A few days have passed since events around Tamar Iveri, a Georgian opera singer, have escalated. I followed the matter with interest; in parts because I like a good show as much as anyone, but mainly because of the dynamics it revealed. It made people speak out who usually keep silent. At first glance, the event has shown a huge support for LGBTQ rights, nonetheless, I’m hesitant to shout “Victory!” My issue is not Mrs. Iveri, an opera singer I didn’t know before the events came to my attention; my problem are the people whose mind she speaks. I think they are far from being a dwindling minority.
A brief summary
The chain of events, as I understood:
In 2013, Mrs. Iveri wrote an open letter to the president of Georgia. It is a hate-mail full of racist and homophobic slurs. More on it later. [x]
Excerpt: ” […] the fact is that cancer metastases need to be removed in the beginning of the process and any possible ways to do so are accepted in medicine. If you ignore it today…. tomorrow they will demand same-sex marriages, the day after tomorrow they will require rights for adoption. And I really do not want Georgia, a place that I am always happy to visit, to resemble certain blocks of Amsterdam.”
Later in 2013, she was interviewed by a Georgian magazine, and provided more like-spirited material. (The translation is Google-Translate-poetry.) No mention of her husband’s contribution there: [x]
In 2014, a member of the Georgian LGBT rights movement translated the letter, and it was brought to the attention of Opera Australia, her employer at the time.
On 20 June 2014, she made a statement, which reads as follows. (I made a screenshot in case it disappears.) [x]
In brief: In her statement she claims her husband wrote the letter. (Highly unlikely; she never mentioned it in the interview, nor at any other time before this statement.) They both claim [x] that it was written in an emotionally tasking time, that the parade it mentions was conflicting with a memorial held for fallen soldiers – which has by now been debunked; the events didn’t even take place on the same day: [x]
A spokesman of the Georgian LGBT community made a statement: [x]
A petition on change.org shed a light on the extent of outrage the issue had provoked so far: [x]
On June 23, or the day before, Opera Australia decided to cancel the contract. After – and that’s the bit that makes me go “meh” – sponsors had uttered their concerns.
Unrelated: I even found her wedding video – I’ve done my research. [x]
A very good wrap-up of the matter I read over at “Diva knows best”: [x]
Call it a draw
So, the opera world has spoken, hasn’t it? Well, yes. The sacking of Mrs. Iveri was celebrated as a huge success for the part of society that believes that all people should have equal rights, and no one should have a drawback because of where they come from, what colour of skin they have, or who they choose to live their lives with. However, this is only true at first glance. To equal parts, the whole affair brought another issue to the surface: the huge amount of people who see a kindred spirit in Mrs. Iveri, a heroine even for voicing what others only think. She back-pedaled a lot during the past week, but this only confirms her supporters that she is in fact the victim, bashed for voicing her beliefs.
If you’re in high spirits, you just have to read the comments on Mrs. Iveri’s page, now that most protesters have moved on, as they have got what they wanted: the making of an example, and the sacking of Mrs. Iveri.
Let’s look at the comments by Mr. Bouman. When I try to breathe calmly, count to 100, focus on the last comment, and then try to think, I have to concede … He has a tiny point there. (“Holland” is optional.) I need to explain what I mean, and I will only talk about potential opera audiences for now, not of the general public: The petition to sack Mrs. Iveri had gained 4,698 supporters. Now let’s take a look at Mrs. Iveri’s page “likes”, most of them amassed during the last couple of days:
I think you begin to see my point. For comparison: The outstanding tenor Ian Bostridge only has around 5.400 page likes: [x]
Opinion vs. Human Rights
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
William Shakespeare, Othello, Jago
Many have lost their good name in the process: First, let’s name the original victims: The LGBT community, defamed as “cancer” and “feces” in the original slur. For many, her words, in turn, will be a stain on Mrs. Iveri that no amount of makeup can conceal. Then the Opera Australia acted late – some say too late. Most definitely, it didn’t exactly cover itself in glory.
A phrase I often heard during the last week was “freedom of speech,” but just as with “phobia” – I am not quite sure people have understood the concept.
Let me stress: What is often called her – and others’ – “opinion” or “belief” is in fact conflicting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNO Resolution #217 A (III), dated 10 December 1948) [x]. It is simple: Individuals who find their “beliefs” to be conflicting with these articles should seriously question their “beliefs.”
#1 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
#7 All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
– Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Even more shocking that views conflicting with this basic concept seem to appeal to many. What I am saying is: Mrs. Iveri isn’t a one-in-a-million – in my humble opinion not even voice-wise – and surely not concerning her views. For the many who seem to agree with her, their only criticism might be her use of vocabulary. My opinion coincides with a note I got on Tumblr a few days ago:
I agree. However, what shocks me more is the apparent number of homophobes and racists among the opera audiences. This I wouldn’t have expected, and it expands the issue: It is definitely not a singular phenomenon that will pass when Mrs. Iveri has boarded the plane. It’s an issue that will stay present.
It is hard for me not to pick on the style, but on the content only; a pimped Google translate is no measure for the actual skill level of the original author. I won’t so much argue against what she is saying, rather do I want to show that she is not alone in her opinion. I will stick to a very few examples.
(Letter published under Mrs. Iveri’s name)
This excerpt follows a proven chain of argument (fill in “gays,” “Jews,” “foreigners” or “people of colour,” it doesn’t even matter; it is always the same pattern). If you still have troubles seeing the scape of it, try to replace “gays” with “men” or “females.”
The chain of argument goes as follows:
#1 There isn’t any oppression.
#2 But gays are cute! I love gays, one of my friends is gay!
#3 But it’s deviant really./They are not like “us.”
#4 And why do they have to flaunt it?
I have heard that more times that I can count. (And after more than 25 years that I consider myself politically interested, I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.)
After dealing with #1 to #4, she lets us in on her “medical” knowledge, stating that 6 % of gay people are born gay, the rest could be cured – maybe the treatment would involve being forced to look at her Photoshop-marvels [x], I don’t know.
I would like to mention that she seems to totally blot out that there are female homosexuals, too. This shows a certain internalized misogyny as well as her focus of interest. The exclusive attention on one topic seemingly of marginal interest for the person in combination with the extreme emotional response is classical for any bigot who claims to be disgusted, but is really turned on. Let me link you to my favourite study on the matter: Homophobic Men Most Aroused by Gay Male Porn
Let’s focus on the theory with numbers conjured out of thin air about “acquired” homosexuality. Google is sometimes the best means to determine what the majority has to say or wants to believe – the general public, not exclusively the ones who attend opera performances. In this case, it is unmistakable:
Let’s note: 2 vs 2, victory by points for the ranking for the ones who agree with Mrs. Iveri. Now for the opera audiences. This is what her page looks like right now:
Another excerpt from the infamous letter:
I’m having a hard time ignoring Google Translate there and pushing from my mind the image of someone making someone else proud in a manly manner, but to the point: The claim that acquisition of equal rights equals a decline of “morals” and marks the decadence of a society in total I heard often. Today, the majority in France is still against granting gay people adoption rights. FN just won the European elections. (I am simply too lazy to fish out quotes from the last French election.) Here in Stuttgart, Germany, there was a huge discussion last year about whether the Neues Schloß (“New Palace”, currently used by State Ministries of Finance and Education) should bear a rainbow flag for Christopher Street Day. Hilariously, some politicians demanded “neutrality” on the matter. There as well, the decision was made in favour of equality. Can you spot the flag that caused so much outrage?
But back to Mrs. Iveri. Outstanding are not Mrs. Iveri’s views, but her choice of words, which makes her the heroine of people who think likewise but daren’t put it like this of course, because of their brain getting in the way. To say that a gay pride parade of, according to her, 50 people (reports vary down to the number of 16 in total) is a cancer that needs to be cut out from the flesh before it starts to grow bears more than a scary resemblance to the wording en vogue in the Third Reich. At present, even the right-right-wing NPD in Germany tends to avoid such pitfalls of rhetoric. To claim that a part of the population, by simply being who they are, create a danger to society… that rings a bell:
But let’s move on:
Let’s just take a moment: There was a memorial (on another day) for fallen soldiers. People died. People died because there is war and hate in the world. And the (I don’t know if fictional) man she quotes is concerned about his child’s mind being “corrupted” by a 16-50 people gay pride parade? Excuse me while I … The precious afternote, suggesting that the president wanted all the population to bend over in order to be butt-f*cked by the NATO (if I got this correctly) shows again a kind of obsession with sex+violence; her anal fixation I will leave to Sigmund to deal with.
What makes Mrs. Iveri’s rant exceptional, again, is the likeness of her choice of words – and train of thought – to famous predecessors. Pure blood …
… and elevating one’s private warfare to a higher goal, labeling a fringe group as part of The Enemy. A classic of scapegoat politics.
I haven’t said, nor do I say now, that Mrs. Iveri resembles Hitler in any way – that’s putting the cart before the horse. On the contrary: Hitler (and his ghostwriter Goebbels) were perfectionists in picking up vox populi. In German, we also say “Vox populi, vox Rindvieh” (voice of the people, voice of a bullock), and well, yes, it’s true. The issue around Mrs. Iveri isn’t apt to make me think better of the majority. Mrs. Iveri is not alone, she can count on a huge backup of like-minded people.
Of course, neither then nor now do large parts of the population want people to die in gas chambers. Yet the recurring pattern is self-entitlement of a “race” or nation, of “decent” people, of one group of people that wants to deny another basic human rights. To create a “we” against a “them” and use it to split society is the essence of populism. Hitler used populism as a weapon; many politicians do it up to the present day [x]. Mrs. Iveri doesn’t use populism the way Hitler did; her letter only shows a very unreflected, gullible personality. While people like Goebbels knew where to hit with a single shot, and left all others in the hope the the bullet would hit another and spare them, her letter is the equivalent of someone brandishing an MP5 they found in the attic, causing all sensible bystanders to go like “Wooohooo, just put it down slowly, will you?”
It’s not over
A lot of discussion has been arising because Opera Australia took their time to act. (The Opera in Brussels acted before the OA did. [x]) By now, you might see a possibility why that might be the case. From a heartless, economic point of view, it doesn’t matter if the 5.6 k people who liked Mrs. Iveri’s page or an almost equal amount who signed the petition to sack her will come to the theatre. Opera Australia isn’t a homophobic organisation. Its phobia is that of dwindling audiences in times where it takes creativity to have a full house in any opera. I’m not saying this to excuse their behaviour. I’m glad that even sponsors of the OA have determined that regardless of short-term return-on-investment even, racism and homophobia isn’t what they want to support or what they want their company to stand for. That the OA just followed their hint, and didn’t take the lead, as it seems, is more than a little disappointing. The MET seems to follow a similar guideline, maybe in an attempt to secure both sides of the spectrum by a kind of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Personally, for a sweet penalty, I would demand the OA to stick to the following list of composers that Limelight suggests, at least for a season: [x]
As an opera, you create a world, and an environment, not only on stage, but beyond it. As management, you are king of the castle, and have a huge part in determining what kind of world this is supposed to be. It’s important that the management backs up the artists – all of them. Open racism seems on the decline; homophobia still is an issue. It has been a long time in Western Europe since an opera singer had to fear to be sacked for being an out homosexual. The system works differently, and more subtly – just like misogyny when it comes to employment.
Three cheers for artists who always were outspoken for equality, like Rinat Shaham, Ian Bostridge, or Erwin Schrott. The whole issue and what it revealed shows that they risk losing half of their audience with their clearly voiced opinion or not gaining it in the first place. I would guess though that this is a deal they gladly accept.
I would wish for the opera world as a whole to take the opportunity, make a statement, and to be a bastion of equality, ahead of its time.
„Wir stehen selbst enttäuscht und sehn betroffen
Den Vorhang zu und alle Fragen offen. […]
Verehrtes Publikum, los, such dir selbst den Schluss!
Es muss ein guter da sein, muss, muss, muss!“
“We’re disappointed too. With consternation
We see the curtain closed, the plot unended. […]
There must, there must, be some end that would fit.
Ladies and gentlemen, help us look for it!”
Bertolt Brecht, Der gute Mensch von Sezuan/The Good Person of Szechwan, translation via [x]