The INF’s Central Committee met in Costa de Caprica, Portugal in early November 2017 and we have seen the minutes. As a consequence, we think there are items worthy of your attention and to British Naturism members in particular, who contribute substantially to the INF coffers.
After the debacle of the 2016 World Congress in New Zealand, Gregers Mollers, (Thailand) has now been asked to re-established contact with member federations and repair the INF’s relationships with them. In a letter to all federations, Mollers asked: What do you want of the INF-FNI? The minutes quotes from three replies received from member federations, while naming just two: The Australian Naturist Federation was unequivocal, “Get rid of the people running it already.” Meanwhile the Canadian Naturists said: “The INF-FNI exists for the federations; it is not a governing body and has no authority over the federations.” These quotes imply the named federations believe that the INF requires a regime change and that it is the member federations that are in charge. Mollers actually read the letter from the Canadian federation in full, suggesting its contents had more relevance to the matter in hand than just the sound bite featured. While we can understand why it was not included in the text, it could have been attached as an annex.
Mollers said the source of the third quote wanted to remain anonymous but it is so innocuous it has raised our suspicions. It said: “The Wellington election was damaging for naturism; top priority should be to work together for INF-FNI.” NAG has no proof of course, but we cannot help wondering if this came straight from the mouth of Sieglinde Ivo, whose election as INF President proved so controversial. Why ask to be anonymous, otherwise? So, is this an oblique warning to those federations who expressed their concerns about the Presidential vote not to misbehave in the future? If so, what would the punishment be; excommunication? British Naturism has already held a vote on its INF membership. True, it was defeated by a substantial margin but with so few members voting the actual winner was apathy, which is what INF and federation management appear to rely on.
The minutes also revealed the cost of the incompetently managed election re-run for INF President. By getting delegates to travel to Vienna after a delay of more than six months, it cost the INF €17,000 (£15,200 or US$20,300 at the time of writing). This was a complete waste of money when a simple email from the federation’s chairperson or president confirming what their vote had been would have sufficed.
Perhaps of more interest to BN members is the news that ex-President Angela Russell is still involved with naturist affairs, having been nominated by her new federation, the Irish Naturist Federation, as EuNat sports’ officer. The minutes show that thisnomination was accepted by the INF and now it just needs to be confirmed by the next EuNat meeting. This is the second time that members of the NAG’s management collective have noticed a BN EC member leaving under a cloud of suspicion, only to find a Europeanstage for their talents by joining another federation. You may disagree of course, but simply by the expedient of resigning from one federation and joining another any alleged inappropriate behaviour appears to be rewarded rather than punished. Perhaps the INF’s working party might like to look at that while they’re at it?
Lastly, the minutes stated that following Nick Caunt’s elevation from International Director to BN President, Huub Giesen said that he, Nick, was too busy to oversee the scientific research that was kicked off by a presentation to the British Psychological Society. However, the minutes do not state how Giesen knows this. Our concern now, is that money allocated by the INF for academic research will languish in the accounts unused, especially as NO UK university has been told that funding is available for suitable post-graduate studies. Hard as it is to write this, there is now doubt that this project will ever achieve its goal.
Taken together, these points make us even more convinced that naturism will be best served by a change in management and purpose of the INF. It might be the ‘working party’ referred to will achieve that, but its scope is not clear and NAG is less confident that ANYONE on the top table is man or woman enough to sacrifice their personal ambitions for the good of naturism, preferring to hold on to the gravy train instead.
The collective noun for the Sumatran Tiger is a streak, I learned this from ‘Stark Truth About Stripping Off For Charity’; published in The Guardian (16/07/17) shortly after London Zoo held its Tiger Streak in aid of the endangered species, hence the reference. In her Comment is Free piece, Barbara Ellen argued that charity or protest nudity, usually female, is more-or-less automatic these days and perhaps, passé.
Naturists have long held the belief that our nudity is not sexual and, quite frankly, we can tell people this until we are blue in the face, they simply won’t believe us. So it is hardly surprising that Ellen doesn’t believe us either, stating protagonists in charity/protest events: ‘furiously insist that it’s completely asexual…’ yet she thinks it’s more about being the quickest and easiest way to grab attention in a world swamped with news. Very probably, taking just one example; does anyone beyond the actual riders know what WNBR is about? Their audience, seeing them whizz by are more caught up in the spectacle of mass nudity than reading the anti-car, anti-fossil fuel signs daubed on bodies, if there are any.
That does not take away from the value of the ride or the ethics of those who take part, but maybe our explanations about the non-sexual nature of nudism are not good enough to be believable to those not into the lifestyle, like Barbara Ellen and the reason why naturists need good answers when asked: why?
Is Glastonbury Now Tame?
When I was young, too young to attend Glastonbury (not that my parents’ would have let me go anyway) there were stories of festival goers dancing nude to the music on offer. I’m not sure if this was due to the time we are speaking of (the 60s, flower power and all that) or if it just saved on the washing, it being easier to clean bodies than clothes, but back then, it seemed to be a part of the right of passage for anyone in their teenage years. Then it trailed off, with few if any taking their clothes off, until this year. As noted by News Hub New Zealand (26/06/17), Rachel Rousham, protesting on behalf of The White Ribbon Alliance, joined the Avalonian Choir and festival founder, Michael Eavis for a pro-feminist protest on stage. She was naked except for patches of body paint and the words, ‘feminist,’ ‘resist’ and ‘persist’ covering her body. The White Ribbon Alliance, if you don’t know, demand the right for all women to give birth safely, everywhere. Rousham was not the only nude reveller this year, however. A naked man popped up on live TV earning a shoutout from The Foo Fighters frontman, David Grohl.
Talking of the WNBR, York held that city’s 12th ride this year and during an interview with Minster FM’s David Dunning, John Cossham admitted that the nudity was to draw media attention that fancy dress would not, apart from the usual protest against the car and reliance on fossil fuels, it symbolised the vulnerability of cyclists to highlight the deaths on British roads, and held a die-in in St Helen’s Square for added poignancy. A clip of the die-in was also published by Road CC (27/06/17), of when a woman of… let’s say mature years, enjoying tea in Betty’s Tearooms knocked on the window to get a better look at the naked riders!
Bears in the Air
Technology has affected naturism in some unexpected ways. We’ve already seen how the combination of the Internet, mobile technology and photography has seen the end pictures being taken. We have something new to worry about, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or drones armed with a camera or Go-Pro. An article on The Next Web tells of a group of ‘pervy’ men to sent up their drone in Majorca to spy on seven female naturists. Could this ruin naturism totally? Only if you let it. Fear of pictures turning up on the many unsavoury porn sites on the Internet led to many clubs (allegedly) banning mobile phones from the premises or it becoming against beach etiquette to take any pictures. While the fear is real, so many pictures are uploaded to the internet the likelihood that yours will be picked out is, quite frankly, minute. It is the same for drones. While it is certainly intrusive and undoubtedly annoying, naturists should not be afraid if a drone flies overhead for similar reasons. The media – them again – give a false impression just how frequent this will happen, and when the UK introduces registration for any Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) over 25 grammes, it will be even less. If, however, naturists insist on worrying about UAV then maybe we need to worry about police helicopters too?
What next for INF?
NAG has already published an account of the chaotic meeting of the General Assembly in Vienna, for the International Naturist Federation (INF) to elect a president. An ‘executive summary’ is that after a meeting of the Legal Council, which included past President Sieglinde Ivo, the only candidate left for re-election was Sieglinde Ivo. Even with one candidate to vote for, the way the chairman for the meeting organised it, no one could vote against Ivo’s re-election, delegates could only vote for her or abstain. Doubt has also been thrown up that the Legal Council was/is correctly
International Naturist Federation has issued the minutes for the reconvened World Congress in Vienna, held on 22 July and it has answered two questions that we raised shortly afterwards.
The first question we asked was about the votes distributed among the delegates. The delegate from Hungary informed the meeting that he (or she) had been held up in traffic and this led to a reduction of votes from 197 to 193. Before the vote for President however, the Hungarian delegate arrived and thereby restored the number of votes to 197. Unfortunately this was missed when we viewed the information sent to us, following the debacle. Stones and glass houses spring to mind, but we are several thousand mistakes behind Leslie Rabuchin, president for the general assembly, who could not even get the original count right.
The other question we had related to the election of Legal Council members in 2012 and 2014, and the length of the term of office. Was it two years, or four? The term of office has already been answered, but the minutes revealed Hervé Bégeot was elected to see out the last two years of German Lawyer Thomann’s term of office when he retired in 2012. Bégeot was then elected in his own right in 2014 for the full term of four years but a mistake in the minutes published suggested it was for only two. Why Rabuchin or Bégeot could not have said that, instead of throwing a tantrum like a spoilt two-year-old, one will never know? Why were the minutes released without being proofread or fact checked? Why didn’t any of the other member federations bother to check the minutes and highlight the mistake before Vienna?
The minutes also confirm the chaotic voting arrangements for the new President and their gerrymandering nature, described by Rabuchin (LFN) on page 8. Delegates could only vote for Ivo or abstain, they had no right under these arrangements to vote against Ivo’s re-election. This followed a meeting to decide if those wishing to stand for President met the selection criteria, which also happen to include one of those self-same candidates, Ivo, among its number. If that isn’t a conflict of interest, we don’t know what is? We are not sure what profession Rabuchin claims to be a part of, but we suspect he isn’t very good at it if this is an example of his work.
This is the essence of our objection to these elections and why we believe there has to be a clean sweep of the whole top table, with reform of the INF’s terms of reference at its centre.
In a statement, Duncan Heenan, member of the NAG’s Management Collective and BN member, said: ‘The toxic mix of incompetence, corruption, childishness and arrogance is breath taking — and this follows a similar debacle in New Zealand. And don’t forget, BN members (and other Federations) are paying for all this!’ A motion, launched by Heenan, about BN’s future membership of the INF will be discussed at the next AGM, in October. What stance BN’s Board of Directors will take is not known at the time of writing, but will no doubt reflect the considered feelings of Nick Caunt, the International Officer. These might be gauged from his statement in Vienna, post election (see page 10 under NCT).
We can only highlight parts of the minutes, and although the document is 12 pages long, we think it is worth reading in full and invite you to do so.
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.