Friday, October 20, 2006

Better out than in?

Or: why the alleged ‘outing’ of Polish politicians is maybe not such a brilliant idea.

Veteran (I hope he doesn’t mind that word) libertarian journalist and gay rights campaigner, Doug Ireland, published an article in Gay City News on Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski this week where he goes straight for the jugular:

Poland’s homophobic Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski — the identical twin brother of Polish President Lech Kaczynski—was outed as a homosexual in major Polish media last week…

Rzeczpolita [Rzeczpospolita?] published documents—some only recently declassified, and some that were leaked—from the files of the Polish Secret Service that discussed Prime Minister Kaczynski’s homosexuality. As part of an investigation, begun in 1992, of right-wing political parties that, the documents said, “could threaten democracy,” a Secret Service department then headed by Colonel Jan Lesiak reported, “It is advisable to establish if Jaroslaw Kaczynski remains in a long-term homosexual relationship and, if so, who his partner is.”

...Then, also last week, former President Lech Walesa repeated on Polish television a crack about the current prime minister’s homosexuality that he had made 13 years before—when, in an interview on the Polish public TV network TVP1, he had said that the Kaczynski twins had come to his birthday party, and that “Lech came with his wife and Jaroslaw came with his husband.”

The rumours about Jaroslaw’s sexuality have been around for along while, of course. But to put the current ‘outing’ in context, Kaczynski is the head of a government which has made some gross homophobic remarks since it came to power last November. His brother, President Lech Kaczynski, when mayor of Warsaw, banned a gay march and called gays ‘perverts’.

So the tactic of gay campaigners here has been to point to the hypocrisy of Kaczynski’s (alleged)

When the political is reduced to the personal

I should be honest and say that in July this year Doug Ireland contacted me about the existence of the report by Colonel Jan Lesiak (which as I have showed in a previous post is mostly full of gossip got from reading magazine articles) and asked me how he could get hold of some translated extracts.

I told Doug then that Col Lesiak was a secret service agent during the very oppressive 1980s, when Solidarity leaders were being banged up by Stalinists, and that he was not a good source of information about prominent Solidarity activists like the Kaczynskis.

In fact, for various reasons I didn’t want to get involved in all this – largely on the principle that raking up details of the personal lives of politicians – even hypocritical ones – was not the best way to win political arguments.

But Doug Ireland has contacts with the anti-homophobia movement here and they have been feeding him lots of gossip about the private lives of Polish conservative politicians.

For instance, in the article in Gay City News Doug Ireland quotes gay journalist Michal Rolecki as saying: “…everyone knows that the president and the home secretary regularly visit female brothels.”

Blimey! Does everyone know that? I didn’t, neither does anyone else I have asked about it. Does the president of Poland really sneak into brothels for a quick one now and again? I doubt it.

But as Rolecki says “…you must bear in mind that sex still remains a considerable taboo in Catholic Poland. Some three-quarters of Poles say that that sexuality is a private thing not to be discussed in public. For example, we have never had a sex scandal related to government…”

Actually, there was an expose of the sex lives of Polish politicians published in a book by a journalist who got to sleep with many of them, Anastazja Potocka. The revelations were published about the same time as the initial ‘outing’ of Kaczynski by Walesa. In fact, many think that she was working with Col. Lesiak.

But generally the private lives of politicians are left out of the newspapers. And that is not a particularly Polish, or Catholic thing: in fact most European countries are not like the US, (or the UK, for that matter). There is a separation between public and private.

In the US ‘political arguments’ commonly end up revolving around the grubby activities of drunks like Foley – which of course, is not really a political issue at all.

I do understand that gays and lesbians are using the alleged ‘outing’ of Jaroslaw Kaczynski to bash the government with the same weapon that the government has been bashing them with.

But the best way to challenge homophobia is to restrict the argument to political principles. Gays have as much right to live as they want as heterosexuals do. The issue is about equality and human rights, not what politicians get up to, or don’t get up to, in the privacy of their own bedrooms – or wherever.

Let’s stick to politics and kick the personal out of the political. Otherwise the argument comes down to the behaviour of politicians, and not the principles of Politics.


Bill said...

As an outsider looking at Poland I accept that people elsewhere may not understand the 'nuances' of Polish politics. However, if these 'rumours' about the Polish PM are true then I cannot see why it 'lowers the tone' of public debate to hightlight the hypocrisy of supporting a particular policy whilst one's own private behaviour runs totally counter to that policy. I completely agree that private lives should remain private, but the individual in question does help to make policy in Poland and uses his position, it seems, to make policies for everyone else which he flouts himself (if these rumours are true).

This is completely different from the case of a former (very) senior government official in France when I lived there who indulged in some pretty wild private [heterosexual] activities (widely known in the social circles in which I moved there then), but he never ever uttered a word, or helped to further a policy, which made a nonsense of his own activities; he was not a 'hypocrite' whatever else he may have been (indeed probably still is).

michael farris said...

Intuitively (not thinking in terms of Poland here) outing a politician who's publicly positive on gay issues (or even neutral) seems to be a violation of privacy.

Outing a politician who panders to homophobic sentiments (and simultaneously indulges in homo acts) doesn't bother me and I'm generally in favor of exposing that kind of hypocrisy no matter what the issue is.

But, there's two practical problems.

1. No one in the world thinks rationally about sex (the hangups differ by location, age etc but they're always there).

2. In debating gay issues, the pro gay side is _much_ more constrained in what it can do or say. Anti-gay jerks can compare homosexuality to bestiality or pedophilia all day long and not suffer for it (if there's any evidence that any politician has ever suffered for anti-gay remarks, it would be news to me). People in favor of gay rights have to walk on egg shells or be accused of being shrill, shoving things down peoples' throats etc.
As situations go, it's unfair and maddening, but that's the way it is right now (not just in Poland, either). If anyone thinks outing Jarsoslaw (if he is in fact gay) will help gay people in Poland they're deeply mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Where's the proof that Jaroslaw is gay? A derogatory remark by Lech Walesa? Records in the Secret Service files? Bah! If there was something in those files, why didn't the evil commies find a way to splash it around already?
Charges that Jaroslaw is gay, unless substantiated, are just as wrong-hearted as the Kaczynskis' et. al. homophobic remarks and actions. Seems to me that folks like Ireland are doing any kind of gay liberation movement a grave disservice.

beatroot said...

Geezer – I don’t think Ireland is a fool, at all. What he did do, however, was blindly accept some quite silly statements by Rolecki etc without checking them. Of course Rolecki is out to get the government. But the thing about brothels is not ‘widely known’ in Poland at all. And that tends to weaken the article, and the cause it promotes.

Another thing I thought was naive was this bit:

As part of an investigation, begun in 1992, of right-wing political parties that, the documents said, “could threaten democracy,” a Secret Service department then headed by Colonel Jan Lesiak reported…. etc

This is presenting Col. Lesiak as some sort of ‘freedom fighter’ battling to preserve Polish democracy. If so, then why was he working for the profoundly anti-democratic communist secret services in the 1980s? Not really something you would expect to see on the CV of a ‘freedom fighter’.

So I think the article was a little wet behind the ears when it comes to Polish politics and history.

Anonymous said...

Well, if Jaroslaw is prepared to use Lesiak's closet (no pun intended) for his own personal and political ends (eg criticism of Rokita, prosecution of Miodowicz etc), then he can hardly expect to be surprised when people attach the same weight to comments in the same set of material about his sexuality, regardless of the fact that both may be equally inaccurate. Doug Ireland may be underinformed on the intricacies of the politics and history (who isn't?), but he can't really be criticised for citing the Lesiak files...

And if Jaroslaw is a closeted gay, then I feel he is fair game for the 'outers' (as mf notes above)...

Anonymous said...

word up anonymous, if only ireland had pointed that out... in poland for a few months and still can't begin to fathom this uklad obsession... give it up... a bunch of morons trying to justify their ridiculous jobs, just like spooks everywhere..

and steppx, the foley deal is an invasion of privacy and simply that? gimme a break! thank god that's out there.. if one's a public official, you better be ready to step up to the plate and justify what you do... too bad clinton didn't... him saying "yeah, so what?" would have gone a lot farther than kow-towing to the shrill-voiced (it's not just for homosexuals, michael!)

Anonymous said...

A fool. Blindly accepting. Naive. Behind the ears. Whatever.

But I never wrote Ireland was a fool. Just wrong-hearted.

If, if, IF Jaroslaw is gay... Again, where's the proof? Too much speculation.

But the Foley deal an invasion of privacy? WTF?

Anonymous said...

And why can't BOTH Jaroslaw and Ireland be criticized for sewer mongering? Is tit-for-tat morally acceptable? This guy did something wrong so it OK for me to do the same wrong thing to fark him over. Bad morals all around.

beatroot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
beatroot said...

The problem with our argument, Step, is that while he has made less aggressive comments than his brother, he ha made a few. For instance this year he said that “homosexuals should not be teachers, but that homosexuals would not be persecuted”…

Of course, to ban anyone entering a profession (which smacks of how Jews were treated iner war) is revolting and indeed a persecution!

But by the time he went to Brussels in the summer, however, he had turned into a gay activist!
“There is no tradition of persecution of people of another sexual orientation. For decades it has been known about many prominent people, they are homosexuals, it has never been a problem. What we have now in Poland are gay clubs, gay literature, gay press -- this is all functioning normally."

But on principle I stick with my argument – the personal is not the political. It should be about principle.

Anonymous said...

Everyone in the Warsaw gay community knows that Jaroslaw is gay?

Have all gays had sex with him or seen him having sex with a man? Since it takes two (or more) to tango, who are is/are his sex partner(s)? Or is the argument being made that he is a celibate gay? If so, how can such an argument not be used against (or for) anyone?

And I don't recall Foley's email being policed before it was revealed, it seems by a militant gay group, that he was coming on to underage congressional pages over the internet. I spoze there can be some doubt that he was coming on to these pages? Puleeze! That sounds like Republican Elections Chairman Reynolds' argument why he didn't follow up after he reported the problem to Republican Speaker of the House Hastert.

Anonymous said...

Seems Foley invaded other peoples' privacy and that's the core issue.

Sure you can have an opinion that's not based on known fact, Steppx. Just as anybody is allowed to have the opinion that so-and-so who is gay is not really gay. But that doesn't make it right. But you're right in that the main issue should not be whether JK is gay or not but that he has made anti-gay statements, etc. But it cannot be denied that it has been made an issue because of both JK himself and folks like Ireland... and for that matter Beatroot -- and involving all the commentators on this blog who have posted comments and even those who haven't.

Anonymous said...

The practice of dissecting the private lives of everyone in public life is crazy, this American style of politics is counter productive. The consensus amongst many people, who would see themselves running for public office, seems to be who needs the aggravation. Many Americans simply find participation in the process not worth the trouble. The result is a very small pool of people being involved with the political process and a close examination of the qualifications of those choosing to run for office indicated a low common denominator.

The same applies to Poland; capable good people don’t step forward in such a political climate. The Western European attitude of keeping personal life and family out of the dynamic serves democracy better than the American model.

Unless there is something in a person’s background that would impair them from performing their job or being a security risk, their personal and family life should be off the table.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski sexual orientation is his business and he should never even respond to the allegations. In an ugly political fight you can expect any weapon to be used, thus far we have chorus of rumours but no smoking gun.

Quoting a source like Colonel Jan Lesiak is idiotic, in my opinion this guy’s entire career was built around suppressing democracy in Poland. This is the mentality that was as comfortable being an enforcer for the communists and would have been equally comfortable doing the same work for the Nazis or Fascists. This guy has no credibility. One doesn’t invite a serial rapist to give an opinion on woman’s rights.

Public discussion or display of sex is a considerable taboo in Catholic Poland; it’s a cultural and religious thing. A person’s sexuality and sexual practices are considered a private matter not to be discussed in public. To make it easy for non-poles, have all the sex you want but don’t stand on a soapbox in the town square and insist we hear about. There lies a big portion of the controversy with the gays, there have always been gays in Poland and no one really cared much about it, let alone wanted to restrict their civil rights. But the in your face parade challenging this social norm succeeded in a getting a reaction and probably not the one that was desired. It is not rational to suggest Polish society is at the stage were a Berlin style gay parade is going to be tolerated anytime soon.

beatroot said...

It has to be said that the government here has made an issue out of gays, and when they were doing it they must have known that this was going to come back to haunt them – so they have made a rod for their own back.

But take Foley. Here is one of the defining issues of the mid term elections and its nothing to do with politics.

Bill Clinton’s presidency will not be remembered for anything political but for Lewynski and Havana cigars.

Most criticisms of Bush start with “Ooo, isn’t he stupid”, which s not really a razor sharp political critique.

Even many of the criticisms of Blair over the Iraq war are about ‘He lied to us…!’ which again, is not really about the politics of the Iraq war.

So when I saw banners on the gay pride march in Warsaw with ‘Jaro is a homo’ type thing, I wasn’t impressed. Again, it’s not a political position. It’s personality politics.

Lar said...

When you found your political campaign on values rather than on purely political or economic arguments then you are putting yourself on the pedestal and you are fair game for this sort of criticism. If you want to tell people you have the moral fibre to lead the country then that moral fibre must be combed over in public. If PiS kept it political arguments on political grounds it couuld cry wolf. However, it makes everythign very personal and individual so like for like in this instance.

The 'article' by Ireland is utter nonsense and he should be embarrased for paddling such tripe. All secret services try to find out the sexual orientation of people they are spying on, it's often the best way to find a weakness in a character that can be exploited through blackmail or espionage (read any decent espionage books and this is apparent - stuff about the Cambridge Ring of Five and hte Mitrokihn archive are particulalry interesting). The documents, dubious at best, don't say Jarosław is gay - they say IF he is gay teh secret services should find out about it.

beatroot said...

When you found your political campaign on values rather than on purely political or economic arguments then you are putting yourself on the pedestal and you are fair game for this sort of criticism.

Absolutely correct, of course. The list of politicians in many countries have come a cropper with that kind of populism.

As far as your comments about Doug Ireland are concerned – you are right about secret services in general being obsessed with sex lives (all the better to bribe people).

But we should remember that Doug is a campaigning journalist. He didn’t create the atmosphere in Poland. Though I wish he checked a couple of the stories he was fed by people who (rightly) have a grievance about the way they are being treated here.

On Doug’s site now there is a shocking post about the plight of gays in Iraq at the moment. Things seem very nasty indeed. I hope he connects those conditions with the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Aren't political and economic arguments based on values, too? Are you suggesting that such discourse can be purely scientific?

Also, any valid criticism should be based on that which is provable rather than rumour or even supposed common knowledge. Otherwise, it is guttersniping not all that different than that which is offered by the Kaczynskis and their ilk.

beatroot said...

Ig Geeeeeeeez

Aren't political and economic arguments based on values, too? Are you suggesting that such discourse can be purely scientific?

Are you commenting on a different post? The one about Nobel Prizes? The one about evolution? Or is ‘outing’ a politically viable thing to do?

I suppose it could be all three!

I completely agree that political and economic arguments SHOULD be based on values. But I don’t think they usually are. For instance, if I said to you that the US Fed should be under direct political control, I bet you wouldn’t like it. You might say that setting interest rates should be a technical decision based on objective criteria, not political.

So where is the ‘values’ in that? Interest rates are a political decision. And that means it involved values.

Anonymous said...

I was commenting on the comment:

"When you found your political campaign on values rather than on purely political or economic arguments . . ."

All three as being distinct, seperate? My argument is that we all make political and economic arguments based on our values (which are often divorced from our broader and oftentimes more consequential economic and political interests).

I think too that a decision to place the US Fed under direct political control (the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board btw is appointed by the US President) is a value based decision that can be looked at in a multitude of angles. Why shouldn't the Chairman be voted into his office to ensure accountability to the electorate? And doesn't the President usually make his choice on the basis of political expediency? Will the Chairman in either case made his decisions on interest rates et. al. based on objective apolitical criteria? Me thinks not.

I was looking at Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism yesterday. He held that "Politics is the irrational social expression of (our biological - essentially sexual) sickness."

While he was certainly too influenced by Sig's sexual emphases, he also mades the point that the Nazis came to power in great part because they recognized the important driving force of the mystical element in peoples' lives whereas the Communists and other lefties did not. Mystical in the sense of ritual, symbolism,, pageantry etc. leading to communalism/communion.

beatroot said...

Didn’t Riech invent the ‘Orgasmotron’ – (or was it Woody Allen)?

Anonymous said...

Dat's da guy! He was also a commie. And there is some kind of Reich Institute still going in Maine, I believe. Still, he was on to something about mysticism, methinks while his orgone box or whatever it was called was/is obviously quackery.

beatroot said...

Quakery, indeed. If you like a little mysticism with you left politics then have you read the later works of Christopher Lasch? He was groping around in that direction. Interesting writer.

Anonymous said...

The Agony of the American Left and The Culture of Narcissism are indeed two books that have had a long and profound impact on my thinking. But I didn't even know until looking at Wikipedia just now that Lasch was Roman Catholic. I now look foward to picking up The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics and The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times.
Thanks for the steerage (sic).

Interesting too, as far as I know, that he didn't become a neo-con along the order of Weigel, Neuhaus and Novak. I'll have to google to see if he ever responded to any of them and their ilk before he died.

beatroot said...

Why I like him, I think, is that he is saying that we need more than what the ‘cultural’ left is giving us. It’s a very ‘me, me, me’ type of ‘identity politics’. He is saying we need to believe in something outside ourselves. The cultural left’s victory in the ‘culture wars’ was a pyrrhic one, in many ways. And religion gives what the left lacks now - something inspiring. The left used to have its ‘historic mission’ to transform society. Now they seem to worry more these days about low cost air travel. So people turn to religion when there isn’t anything else on offer.

So Lasch is cool.