Report on the 35th INF Congress 2016
The Wellington Naturist Club (WNC) hosted the 35th INF Congress from November 16 to 19, 2016. From the start, the corps of volunteers who fed, accommodated, transported, entertained, and who welcomed us as only Kiwis can are an amazing, passionate group of people to whom I can only say THANK YOU over and over again. Those two words barely begin to convey my heartfelt appreciation for the warmth and over the top attention they brought to the tiniest detail as our Congress hosts.
Before the Congress opened, we attended a health and wellness lecture and workshop with Phillip Beach. Phillip is an osteopath and acupuncturist, as well as a naturist, who focuses on wholistic health. He spoke about how many humans as a species do not sit on the floor and connect with the earth. He discussed how our feet need to walk au naturel, or removed from the "foot prisons", our shoes.
Opening ceremonies the first afternoon began with the Māori Powhiri (pronounced pofeery). A powhiri is a Māori welcoming ceremony involving speeches, singing and the hongi. The hongi is a greeting done by pressing one's nose and forehead to another person at the same time. The hongi is where life's breath is shared or intermingled. Each delegate was then given a blessed green stone, a Pounamu, placed over our heads by the president of the INF, Sieglinde Ivo. Then, one by one, delegates and observers on the visitors' side made their way to the hosts' side, greeting each person with the hongi, saying the traditional "kia ora", which means good health, or more simply, hello.
The opening ceremony was a unique privilege to be a part of, and was very special. Unfortunately, the subversive and uninterested attitude of the Executive Committee (EC) of the INF set an unwelcome tone over the Congress during the ceremony. The President of the INF, Sieglinde Ivo, did not have the courtesy to complete the ceremony, but instead stepped off to the side when the women were filing forward to participate in the hongi. Perhaps she felt she would be unnoticed as she carefully moved to the back of the room and away from the ceremonies but this was noticed by all. It was an incredible shock and disappointing to witness her rude and disrespectful action, and others shared the same feelings.
To complete the welcome, dinner was a Māori Hāngi (pronunciation: ['ha:ηi]) This is a traditional New Zealand Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit. The "rocks" used by the gentleman who prepared the pit were old train brake shoes, and they were very effective in holding the heat, we were told.
The Congress opened on Thursday, November 17th. We were welcomed by the New Zealand Federation President, Wendy Lowe. Ken Mercer, the Wellington Naturist Club President, also gave his welcome, and finally, the Mayor of Upper Hutt, Wayne Guppy, completed the official welcome from New Zealand. The keynote speaker, Melissa Moon, is a champion mountain runner, cross country runner and stair runner. She spoke about motivation, focus, health and perseverance. The INF President, Sieglinde Ivo, then welcomed the 19 delegates to the Congress.
Prior to the Congress, a workshop questionnaire sheet was sent out to the federations. While there were only a few responses, it was announced that the workshop, which was to have been early in the agenda, would be pushed back to the end of the Congress "for timing reasons". From previous experience at the Congress, these workshops are usually a good way for the federations to brainstorm, and have been well received in the past. The general feeling is that the workshop was pushed to the end so that any results from it would not have to be addressed by the members of the EC, face to face with the federations. It has become almost trademark that the EC no longer listens to federation suggestions or requests, despite the fact that the INF is there FOR the federations, as the federations are there for their own members.
Motions are put forth prior to the Congress. Usually, regular meeting protocol has been followed in the past, but this Congress ignored much of the regular protocol and procedure, resulting in the EC shutting down conversation when they did not like the direction it was going in. Again, in previous experience, the chair of a meeting remains neutral to decisions and must remain that way in order to successfully chair the meeting in an organized way. Too often, the Vice President Secretariat, Jean Peters, would do his best to shut down a discussion, always citing the statutes for his reason for ending a discussion. It became clear that the direction of this Congress would be endless and confused discussion of rules and statutes instead of good and positive discussion about the promotion of naturism on an international level.
British Naturism brought some good motions to the table. The motions were voted on and accepted. One motion, to introduce new INF-FNI leadership (volunteer) positions to promote and protect naturism, was unanimously accepted. Their reasons for bringing this motion to the table were that the EC, having involved themselves almost solely with the running of the organization, would be better able to delegate responsibilities, focus on the main challenges, and increase the possibility of bringing about the INF-FNI working plan, which was introduced in 2012. Another is to allocate financial provisions for academic research of naturism, which would come from resources currently in the bank, but no longer needed for the original purpose. This motion supports the previous motion of promotion and protection of naturism.
It should be noted here that months prior to the Congress, Stéphane Déschenes resigned from the board of the INF, as the non-European assessor. He wrote an open letter to the INF and to the world's federations, citing the difficulties he had introducing new thoughts and ideas to the INF. He stated being stonewalled, effectively, by the constant mantra that everything was "tradition", and had "always been done that way". Even though there was a motion from the Swiss Federation to discuss his communication, this was not permitted to happen. Was the EC afraid to bring realities to light?
The Australian Naturist Federation moved that the INF should go to a country vote, meaning one vote per country, something that has been discussed at previous Congresses. Currently, votes are distributed among the federations, based on the number of members in each federation. Therefore, Holland had 34 votes at this recent Congress, whereas Canada had 6. The Dutch are avid naturists, numbering approximately 35000 members. By contrast, Thailand, a new federation, had only one vote, Australia and New Zealand both had 6, Italy had 10, France and Germany had 25 each, Ireland had 2, and the UK had 14. This is to name only a few of the federations in attendance, but this method of vote distribution has been in existence at the Congress from the beginning. When the vote for the motion was taken, it was defeated, based on the current vote distribution system. When a country vote was taken, but only for the sake of argument, the motion would have passed. Clearly it is time for the INF-FNI to review its procedures for a more fair, democratic process.
Listing all of the motions here would be tedious. The minutes from the Congress will be distributed in due time, and will be published on the FCN website, including results and discussion thereof.
As with every Congress, there is usually an election. Positions with the INF-FNI are for four year terms. At this election, the current President, Sieglinde Ivo and the current Vice President Treasurer, Rolf Beat Hostettler, were at the end of their terms. There had been no nominations prior to the Congress, but when asked at the beginning of the elections, two nominations were made. One was for the President's chair. The nomination came from the New Zealand Federation, naming Armand Jamier, the President of the French Federation. The second was for Wendy Lowe, President of the New Zealand Federation, for the position of Treasurer.
Just at the start of the elections, the Danish delegate was obliged to depart the Congress. He gave his votes, plus those of the Swedish and Norwegian federations that he had proxy for, to the Thai representative. However, as the Thai delegate could not hold more than three countries' votes, the Danish delegate then gave the Danish votes to the New Zealand federation. Both times, permission was granted for these proxies to be held as described by Vice President Secretary Jean Peters, who was now chairing the meeting. This was confirmed and agreed upon by the delegates who were present with no objections raised.
Before Armand Jamier left the room, he confirmed with the Secretary, Jean Peters, that France would still be able to cast a vote. This was also confirmed by another delegate. He asked for, and was given, permission to allow Louis Cotard, from France, to cast the vote on his behalf. It must be noted here that the statutes confer votes on the federations, not the individual who is holding up the voting card.
There were a total of 203 votes among the federations at this particular Congress. When the votes were cast and then counted, the results for the position of President were 104 for Armand Jamier, 99 for Sieglinde Ivo.
The results for the position of Treasurer were 138 for Rolf Beat Hostettler, 65 for Wendy Lowe.
While the votes clearly showed a win for Armand, Sieglinde was still the President until the end of this Congress. However, she did not resume the position of chair of the meeting, and Jean Peters concluded the Congress. It was not clear why she did not finish her duties initially.
It was clear that the EC did not expect the vote to turn out this way. Originally, there had been a note that the Luxembourg federation was planning to host the 2018 Congress. When it was brought up, asking if there was a presentation from the federation and if this is where the next Congress was to be held, Jean Peters immediately responded with "we'll have to think about it". Jean Peters' wife was the delegate for the Luxembourg federation. At this time, there is no venue secured for the 2018 Congress.
The outrage that was expressed by the Italian delegates before and right after the vote and the closing of the Congress was a surprise. The president of the Italian federation had stated, prior to the vote, that Armand should "stay home", and mind the affairs of his own federation. The Italian delegate who was representing the German federation, made it clear that she "could not" vote for Armand, because according to her, Armand had been asked previously whether he would run for president. Again, according to her, he apparently said he was not, so at this time she stated that "he could not be trusted". Not only did they not attend the closing gala that evening, but neither did Sieglinde Ivo, Jean Peters, and their respective spouses. Word came back to us, discreetly, that they were not going to accept this and would do their best to undermine Armand Jamier.
We did not know this at the end of the Congress, and many delegates attended the workshop after the close of the Congress, the workshop that was to have been a part of the agenda. There was a good feeling of camaraderie and cooperation among the federations at this workshop. The items of discussion were:
- What points would you like to see changed at the INF-FNI?
- In which areas can the INF-FNI improve?
- The name EuNat is not logical for countries outside Europe. Even though everyone is welcome at EuNat events, it is thought that EuNat is only for Europeans. Should we then consider changing the name so that it is clear to non-Europeans also?
Our new president elect, Armand Jamier, attended. Claudia Kellersch had attended the Congress in the hopes that there could have been a discussion regarding AANR's possible return to the INF fold, but there had not been any opportunity, nor was the INF-FNI interested in having this discussion. Huub Giesen, the European assessor, "chaired" the workshop, and the non-European assessor, Kay Hannam, was also in attendance.
The areas of change and improvement that were discussed at this workshop included more use of social media, more presented research on naturism, and more initiated communication, reaching out to the federations. The INF is still seen as very Euro-centric. With the change of presidents, we were sure that the direction of the INF could be refocused.
That evening the closing party was the Black and White gala, and the New Zealand federation and The Wellington Naturist Club did a tremendous job for this event. It was an elegant and fun affair. People dressed up in their best, keeping to the theme. As the party went on, eventually it looked much more like a naturist party as people disrobed and we danced naked.
We were celebrating at that time, convinced that we as a group had effected a positive change to the INF. Change has been needed in the INF, as the organization has not been responding to the world's evolving views, means of communication and with proactive initiatives toward the furtherance of naturism. The INF website has remained stale, with little change except for changing contact information. We were optimistic that positive change had finally happened.
Upon returning to Canada, communication among the delegates began to heat up.The EC had communicated that "some federations" complained that the election results were incorrect due to the handling of proxies. The New Zealand federation sent a letter to the INF, stating that the election was held in the spirit of democracy and respect, in response to the EC communication. The EC advised that the matter was being turned over to the Legal Council for review, and there could possibly be the need for another vote. Despite the fact that it was clear at the time of the elections that the proxies HAD been addressed, that the handling of them was accepted at the time, but then that this was being turned over based on the complaints of "some federations", it has become clear that the current EC was bent on keeping Sieglinde Ivo in the president's chair. The South African federation and the Canadian federation both wrote letters of support for the New Zealand letter. The Canadian letter did not reach the INF, as it was blocked. Given that the Thailand federation advised that their communications had also been blocked, it was clear that the EC had made their decision and were following through with their plan to undermine the new president and unseat him.
The Legal Council's decision came through just before Christmas. The vote was turned over. Sieglinde Ivo was reinstated as the "interim" president until a new vote can be held by next July.
The future of the International Naturist Federation remains uncertain, in the opinion of the writer. The majority of the communication before and after the Legal Council's decision has been among New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., Canada, Brazil, Thailand, and South Africa. In short, these are mostly the smaller and non-European federations. We have not heard from any of the Scandinavian federations, nor the European ones. The non-European federations have long felt they are not really "accounted for", per se. What does this tell us? The Americans, who were reconsidering joining the INF, will certainly not do so now in the face of this desperate move of the EC to maintain their status quo. What is their reason for this?
Finally, this is NOT what naturism is about. The official, INF definition of naturism reads as follows:
"Naturism is a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment."
Is this what the international face of naturism has become? A bureaucracy? What are the people within the EC clinging to so desperately?? We are ALL volunteers and naturists! What makes the INF so different from the world's federations that they have become so grasping, closed and willing to do whatever they can to avoid change?? What are they doing there??? This is the opinion of the writer, but what are they hiding??? Why????
Only the months ahead will hopefully yield the answers we seek. During that time, the FCN and the FQN must look ahead to their own members and to promoting, advocating, supporting and protecting naturism here at home. Some things are clear. Like the INF, the FCN's and the FQN's boards are also older. We must be careful that we do not get caught up in the business of running a board at the price of losing our direction and focus. We also have the challenges that social media, reaching out to our members and being proactive are staring us in the face. Our meetings are necessary, in order to stay in touch with each other as board members, and the organization and procedure of our meetings is important, in order to avoid the mess and waste of time that was experienced at the Congress. While we do not cling to some trumped up notions of authority and prestige, we cannot cling to "how things used to be". Our future is right now.
Canadian Delegate for the 2016 INF Congress
Federation of Canadian Naturists