Reporter’s Notebook: At a Night Bar Men in black on white bread

Reporter’s Notebook: At a Night Bar Men in black on white bread

It seemed like a good idea to a female colleague and me. No one on our all-Balkan seven person reporting team had ever been to a night bar. Yet, we were collaborating on a two-week investigation that included the sex trafficking business in northeastern BiH.

Our story had a lot of facts and interviews with experts, including trafficked women. But our editors had forbidden the team to go inside a bar. Editors are reporters who have become cautious.

So we decided on a night bar located in the middle of Banja Luka’s colony Rosulje. The bar is in the house where the owner and his family live, and where neighbours come for coffee daily. You don’t need to know the name; any taxi driver can get you there.

The entrance door is closed and secured by chain and padlock. You have to ring the bell.

A professional young man dressed in black answers the door. He appears to be a combination of bodyguard, porter and waiter. This place is cutting down on expenses.

“There is no hustle as before,” the combination man says. “Until the last year we had ten girls, and business was good. Now we have only three, so there are fewer guests.”

The waiter confirms our suspicions. The two-year long crackdown by the International Police Task Force (ITPF) and local police, which just ended last month, has made problems for the bar’s business. 

When asked whether the police come to the bar he just shrugs his shoulders.
“I don’t know if the police will close this bar”, he says, “but everything is possible.”

There are plenty of bars still open around Banja Luka, he adds. But the ready supply of trafficked women from Eastern Europe is gone.

The team reporting found evidence that many of the prostitutes coming across the BiH borders into Banja Luka and Brcko

District are being sent on to central BiH while the police crackdown is happening. Others are still in the area but are available only through telephone services.

The night bars are left with whatever local girls they can find.
“You work with what means you have at hand,” the waiter says.

The bar interior has two rooms with about 40 square meters. There are tables, a bar and a dance stage with a pole and hanging strap in the middle. The wall behind the stage has a big mirror surrounded with numerous colour lights.

The rest of the bar is separated into small booths, with side stairs to discrete rooms upstairs.

The air is stagnant and clammy. It makes you feel a strange dejection.

One guest is sitting with a girl in a booth bathed in neon light. The two other female employees are sitting idly at the bar.

Intrigued, but a little bit frightened, we took a table near the stage and ordered drinks. Part of our discomfort was that my female colleague and I barely knew each other when we joined the reporting team. And this was no place for us to start a social relationship.

“I don’t know how people can come to places like this,” my colleague says, meaning how could men come here. “Everything is so miserable.”

My colleague is right. And as if to prove it one of the bar girls goes to the stage and begins her “performance.”

From a man’s point of view, from anyone’s point of view, there is nothing erotic about her dancing.

Her movements are slow, but not in a way they should be. Her body express boredom and, despite the make-up, we can see the sweat on her face. She spins around the rod, occasionally pressing herself onto the mirror, showing a little bit of everything she has.

Our waiter, who does everything, dims the lights and my colleague asks a little nervously what we are going to do if any of the women approaches our table. I tell her our reporting has gone far enough, we are not going to ask for additional services.

Meanwhile, the dancer distractedly removes her skirt, and then her shirt while she talks from the stage with another girl at the bar.

Unadorned the abused state of her body is obvious and only adds to the misery of this place.

Our waiter does not look at the stage or us while he polishes glasses at the bar.

It is clear that the girls will not be offering us any “special services.” Our body language is as clear as theirs: We are not in the market for the invasion of privacy that is making a show of someone’s sagging breasts and cellulite.

Now, how are we going to explain our disappointing results to our editors?