If there has been one event in the past 25 years that has been absolutely catastrophic to the nightlife industry, it’s COVID-19. With a death toll that is now well over 600,000, stringent travel restrictions, and even a few all-out lockdowns, it is easy to see why many local nightlife scenes have been totally decimated.
That said, some countries are reacting differently to the virus than others. It is clear that the United States has been sending mixed messages, with sporadic openings and subsequent re-closings. Predictably, this has forced numerous nightclubs into foreclosure, and many DJs into financial destitution.
Some countries, however, have been far more laissez-faire and have shrugged off these restrictions altogether.
While we don’t advocate for such a plan as being particularly logical (we are DJs and not health professionals, after all), it is interesting to note that in some developing countries, the degree to which nightlife has been put on hold varies dramatically. Today, we dive into how five Eastern European countries – Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, Serbia, and Croatia – are handling the process of re-opening amidst COVID-19.
Country Profile: Belarus is perhaps the most obscure country on this list, and for good reason. Effectively existing as a pseudo-dictatorship under the thumb of Russia, Belarus requires citizens of almost every country on earth to obtain a visa before visiting. This, coupled with an underdeveloped tourism industry, has made it one of the least-visited countries in Europe.
And amazingly, enough they have perhaps had the most laissez-faire response to COVID imaginable. President Alexander Lukashenko actually shrugged off pandemic-related concerns altogether, telling his citizens that they should instead drink vodka and go to the sauna twice a week to stay healthy.
Yes, that actually happened. Welcome to Eastern Europe!
Lockdown Measures: From the outside looking in, it appears to be “business as usual” in Belarus. Resident Advisor reports that the capital city of Minsk is hosting events at the city’s premier nightspots. While it seems to appear that most nightclubs have taken the precautions of embracing the “open air” concept, social media reveals that some seriously packed events – ones that wouldn’t happen in the USA right now – are taking place.
The Verdict: Is Belarus the place to be? Well, probably not. As one of the poorest countries in Europe, we can’t imagine that DJ rates are all that great. Additionally, there is not much in terms of touring talent coming through.
Sure, the party continues on… but let’s just say the scene is no London or New York.
Country Profile: Georgia’s capital city of Tbilisi is often said to be one of the world’s greatest cities for nightlife that falls into the techno-leaning direction. The infatuation with a ubiquitous, machine-driven sound is profound in post-Soviet Georgia. In many ways, the dark and brooding basslines that keep club-goers dancing until noon of the next day are a perfect soundtrack for the city’s progressive political climate and tumultuous political past.
Lockdown Measures: Georgia was one of the first countries to close off their borders. Despite having one of the most liberal visa policies on earth for Westerners, no one has been permitted in or out of the country since March.
Unsurprisingly, their heavy-handed approach has worked. The country has the lowest amount of reported cases of COVID in Europe and has loosened up restrictions accordingly. Then again, there’s really no comparing a remote nation in the Caucasus mountains to a major, industrialized Western country.
Thanks to being heavy-handed at first, the Georgians have now eased up a bit. The vast majority of the country’s bars have opened up, though all nightclubs remain indefinitely closed with no clear sign of reopening on the horizon. This includes the legendary gay rights icon that is Bassiani and Honey Dijon’s purported favorite nightclub, Cafe Gallery.
Yet, the Georgians, being crafty people, have taken to throwing outdoor terrace parties instead.
Word on the street is that a few crafty party promoters have taken to renting Rike Park, a centrally located outdoor space in the city center, and have been throwing events 7 days a week since early July.
The Verdict: The party continues! Sadly, it’s impossible to get in the country at the moment. If you’re lucky enough to be there now, enjoy it. It is probably one of the few places in the world where it is actually safe to go to a party.
Country Profile: Ah, yes. Ukraine. Known globally for little other than vodka and the Chernobyl miniseries, the nation’s capital city of Kyiv is actually home to a bustling underground scene.
Whether it’s the chart-topping Ukrainian DJ duo that is Artbat, Strichka Festival, or the seriously legendary renegades that take place in abandoned Soviet-era buildings, Ukraine remains a hidden gem when it comes to clubbing in Eastern Europe.
As such, Ukraine has had somewhat of a mixed approach within their club scene’s response to COVID.
Lockdown Measures: Ukraine has been hit rather hard by COVID-19. On March 13, the country banned all foreigners from entering the country. To date, there have been almost 1,500 deaths and over 60,000 cases that are known about.
Now, a few locals on the ground say that things are lightening up quite dramatically.
Facebook pages report that terraces are open and some clubs are throwing pop-up parties in outdoor locations throughout the city. This includes local nightlife institution CLOSER, who appears to have partnered up with a partner venue to keep their residents behind the decks.
The Verdict: If you like a good terrace party, you can find them. You will also find the occasional DJ set at a local bar, if you’re lucky. Still, Ukraine is not exactly known for having a functioning healthcare system, and is not the type of place you want to fall ill.
Country Profile: Serbia is quickly becoming known as one of the world’s best clubbing destinations, bar none. No longer much a “best-kept secret,” and now known as a much-coveted place on the tour diary of DJs worldwide, clubbing is absolutely baked into the communal, festive Serbian culture.
With acts such as Illa Djokovic and Tijana T getting attention the world over, and parties such as the legendary EXIT Festival, some say Belgrade is one of the top cities in Eastern Europe for electronic music.
They’re not wrong.
Lockdown Measures: Serbia has been incredibly strict with their lockdown measures since the first outbreaks were reported in March.
Unlike their neighboring Croatia, nightclubs remain closed, bars must shut down at 11 PM, and another lockdown appears imminent.
In fact, Serbia is now home to Europe’s first major scene of social unrest as people have become infuriated over the lockdowns. Riots at the steps of Belgrade’s National Assembly make it look slightly similar to the United States at the moment.
The Verdict: Things aren’t so great in Serbia right now. Nightlife is on hold until further notice.
Country Profile: Croatia has quickly become one of the world’s most coveted nightlife destinations on earth.
As locales like Ibiza continue to price club-goers out, the Balkans continue to welcome club-goers in, providing some much-needed economic fuel for a group of countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain. Home to Defected Festival, Outlook Festival, and Hideout, Croatia remains on the cutting edge of electronic music culture.
Croatia has had nearly 4,500 COVID cases, and 122 deaths. While these numbers are far lower than the United States, they’re also not particularly great, either. But even still, that has not stopped the Croats from enjoying the summer club season.
Lockdown Measures: Believe it or not, BSH Island Festival’s latest brainchild, a four-day festival titled Keep The Distance, just took place in mid-July. Richy Ahmed, Paco Osuna, and Pirate Copy all headlined the event.
Interestingly, it was marketed as a “safe” festival. However, it’s hard to imagine there’s not an inherent amount of risk in throwing such a large live event right now.
Regardless, Resident Advisor reveals an absolutely packed summer events lineup in Croatia. The country has reopened borders with a select few EU countries, and there are said to be 500,000 tourists in the country at the moment.
Sadly, other sources also state that they are seeing as many as 140 new cases a day. Still, with just 122 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak, it appears that the situation is being handled rather well.
The Verdict: The party goes on, and Croatia is accepting tourists from select EU countries as well as those with American passports – provided they provide a negative test for COVID-19.
Conclusion: Avoid travel unless it’s absolutely necessary.
If there is one thing you take away from this article, let it be as follows: just because you can does not mean you should.
Sure, there are places where partying is taking place, and if you’re lucky, bookings can be had. But honestly, we do not advise you to do this.
Containing the spread of the pandemic is the responsibility of all of us. While the risk of young, healthy people dying from COVID is generally quite low, everybody is capable of spreading the infection to vulnerable populations.
Trust us, you don’t want to be the person responsible for infecting dozens – if not hundreds – of people because you just needed to go to a festival or try to land a gig. On top of that, the last place you want to be if you fall ill is a foreign country where you are unfamiliar with the healthcare system.
Plus, you’ll be competing with every booking agent in the world who is now working tirelessly to sell their artists’ free dates off to the few remaining countries that will take them while COVID-19 plays out.
Until then, you’re better off staying home, buckling down, and working on your craft.