Riga MP attacks Mersey 'savages'

A European MP has branded Liverpool tourists 'savages' after an influx of visitors to his country since the recent launch of a new flight from John Lennon Airport.

Latvian Oskars Kastens launched a scathing attack on visitors to Riga and insisted the Baltic country should market itself as a destination for cultural pursuits.

The criticism was dismissed by tourism body The Mersey Partnership, which said the region's travellers had built up tremendous goodwill over three decades.

Now Mr. Kastens has pledged to visit Liverpool - if it is 'not connected with an attempt to reckon with me physically.'

The politician's criticism came as part of a wider attack on the number of stag groups now staying in the historic city.

Mr Kastens, from Latvia First Party, a Christian Democrat-type group, wants to change the way the city is marketed.

He said: "We have to change the image of the country as a destination, not for savages from Liverpool but for things like great art."

Ryanair launched its flight to Riga from JLA in September, providing the first low-cost access to the Baltic states from Liverpool.

The budget airline offers regular special deals with some flights costing just one penny plus airport taxes.

Last night, Merseyside politicians and tourism officials rounded on the MP and called for him to visit Liverpool.

Martin King, director of tourism at The Mersey Partnership, said: "The comments are an unfair and damaging generalisation. Liverpudlians are not the only people to organise and enjoy stag and hen trips to destinations served by flights from Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

"The opinions expressed by the MP do not square with the reputation earned by thousands of Merseysiders who have followed our football teams on their various European campaigns over three decades.

"It's clear to anyone who has visited Riga that the Latvian capital is a very beautiful location - but not without its own problems, some of which are undoubtedly linked to the type of attractions on offer."

Cllr Berni Turner, Liverpool's executive member for environment and heritage, said: "This is a very narrow-minded view.

"We won Capital of Culture for a reason and I would like him to come here and experience that for himself."

Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, backed the call and criticised the MP for failing to address any problems directly with officials in the city and at the airport.

She said: "I'm astounded at this comment. I do not know what evidence he has based this on but it just smacks of rank prejudice.

"If there are any problems, then they should be addressed properly through the local authority in Latvia with our council.

"Making derogatory comments like this does not help anyone."

In June, Ryanair revealed it intends to open more routes into Eastern Europe to 'join the dots' of its growing empire.

The plans will mean passenger numbers top 5m a year from JLA.

Jason Harborow, chief executive of Liverpool Culture Company, said: "I am very surprised at this comment.

"The general feedback we have received regarding people from Liverpool travelling abroad is very positive.

"When Liverpool won the Champions League, we had a reputation for good sportsmanship as well as fun.

"I think Mr Kastens should raise his concerns directly with the airport and the city so they can be investigated."

Riga is the largest city in the Baltic states and is a major cultural, educational, political, financial, commercial and industrial centre.

Its historic centre has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the city is renowned for its art nouveau architecture.

Mr Kastens last night told the Daily Post he apologised if he had caused offence, and said he would accept an invitation to come and visit Liverpool.

He added: "I would like to apologise if my phrase has offended or injured Liverpudlians' pride.

"I can assure that it was not my purpose to make citizens of your city to feel like barbarians.

"It is also clear that a country where a pint of beer costs only 1 (and even less) is an attractive destination for people who are not behaving within the bounds of decency.

"I am sure that cheap drinks are not the only attraction in Latvia - we have beautiful architecture of Riga, white beaches at the Baltic Sea, unspoiled nature and many other things.

"But if tourists are coming only for hard drinking and picking up local girls, they cannot win the sympathy of local people.

"And it is not a secret that British tourists with their behaviour are considered as the rudest tourists in Europe. It is not my subjective opinion, but according to a survey done by magazine 'Caterer and Hotel-keeper.' In conclusion, I am ready to accept the invitation to visit Liverpool - if it is not connected with attempt to reckon with me physically."

Robin Tudor, from Liverpool John Lennon Airport, said: "We are naturally surprised to hear such comments and are confident the vast majority of passengers from Liverpool behave responsibly, whatever their reason for visiting this interesting city.

"These flights are not just used by North West passengers visiting Riga, we see a growing number of Latvians using the service to come and visit Liverpool and elsewhere in the region."

Ryanair declined to comment.

By Sam Lister, Daily Post

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Helen
United Kingdom

I am half Latvian and the Ryanair flights have enabled me to visit the homeland of my father and grandparents as well as meeting relatives in Riga that I never knew I had. Stag parties are a problem wherever you go ( possibly as it involves men!! ), Dublin, Edinburgh and other main cities accross Europe have the same issues. I found we preferred to visit in the week as it is the weekends that attract such groups and yes, they aren't pleasant. I think the minister in question needs to review his comments as these people are travelling from Liverpool but are not necessarily resident there - I travel from Cheshire for example. Liverpool, like any city, has a wide spectrum of "types" of people; ranging from highly respectable to the down right embarressing - to tar a whole city ( which is crammed full of it's own theatres, galleries, highly respected Universities, libraries etc, can boast sons and daughters who have attained acclaim in many fields both in the UK and internationally and is currently the "city of culture" for the UK )with the same brush is quite offensive. I don't come from Liverpool but have visited on many occasion - it has, like Riga, Talin and any other town or city, it's good and bad bits. While in Latvia I saw the same is true - "normal" respectable folk going around their business as well as groups of Latvian teenagers drinking in the street and causing trouble and extremely pained people begging by the market - this happens anywhere humans do - Liverpool, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Milan - everywhere in between and beyond and hasn't caused me to assume that this is the norm for Riga - at least I hope it isn't!. Another example - my friend visited Prague and was offered cocaine openly in the street by several locals!!! this has never happened to either of us in our home town and was quite shocking. This gentleman is showing himself to be narrow minded and quite ignorant. Another way to avoid such behaviour might be to ask the pubs and clubs selling the cheap beer and liquor to act responsibly and not sell to people who are already inebriated and to activley discourage it - I think you will find that a lot of these idiots, I mean men, are quite different when sober and after they return from the traditional drunken stag night ( which has only relatively recently become a weekend ) they are returning to their responsible jobs, wives ( who would be mortified to know the way that they had been up to!! ), their neat homes etc etc. ( not all of them - a certain % will actually be idiots! )alcohol is an awful drug and really changes a persons personality - I hardly ever partake and avoid many places on a Friday or Saturday night as drunken people just aren't my thing. Yes, Riga needs to attract a different audience but vilantly attacking another city verbally isn't the answer and is in fact a little embaressing to Riga itself - attack isn't always the best form of defense!! I am also sure that the stag party culture, which Latvia also shares a portion of responsibility for attracting in the first place, is only a small problem compared to it's own local issues - just like anywhere else - and the Latvian people that I have spoken to personally have already highlighted a few of these to me - I won't hold it against you though as I am quite open minded!!

Reply May 14th, 2008