Thursday, June 08, 2006

Estonia: Gay Ambassador Flees Homophobia

The Dutch ambassador to Tallinn, Hans Glabitz, has decided to leave his mission to Estonia due to "persistent racist and homophobic abuse," BBC reports. Glaubitz is openly gay and lives with his coloured Cuban partner.

The problem has not been on an official level. The Estonian foreign ministry is, to the opposite, careful to point out that the couple has been well received at an official level. Instead, Glaubitz decision is due to widespread public homophobia in Estonia. According to Glaubitz, the couple has been constantly harassed in public by skinheads and drunkards with homophobic and racist remarks.

The Glaubitz case regrettably demonstrates the kind of homophbia still latent in many East European countries. That even a foreign ambassador finds his posting to a fellow European country unbearable, shows how profound a clash in cultures may be between the liberal Netherlands and relatively conservative Estonia.


Anonymous said...

The Ambassador had reported NO instances of harrassment to either the Estonian Foreign Office or to the police. Apparently, he reported only a a couple of instances of verbal harrassment and "unfriendly stares" to his own Foreign Office. There was no pervasive and continuous harrassment, as you claim.

The gossip in the FO is that he found the entertainment possibilities in Tallinn limited, and wanted a posting to Montreal, where there are more gay clubs, although he has now stated he doesn't plan to stay long in Montreal either.

Why are you so ready to jump to conclusions about "uncivilized Eastern Europe"? I am reminded of the sanctimounious Swedish attitudes during the Estonia disaster. Now it appears that it was the Swedes who were using the Estonia to transport Soviet military material all along and happily lying about it all along also.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear anonymous (which I regret that you are),

Thank you for sharing these views and the information.

As stated in my piece, BBC was the source of the text, and I do not see that the two texts markedly differ as concerns facts. As for "pervasive and continuous harrassment" (there is no such wording in my text), I believe you refer to what Glaubitz has said to international media. This is clearly indicated in the text. I have also referred to Estonian official statements that Glaubitz has been well received.

As for gossip, I want no part of it, whereas you seem to quickly turn to it. When commenting on various issues, I usually use recognised sources such as the BBC, RFE/RL etc. So, whereas you may well refer to gossip, I do not stoop to this. I cannot help recognising though that gossip seems to be "pervasive and continous" in cases were homosexuals are discriminated against. I do not know if that is the case here, but I note your reference to "gossip." I fear, you thereby would simply strengthen the prejudices that you seem to claim that I have - if I actually would have them.

As for your statement about "uncivilized Eastern Europe," it is you yourself that raise the issue. There is no such quote in my text. I by no means feel that Eastern Europe is uncivilised. Allegations of some sort of racism against Eastern Europe are, to the contrary, often directed in response to critique of individual state policies or phenomena in the region. As for "Eastern Europe" as a concept, I feel quite ambiguous to using it. However, there are seldom any significantly better denominations, and I guess you would have reacted much more if I had used the phrase "Former Soviet Union" in the context of Estonia. So, I choose to use the concept of "Eastern Europe" when dealing with issues that are common to the states of the former communist bloc (I also hate this concept). To the contrary, I am very fond of Estonia, and e.g. Lennart Meri, who passed away recently, was one of the most civilised politicians I have come across in European politics. You, however, do not seem to share this pleasant trait.

Turning to the real issue at stake, namely the situation of homosexuals in Estonia, the situation is, admittedly, better in Estonia than in Latvia and Lithuania. As for public views, however, the few surveys made, indicate that nearly half of the respondents think that homosexuality is a disease or an abnormal form of sexuality. Some 25% expresses outright condemnation. Only a third are tolerant towards homosexuals. So, would it be correct to assume that Estonia does not have a problem with homophobia. I think not. Estonia - as many other countries - has to come to terms with homosexuality being a normal part of a diversified and open society.

"Never trust the Swedes. Then, you might as well trust the Russians." This is what I have been saying to my Estonian friends since the late 1980's. Sweden as Russia has its clear interests in the Baltic Sea region. This, Estonia should realise. Turning, in this context, to M/S Estonia, it actually seems to be the only point where we agree. Despite the fact that it is so evidently off topic to address the issue in a context dealing with homophobia in Estonia, I will comment on it. I think it is an outrage how the Swedish government has handled the issue since 1994. Only recently, the Swedish minister responsible for the issue made a fool of herself when meeting Estonian representatives. It was arrogant and embarrassing for Sweden. As for the reports that Estonia carried military materiel, I have heard of it as well as many other rumours and facts. However, I do not think we ever will learn the full truth about the accident, and I really have no great interest in the issue.

So, is it a reasonable conclusion that I would subscribe to the rather unpleasant values that you seemingly ascribe to me? The alternative would be that these allegations are simply a fidget of your imagination and how you really would like it to be in order to forward your own views? Then, what are these views? Nationalist? Homophobic? I really do not know. One thing I do know is that that this might well be the impression one gets from your comment.

So, dear anonymous, how are we going to have it? Are we going to keep to facts or rely on fantasies? As for myself, I believe the reader is the better judge of this.



calm in a storm said...

Dear Half-sies. When building a fence, it is necessary to make a straight, (excuse the pun) line.

Please, can we have a gate somewhere - a true gate and not one with a trap door in the center?

As a mother of a gay son, I am indeed thrown into this sort of marshland of homo/hetera sexism.

This man mentioned, the one in Canada, perhaps needed only one well placed threat, in my opinion. Who can say if such a threat was made. For crying out loud! If I was to mention something, which I knew would harm loved ones, would I make public announcement of it?

As for the region of the Baltics, hmm...I would prefer to align neither with Sweden nor Russia. I say, work closer with thier respective distant cousins in matters of diplomacy. Perhaps there is another, more distant alliance to be made, too.

Back to homo/hetera sexism and phobias, believe me, it is in the matter of gravity to lose an honored statesman or woman to this kind of thing. Certainly, one can runaway to places other than Montreal in order to be with the gay bar scene and be fashionable. Shall we allow a person the right to follow his or her beliefs, customs and at the same time, allow the pursuant to build a career, follow his or her inner guide for purpose filled devotion to connectedness on all sides? Or, shall we place the tattoo upon the body and curse the person to barriers of hate-filled utterances, with only an underground wave as he passes by?

On a personal level, I recently began employment with a highly respected small business here in my own town. It is owned by a "new immigrant." I worked two days, then was told to wait until I was called before I worked again. The call never came. When, I went to pick up money owed, along with my envelope was an envelope for my supervisor, a beautiful lesbian woman. Do not tell me how far the blade travels in dealing with the issue of homophobia.

Estonia in World Media said...

BBC does not cure cancer. According to the Estonian media Mr Ambassador is married. It is official act which actually turns his boyfriend into his spouse.

Estonian diplomatic protocols have no place for spouses like that, but in order not to offend Mr Ambassador, his spouse and the country which sent them, the diplomatic protocol was interpreted so he was received with his spouse by the Estonian President.

But instead of marking this obvious progress in a country which just 15 years ago had homosexualism as penal offence with jail term, Mr Ambassador chose to assault it with (made up?) claims on harrasment. How come Estonian gays taking part in gay parade in Tallinn aren't so sensitive? Why doesn't Amsterdam send mariied gays to France and why do they not ask for same rights in some countries closer to home, say in France, where Mr Ambassador wouldn't be received with his spouse by Monsieur Président? I guess the reason is that Estonia is more handy to assault and to push around.

Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, it is ridiculous that someone's personal problem (in this case Mr. Glaubitz') was raised to such high official level.

As the result of this story, I also read many negative articles about Estonia and the rest of CEE countries ... I think that the whole story is very much deviated. To be gay is the same funny or dangerous as in Holland or in Estonia, in Montreal or in Kiev, or wherever else.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Cherolex,

I am somewhat amazed at the quantity of reactions I have had to this piece. When I have written about LGBT-issues in other parts of Eastern Europe - often with a much more critical stance - only a few and generally benevolent comments have been made. Then, suddenly, when it comes to Estonia, I get a lot of very critical comments, despite the fact that it is a rather short piece, which really only quotes what the BBC has already reported.

I must confess that I have chosen to suppress some anonymous comments that obviously have been made by Estonians. They have simply been directed at smearing the ambassador, at the same time as saying that Estonia is not in the least homophobic. The effect, I fear, is quite the opposite, i.e. giving an even stronger impression of homophobia in Estonia. This would simply not have been right, as I do feel - and hope - that they are not representative of Estonians generally.

I really cannot understand why Estonians have reacted so strongly against the ambassador. I think that Estonia's foreign ministry initially handled the affair quite well. No matter whether the ambassador was right or wrong, Tallinn had nothing to win out of making the affair bigger than it was. This might have been a good line of action, had it not been for the media blowing the thing out of proportion. By open or implicit accussations of the Ambassador's morale, the effect was counterproductive making him a victim and portraying Estonia as homophobic. We have all heard arguments such as "I am nor homophobic, but..." That is simply not the smartest way to go about the matter.

Perhaps, new facts about the affair have been published. The ones I have seen, have however not been flattering for Estonia. The thing is also that I do not want to use excessive time to follow up on stories that are not core issues for my blog. So, let me suffice by saying that I do believe that Estonia has problems with homophobia. I also believe that the whole affair might have been handled better. I am the first to regret that Estonia has been more heavily criticised than warranted for. Finally, one cannot preclude the possibility that the ambassador had ulterior motives for his action. However, I cannot see any rational reason for him to expose his private life in this way and thereby making also his professional life much damage. That simply does not make sense, as it would have been even more of a public suicide than already the case to act as he did, had he not been severely concerned. Summing up, it is really but a sad story for all concerned.



Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Estonia in World Media,

I must admit that the parallel with France would be quite interesting. It makes one wonder whether a Dutch ambassador to Paris would do the same as now has been the case with Estonia.

Concerning the handling of the case, I believe that many Estonians feel that their country has been unrightly accused of homophobia. However, if turning the argument around, it should perhaps be flattering for Estonia that Western public opinion has obviously held Estonia highly and had expected something "better." High expectations may be one explanation that reactions have been so stern.

As for the Dutch ambassador's couple in Estonia, the Netherlands is far from the only country that have so called "registered partnerships." My own country, Sweden, is one instance, and I know several Swedish homosexual diplomats, including ambassadors, who are married in this way. For me, this is quite normal, not least because the percentage of gay in the diplomatic corps - almost regardless of country - for some reason is higher than in the population at large. That an increasing number of EU ambassadors live in registered partnerships is all the more becoming a reality. So, why not face reality and change diplomatic decorum. Would people get affronted by such a thing? If gay couples are becoming a natural part of society, why should this not be reflected by diplomatic practices. The other way around is indeed very awkward. Therefore, I am happy to hear that Estonia's president received the couple when, I take it, the ambassador's letter of accreditation was handed over.

Finally, as for the case, accusations of homophobia are today almost as difficult to deal with as those of antisemitism. Although I do not wish to compare the two, the logic is similar. Say, purely hypothetically, that the Dutch ambassador had been a Jew and had accused Estonia of antisemitism. I guess that the same type of Estonian public reactions in that case would have been extremely devastating to Estonia. Dealing with cases like this needs sound judgement and moderation regardless of whether you feel accusations are well-founded or not. Thus, I believe that some Estonian reactions have made the matter worse instead of soothing the issue, consequently drawing even more critique. Whether this is just or unjust, I happily leave for others to judge. I just think that the affair could have been handled better.



Anonymous said...

Vilhelm, it is not the question where it happened: in Estonia, or Zimbabwe, or Sweden, or Ukraine. My main remark was that it is very ridiculous that someone put his personal interests above official ones. I am 100% sure that Dutch government (or Queen, whoever is more important) are not very happy what Mr.Glaubitz did. According to some rumors, he first sent out the story to media without even consulting with his employer, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Well, there are many freedoms to be exercised, but that one should be done a little bit carefully and with good judgement.

Another thing that disturbed me...yes, that it happened in Estonia...somewhere in or near Russia (sorry Estonians, no insult absolutely here!), where in many people's minds Ukraine belongs as well. It drives me crazy when absolutely absurd stories like this (and which don't tell the truth about ex-Soviet countries) sustain the negative opinion about our region.

Mr.Glaubitz should apologize to Estonia and resign from the Ministry!

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Oleksandr (Cherolex),

Perhaps it is a display of how the freedom of information enables people to form their own opinion that you - situated in Canada - obviously have been able to do so freely and independently to the general international media storm against Estonia.

As for myself, I can but reiterate how amazed I am that such a small story - really only a news review - has attracted such attention. It is by now probably one of the most commented stories I have written if including the not very nice comments I have suppressed. I cannot help wondering why.

As for the actual case, I would welcome if you - who have obviously followed it closely - could write about it on your blog "Messages from Canada." Comment discussions tend to be fragmented, why a fuller coverage would be interesting to read. As for myself, I think the subject is too much off topic for my blog to make the effort relative to other pieces I want to write.

Concerning the real case, the heart of the matter is really not whether the Dutch ambassador is right or not. The core issue is how the matter has been dealt with publicly. One reason why it has been blown out of proportions is probably that Estonia has not been very skilled at handling the affair in relation to international media.

One may feel that Estonia has been unnecessarily tarnished by these accusations. However, I feel this is beside the point. We do not live in the best of worlds, and "il faut cultiver son jardin."

What I mean to say is simply that the right media strategy is to deal with such accusations as if they were real. Then you are much more in a position to get your message through. Were it to be as you say that "Mr.Glaubitz should apologize to Estonia and resign from the Ministry," rejecting all accusations as fabricated will only serve to strengthen his case. If taking accusations seriously, you get in a much better position to deal with them, and eventually show that they are unfounded - if so would be the case.

One thing with some unpublished comments in this thread is that I have been appauled by their blatant homophobia. -Thank god you are not one of those. Although these homophobic comments are obviously written by Estonians, I resent the assumption that this would in any way be representative for the Estonia I know.

However, it also makes me reflect that occasions like this may well serve the interests of various crackheads - in Estonia and elsewhere - to display their sordid views also on the international arena. The impression this gives may well serve to "sustain the negative opinion about our region."

This is not how we want it to be, so perhaps one lesson is that governments and media in "Eastern Europe" have to better learn how to handle the mechanisms of international media. Or else, the flood of negative stories from the region will only keep on flowing.



moonlitetwine said...

Gentlemen, Vilhelm and Cherolex,
Truly, you are amazed at the amazing - why so many are taking issue at homo/hetera sexism and phobias.

Surely, I am a woman and realize I am not so strong and moralistic as the two of you. Therefore, I am insistent upon playing Abba's "Greatest Hits Albumn" as I write. I am listening to "Dancing Queen" now and am having a problem not dancing along with the tune. But....

However, I have a state insight, which you fail to mention and may add to your scratching of heads. At about the same date, the US President strongly denounced homosexualism in the press. Is there a connectedness here?

Next, just before checking out your site, I received an IM from a kid, evidently a result of the use of my computer by my 13 year son. A child of 12, according to his statement, sent pics from a oft visited by children site:

So, it seems homo/hetra sexism and phobia is a BIG issue here in the US.

On a personal note, I was most excited to begin working at a locally owned shop here in the Midwest. I worked only a couple of days there and was told, "We will call you." That didn't happen and put me back financially. As it happened, my supervisor was also 'let go.' She is somewhat openly lesbian. My resume includes, indirectly, my support of the gay community. Hmm. Is there a connectedness there?

I repeat my statement, which can be read on my moonlitetwine blogger: the fence has been already built. The gate toward openness and discussion has a trap door.

It is the work of all people possessing ability to keep the flow coming, as you two are so doing here. I applaud the two of you. This compliment and waving onward is not an easy thing for me to put down in print, nor is it manufactured.

Just as woman fights for the continued right over her own body, let us continue to be open and frank in matters of homosexualism.

Thank you to you both. You give me hope.

-ann klein

by the way, I have a small tribute to Elton John on my kleinsmall blogger. He is the first openly gay international personality to my accounting. I listened to "Holy Moses" with newness on the day my president announced his disires to change my constitution, adding an amendment "outlawing gay marriage."