Commentary on INF’s letter to Stéphane Deschênes of 17th April 2017
By Duncan Heenan, Naturist Action Group, UK
In January this year Stéphane Deschênes resigned as a member of International Naturist Federation’s (‘INF’) governing body, after 3 years’ and 5 months’ service, including being INF’s Assessor For Non-European Countries. Deschênes had previously been President of the Canadian Naturist Federation for about 10 years and is the owner of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park, which he took from a small sleepy club to being the largest and most successful naturist club/resort in Canada. He also has a successful business career outside naturism.
In resigning he wrote an open letter to INF, setting out a number of issues he felt were essential to be addressed if INF was to become an effective agent of naturist progress. His resignation was the culmination of years of frustration at trying to breathe new life into INF, but being met with stuck-in-the-mud attitudes which saw change as impossible, unnecessary or unwelcome. Deschênes’ belief that change was needed was founded mostly on the lack of any real evidence of INF’s effectiveness over many decades. (This and the letters referred to are in an earlier post)
INF responded to Deschênes’ letter in April. Despite both letters being made public on naturist websites, it has elicited little comment. This may be because naturists know or care little of INF, or it may be because they have ‘seen it all before’ and consider INF a lost cause anyway. To help those new to the subject, I copy both letters at the end of this commentary.
However, I feel a proper and open debate is necessary. It is significant when someone of Stéphane Deschênes’ experience and stature feels moved to resign from a world body – and INF is naturism’s only world body. This should not be ignored. INF is funded by a per-capita levy on the membership of every National Naturist Federation which is affiliated to INF, so it is naturists’ own money which is at stake, and value for money should be something we should all care about even if we do not care about the wider acceptance of naturism. In an attempt to stimulate debate, I am writing this short commentary on the exchange of letters. If you agree with me, say so. If you disagree with me, say so. If you have any comment, say it. But please don’t just let this issue die from apathy and indifference. If you care about the progress of naturism, or if you believe in value for money, speak up; or an opportunity for real change will be missed, yet again. But say it where it will be heard by those who can change things.
If you have read the correspondence referred to (if not, please do), you will see that Deschênes, makes 14 specific comments and suggestions on INF. I do not have the inside experience of INF’s machinations to make much detailed comment on these points, though I shall make some general ones based on some 36 years of observing INF as a member of British Naturism (including having been BN’s Treasurer), and as a co-founder of Naturist Action Group ( www.naturistactiongroup.org ). However, I would like to start by considering the general tone of the reply, and how INF handled it.
The INF response to Deschênes’ comments ignores the fact that he felt it necessary to resign because of the overall lack of effectiveness of INF. By responding only on individual issues, INF is not seeing the wood for the trees. Deschênes’ comments list some of the symptoms of an ailing organisation, but the response looks only at the symptoms, and not the underlying condition. To an impartial observer INF appears to be in denial of its problems, and as a result no real consideration seems to be given to the specifics raised for debate, let alone the background to them and what they imply. Deschênes’ comments are addressed more to the National Federations which own INF rather than to the central INF body, and yet the response from ‘INF’ shows no real sign of the National Federations being involved in considering them. Indeed, though signed on behalf of the Central Committee, it is clearly written by the EC, and shows no evidence of Central Committee involvement. INF has ignored the whole point, which is not surprising in the context of its history of rejecting all criticism, however constructive, and pursuing an existence of its own, largely unrelated to the National Federations it is supposed to represent.
- Naturism is an ideology or Philosophy. No comment
- Serving the Federations. The INF response is a non- answer, which does not address the point at all.
- Individual, Naturists, Clubs and Resorts. Though INF agrees in principle with Deschênes’ point, in practice it is reserving the right to go around National Federations where they exist. The point about providing support to naturists in countries with no national organisation is valid, but this is not the basis of Deschênes’ point. INF’s ambivalence regarding countries with national organisations merely makes for confusion and resentment. The point INF makes about its ‘Focus’ publication is undermined by the very poor quality of this ‘newsletter’, which often consists largely of articles copied from elsewhere. It does not reflect what should be the stature of a worldwide representative body.
- INF’s response is merely a denial, and yet an admission that they do not do enough because of lack of staff. INF has the financial resources to address this, but chooses to leave the money in the bank instead, achieving nothing.
- Being International. INF’s response proves Deschênes’ point! The complacency towards the non-European world this reflects is obvious to anyone except INF. AANR cited the Eurocentricity of INF as a major reason for leaving INF, and yet the point is still being missed. INF needs to be proactive outside Europe, not merely sit at home and say ‘everyone is invited’. The current stance shows that INF has little understanding of large scale public relations, or how non-Europeans see the world.
- Budget. INF’s response is a simple denial of provable fact. The policy of hoarding money to the exclusion of achieving its goals is not addressed at all. The tax issue is a red herring. The point is that if INF is not achieving anything worthwhile, what is the point of holding large financial reserves? INF is supposed to be promoting naturism. INF is not a savings bank, but it is acting like one.
- Staff. INF’s response is both ‘right’ and wrong. Though anti-discrimination legislation exists, it does not (even in Austria) exclude sympathy for the cause as being a valid criterion for recruitment. INF’s response is an invalid excuse, not a proper or sufficient reason for hiring people who do not believe in what they are doing. A lack of enthusiasm always shows in the work done.
- Decisions and Directions. INF’s response does not indicate whether they accept this point, or what they intend to do. It is not informative or helpful.
- Central Committee Meetings. INF’s response is simply ignoring the modern world and the cheap and easy aids to communication which now exist. For an organisation purporting to represent the whole world in any respect, to ignore video-conferencing demonstrates a Luddite mentality, which simply fails to serve today’s needs. It also ignores the ease with which these things can now be adopted, if the will exists.
- Expectations. No comment
- Federation Involvement. This point goes to the heart of the malaise in INF. INF is owned by The National Federations, and yet the Federations seem to be largely uninterested in what INF does or how it uses the Federations’ monetary contributions. As a result INF has evolved an existence of its own, but it is an existence with little direction or incentive to do anything. This is not so much an INF problem as a problem of apathy within the National Federations, who need to get actively involved in INF and turn it into an effective, pro-active organisation.
- Congress. No comment
- Headquarters. Again INF’s response is simple denial. From a world’s eye perspective, it is nonsense to have a supposed World organisation headquartered in a residential block in a tiny backwater town, merely to suit a President who lives nearby. It also implies that the President expects to hold that office for life! The claim that it is cheap merely reflects the fact that it has no credibility as an international HQ, and is inaccessible and inefficient. If INF wants to be taken seriously on the international stage, it has to have the infrastructure to do so. Cheese-paring may increase the bank balance, but it does not achieve the objectives of the organisation. INF should be steering expansion, not managing decline.
- EUNAT. My understanding is that EuNat was formed originally as a vehicle to attract European Union funding. If that source of funding is no longer available, there is no point in retaining EuNat, and it should be merged with INF. Keeping a separate EuNat merely adds to the divisive eurocentricity of INF. INF’s response does not address this question, but should.
The abrupt and resentful tone of INF’s response to Deschênes’ letter, as well as the largely meaningless comments on the specific points he makes, indicates a mind-set within their EC which has remained unchanged for decades. INF is obsessed with its own procedures and protocols, and seems blind to the lack of any meaningful results from all its efforts. This was summed up some years ago by Paul Kirby, a former BN International Officer who had spent nearly a decade as BN’s INF link-man. He told the BN Annual General Meeting that INF was nothing more than a talking shop for old friends to have reunions in nice places. As a result of his comments nothing happened, just as the world of naturism is ignoring Deschênes’ resignation.
I feel that part of the problem is that when criticism is made, people are unwilling to blame other people, and so end up arguing about rules, regulations and structures. In my experience it is people who make for success or failure in any organisation. If the people are good for the job they can change bad rules or structures. If the people are bad for the job they will blame the rules and structures. INF has been run for many decades by people who blame the rules and structures. This mind-set has become ingrained, and the positions of power have been passed on to people with the same outlook. Little wonder that nothing changes. Meanwhile the National Federations who have the power to change this, ignore it, and keep pouring money in to INF while asking very little about how it is used.
If I have a criticism of Deschênes’ own letter, it would be that he was too polite. In avoiding the issue of the people involved with INF he has allowed them to use the old technique of blaming the rules, or the Federations for the malaise. Ultimately, the blame for the poor performance of staff should not be on the staff, but on their boss who allows them to get away with it. In this case it is the National Federations who are the bosses, but they seem to spend their time in apathy about INF, or deadlocked in argument with each other.
I strongly support the concept of a World Body to promote naturism, but as currently operated INF is not working effectively in that role. Only the National Federations can address this, and the fact that they haven’t so far (apart from AANR who left INF some years ago) says something about the leadership of the National Federations. It is not the structures which should be under discussion, but the leadership. However, naturism seems to have leadership which is unable to appreciate or address its own shortcomings.