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Bangkok on the Danube: Budapest Is Europe’s Porn Capital

June 17, 1996

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ Six years after the collapse of communism, Budapest has acquired two titles that would make the Marxists cringe: the ``Hollywood of Blue Movies″ and ``Bangkok of the West.″

The reasons are many: cheap and plentiful talent, few legal restrictions and a tradition of artistic freedoms that reaches back to the communist era.

``This country is the center of the porno world,″ Italian film producer Gianfranco Romagnolli told an English-language weekly, Budapest Week.

Budapest’s attractions to porn filmmakers appear to rest on relatively inexpensive, well-qualified film technicians, an abundance of attractive and willing women, and choice locations that would cost much more in the West.

Other east European capitals may share some of these attributes. But unlike them, Budapest has built on the artistic openness that was the envy of other nations in the former Soviet bloc.

Hungary’s liberal Communist regime let Budapest glitter in comparison with the other Marxist capitals. Glitzy night clubs offering topless entertainment _ and more _ were well frequented by visitors from both the East and the West.

And the sex business mushroomed with the end of communist rule in 1990. Peep shows, massage parlors and live sex shows have spread through the country. Sex tourism and prostitution have become an indelible part of Budapest’s landscape and economy, giving it a reputation akin to Bangkok, the Thai capital where prostitution is widespread.

Cicciolina, Hungary’s famous porn actress, retired to become a sometimes bare-breasted member of Italy’s legislature in 1987-1991, but her tradition lives on. At 23, Hungarian Anita Rinaldi, born Anita Skultety, is one of the best-known porn actresses in Europe.

She answered an ad in the newspaper Express _ whose wanted ad section always includes ``partners for sex″ _ and has made 15 movies. She won best actress honors at the porn film festival in Cannes, France, in May.

``Porn movies are consumer goods. Like it or not, people need them,″ said Istvan Kovi Kovacs, Hungary’s biggest producer of pornographic films.

Child pornography is banned, but some entrepreneurs try to use a ``documentary″ loophole provided by the law, as in a case in Eger, a town in eastern Hungary.

A 37-year-old man was arrested in southern Hungary after a police raid uncovered about 500 child sex films, which he claims were made for ``educational purposes.″

Police said the ring primarily used girls between the ages of 11 and 16 to perform sex acts with adult males and females in films sold in western Europe and North America.

Producers who consider themselves ``respectable″ porn peddlers say they avoid kiddie porn.

``It is forbidden to use actors under 18,″ said Kovi Kovacs, whose company also dubs imported porn films. ``But there are no laws banning perversities.″

Christophe Clark of France, who acts in and directs pornographic films, said Budapest ``will stay the porn center of Europe because of its girls.″

``We can find in Budapest at any one time around 50 girls ready to star in porno films,″ he told Budapest Week.

Kovi Kovacs said that France, like Hungary, produces about 100 porno movies a year. About 200 are shot in Italy, and five times that many are made in Germany, mostly in an almost production-line environment, he said.

What makes Hungarian films special is that they are shot on location, Kovi Kovacs said.

Last August, a porn movie made on the No. 18 streetcar featured 18 men having sex with an 18-year-old girl.

The only comment from a municipal transport official, Tibor Szirmai, was that anyone can rent a streetcar _ with driver _ for 20,000 forints an hour. That is about $130.

The Roman Catholic Church, the Socialist prime minister and the liberal Budapest mayor all favor limits on the city’s blossoming prostitution and porn trade. But no laws to curb the sex trade are in the offing.

In upscale hotels in the city center, high-priced call girls are an obvious and constant part of the decor.

In Budapest’s 8th District, hundreds of prostitutes line block after block. They stand near schools and churches.

Most are unwilling to talk to reporters. But one, who gave her name as Aniko and her age as mid-20s, was prepared to stop for five minutes to air her views of a proposal to banish all Budapest prostitutes to isolated Obuda Island in the Danube River.

``Nobody is going to come to the island for me, and what are they going to do, put up a toll gate at the entrance?″ she said. ``I know why they want to make us legal: to get us to pay taxes!″

Police estimate about 10,000 prostitutes are working in Hungary _ one-third of them in Budapest. They earn the equivalent of at least $2,000 a month, police say. That is 10 times the average take-home pay.