality and sex aren't the same thing: an oversexed culture can lead to a curious unpleasure, as we on both East and West of capitalist Eden know so well today.