A Slip of the tongue revealed all

Posted on | augustus 1, 2011 | No Comments

The homophobic remarks made by Surinamese Member of Parliament Ronnie Asabina (BEP) shocked disgusted and offended many people in Suriname and abroad. But Mr Asabina’s stance on homosexuality is not unique, he merely voiced his disdain on a lifestyle that he appears to find ‘ Western’ , urban and foreign, according to a later published posting by Bert Eersteling. Mr. Asabina’s hateful words set the clock on Surinamese human rights fifty years back, but his words also cloak the fact that homosexuals and homosexuality have always been present in Suriname, that Surinamese citizens have always been accepting of certain lifestyles, provided they occur outside the realm of the public eye. Mr. Asabina has since apologized, but the implications of his utterances symbolize a new trending in Suriname, that of born again Evangelicals and conservative political elements, from either lower class backgrounds or from rural areas, who contemplate on introducing a new moral conduct based on theology and interpretations of the scripture in society, interpretations that infringe upon the human rights of all citizens.

Homosexuality in Suriname
Homosexuality has always been part of the social space in Suriname, specifically among Black urban lone mothers, who engaged in a lesbian relationship out of pragmatism. Said relationships, have contributed to the sustenance of the Afro-Surinamese family during the greater part of the twentieth century. Gay relationships on the other hand, remained taboo until the 1980s; The Gay scene was a closed sub-culture in a society, determined by Machismo and male sexual prowess. Many gays operated unobtrusively, often married, engaging in secret relationships with other men. Men with female like mannerisms ran the risk of being harassed on the street, or being called ‘boeler’ queer, etc. by other less tolerant folk. People also deemed said behavior ‘funny’ and ‘amusing’, and therefore saw no harm in yelling and voicing hurtful words to people with (probably) different sexual preferences.

The change came paradoxically during the 1980s, during the period of military rule, with it’s predominantly leftist and atheist stance, that gave rise to a lively and modern Gay scene. This Gay scene inspired by the international aesthetic of Androgynous artists such as Prince, Boy George and Annie Lennox, and influences from Europe (crossing over of cultures), enriched Surinamese urban culture and furthermore put the country on the map as one of the most tolerant societies in the Caribbean. A democratic audit comparing different societies in the CARICOM, with new EU member states, showed that Suriname was one of the few nations to be tolerant towards homosexuality (Adama 2009). Despite the seeming tolerance, consecutive governments refused to specifically codify the rights of people falling outside the box of female-male matrimony. For example, Suriname consistently refuses to codify and protect spouses and children born out of common-law-marriages (set’ libi’ /samenwonen). Also respective Surinamese governments have failed to stiffen the penalties on sexual abuse of minorities, and slacks in its attempts to protect females against human trafficking and exploitation.

Human Rights and Homosexuality
Indeed consecutive Surinamese governments paid limited (at best!) attention to human rights, a fact that is cloaked by what is perceived as a strong and well organized civility. But the Surinamese civility operates in the realm of politics, deriving both its legitimacy and its leverage from existing political parties. Also relevant is the fact that the Surinamese civility is strongly grounded in the Middle classes, a class that has for the greater part elected not become engaged in what they perceive as the political debate.

The emergence of conservative and Evangelical elements in the political landscape can in part be attributed to the absence of a civil force apt to address existing controversies that mar society.

Did Ronnie Asabina not voice the opinion of many people in Suriname? According to the reaction by MP Carl Breeveld (DOE) and the Minister Alice Amafo, the government official who stood at the heart of this commotion, homosexuality is not accepted by people who live according to the Scriptures. The ruling coalition came to power assisted by a religious organization called Gemeente Gods Bazuin, headed by Steve Meye. It is up to this point unclear how many followers this church actually has, corollary how many citizens share these rather controversial viewpoints on homosexuality. There are strong indications that through the churches’ effort, block voting occurred, giving the MC (NDP) a head start in the 2010 elections. The obscurity of said suggestion hinges on the fact that it is hard to find out what actually transpired prior to the elections, because the churches are in fact closed bastions, with specific codes of conducts and mores. The use of theology to promise a people liberation from poverty has been the trajectory of confessional parties in the West and the East (Turley, AK-Party), has probably enticed many churchgoers to vote for the NDP, for Desi Bouterse. But in Suriname, the premise of the NDP is a different one, religiosity came into play as part of strategy to morally exonerate Mr Bouterse from the alleging of murder, human rights violations and narco-trafficking.

What has been less apparent, up to this point, is the fact that the DOE, a traditional middle class, splinter party has become part of this new monster coalition of political theologians. Its leader Carl Breeveld, who calls himself a preacher and religious leader, did not endorse Ronnie Asabina, but did defend his actions by arguing that homosexuality and religiosity can never go hand in hand. A closer look at the website of the GGB, reveals close ties between Mr Breeveld’ s organization Man mit Man and Steve Meye’s organization. Mr Breeveld has up to this point also displayed remarkable loyalty and good-will toward the incumbent government, instead of behaving like an opposition party, geared to control the actions of government.

Can one argue the emergence of a new type of civility, a conservative civility, with an equally conservative agenda, geared toward imposing certain mores and codes of conduct based on Biblical principles? The ramifications of the Mr Asabinas statement have not only uncovered the deep-seated intolerance and bigotry, but also the existence of what I qualify the existence of ultra conservative forces that use the bible in an attempt to impose certain values on society. Said attempts do not stem from concern and worry over the possible demoralization of society, but from the idea that the urban- city- culture is abject, western and possible colonial. This new conservative wind blowing in society has also ushered in a dormant but highly volatile schism between the urban (western) lifestyle and the rural (Marron) lifestyle. As Mr Eersteling puts it:

Behalve de politieke constellatie waarin de heer Asabina beweegt, weet ik ook heel goed welke traditionele (Aucaanse) opvoeding en vorming hij heeft gehad. De respectabele wijlen kapitein ‘Aduani’ alsook zijn oma ‘Ma Toopije’, hebben zoals ik die gekend heb geen andere morele-ethische normen en waarden op dit jonge talent overgebracht.

He goes on defending the statements by Ronnie Asabina, arguing that his statements referred to adoption by homosexual couples, but then continues to feign amnesia, stepping over the quintessence of Mr Asabina speech ‘that homosexuality should to be eradicated from society’.

In a macho culture such as Suriname, the rights of minorities, women, children and Gays always came as the afterthought of policy making. But how is the strength of a given government determined, if not by its ability to protect the weak and the vulnerable? In recent months, all sorts of commissions set out to strengthen control over society, over channels of information, curbing the freedoms and the rights of the citizens instead. Indeed the attempts by the minister of Social Affairs Mrs Amafo must be seen in the same light, an attempt to curb the freedoms of homosexuals, by turning homosexuality into an act of western lewdness, instead of working on what she actually claimed to be doing ‘democratic strengthening and protection of human rights’.

As the initial outcries are dying down, and the city goes back to business as usual, the fact remains that Ronnie Asabina’s slip of the tongue has taken out the issue of Homosexuality in Suriname out of the proverbial ‘closet’; the question however remains how this so called slip of the tongue will serve the plight of the Surinamese Gays and Lesbians in the near future.

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
URL: http://natascha23.blogspot.com
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@] yahoo.com


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