In January 2016, Stéphane Deschênes resigned from the Central Committee of the International Naturist Federation (INF-FNI) in the belief that he was ‘unable to make any meaningful impact’ with his efforts to institute reform. The following month he issued an open letter explaining the reasons for his actions.
NAG decided to contact Deschênes to ask a few more questions, which resulted in the following article. You can also download the open letter “Reforming the INF-FNI’ by Stéphane Deschênes in full in either English, French or German.
Although disagreeing with the direction the Central and Executive Committees are taking the INF-FNI, Deschênes makes no criticism of individual committee members, as some of the issues he is concerned about predate the current management. In the letter he gives 14 recommendations for a reinvigorated international organisation, which can be summarised as:
- The INF-FNI is naturism’s equivalent to the United Nations and should be about facilitating communication between the national representative bodies.
- The INF-FNI is instrumental in developing naturism as an ideology or philosophy, and one of its purposes should be communicating that ideology internationally.
- The INF-FNI needs a small professionally staffed office to enable it to function, with greater involvement by its members, with managed expectations on both sides.
Although Deschênes says in the letter its contents is his personal opinion, as co-owner with is wife, Linda, of the Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park, producer and presenter of The Naturist Living Show podcast and a past President of the Federation of Canadian Naturists, in addition to his involvement with the INF-FNI for the last three years, his depth of understanding is therefore not inconsiderable.
Deschênes senses that the INF-FNI is undermining the national representative bodies by accepting individuals as members and that there needs to be boundaries between the national bodies and the INF-FNI. He explains: “People that get involved in the INF are… in the habit of dealing directly with naturists because they all come from [member] federations. They have to be reminded that the job of the INF is different.”
This argument was picked up a few years ago, when INF-FNI membership was debated by some in BN, who stated that INF’s membership rules allowed individual naturists and clubs and/or resorts to by-pass their national federations and thereby weakening them. Naturism needs strong national representative bodies to lend their strength to the INF-FNI if it is to have any sway with other international organisations and national governments.
How Deschênes sees the INF-FNI is as a place where naturism could be developed further as an ideology or a philosophy, by allowing different ideas to be communicated internationally. The INF-FNI has created a definition that has served naturism very well and has been altered over the years to expand the concept beyond what the likes of Richard Ungewitter believed naturism to be. Whether it is an ideology or a philosophy is yet to be determined. This does not mean, however, that Deschênes thinks the activities of individual naturists or that of clubs and resorts should not be supported, but perhaps this lies better with the appropriate national federation.
Perhaps the most surprising revelation in Deschênes’ letter – to this writer at least – is that the INF-FNI is sitting on a pile of cash: €500,000 (US$550,000 at the time of writing) to be precise. While much of this money has been allocated to specific accounts, it has not been earmarked for any projects. He then explained that the INF-FNI does not have “even one full-time person working for [them],” and believes that its over reliance on volunteers is detrimental to the organisation. Deschênes justified his view by explaining that he has been involved in several not-for-profit organisations and “the most effective are the ones where the volunteers set the direction and [paid] staff implemented it.” The most common complaint about the INF-FNI is the lack of timely response to communications made to it, if at all but if they were doing their job properly then it will: “only increase.” It would therefore be essential that the INF-FNI establish an office staffed by professionals. He would not be drawn on the functions the paid staff should fill but said they should be “a combination of executive director and administrator”.
Deschênes also thinks that this office should be located at a major transport hub, somewhere in Europe. At the moment the INF-FNI has a central office in Hörsching, Austria, which is 200 kilometres (125 miles) away from its closest transport hub, Vienna. London would be an obvious candidate as a location, but Deschênes believes that with the UK being outside the Schengen area (if not out of the EU altogether after June’s referendum) it would be more difficult for those travelling from mainland Europe. This should not be the case; leaving the EU could throw up some unwelcome barriers, but regardless of the outcome, the most difficult obstacle is likely to be getting a good exchange rate between Sterling and the Euro. Having said that the better European transport hubs could be either Paris or Berlin.
Having a professional office will help to manage the expectations some national federations have about what the INF-FNI can and cannot do. “A common example is that federations want the INF-FNI to come and fight for changes in [national] law,” explains Deschênes. It seems the national bodies don’t appreciate that the INF-FNI has no legal standing in the country, have no knowledge of the issues involved; as outsiders, they would find it difficult to connect with local politicians and people, and despite the €500,000 languishing in the bank, such a legal battle will quickly bankrupt the organisation.
One thing that Deschênes would like to see is greater participation in INF-FNI affairs by its members. He remarks in the open letter that: “The majority of [those sitting on the Central Committee] are from small federations: Austria, Luxembourg [previously] Canada and New Zealand. The federations who contribute the most money, and who, because of their size, have the greatest resources must get more directly involved.” However, most naturists will know – or at least should know – that many of the national federations rely heavily on volunteers and probably have their own problems in filling committee roles. Below that, other volunteer-based groups or organisations in naturism are also struggling to fill vacancies on committees, et cetera. Yet, as Deschênes says: “You can’t complain about something but then refuse to get involved in fixing the problem.”
To quote American comedienne Lily Tomlin: ‘I said why doesn’t “somebody” do something about that? Then I realised, I was “somebody”.’
Naturally Deschênes hopes that his letter sparks a debate, if not within the INF-FNI’s Central and Executive Committees then among its member organisations. As indicated above, members of British Naturism have already called for their national representative body to resign from the INF-FNI in the past. On that occasion they were defeated, but who is to say that BN’s membership will not raise it again or that members of other national representative bodies will not do the same.
Chairman, Naturist Action Group
11th March 2016.