Monday, March 17, 2008

Fairweather Citizen

In a March 11 press conference in Tokyo, Martina Navratilova announced that she had reclaimed her Czech citizenship on January 9, 2008. She gave as her reason that she has become disillusioned with President Bush. She said that in fleeing Czechoslovakia, all she had done was exchange one kind of oppression for another. And so she decided to be Czech again.

At first reading, one might get the impression that Navratilova has decided that she no longer wants to be an American. But in reality, nowhere has she stated any intention to stop reaping the many benefits of American citizenship. What she has done is reclaimed her roots. In theory I have no problem with this. I just wish Navratilova had gone about this in a psychologically healthier way.

The truth is that Navratilova never voluntarily gave up her original citizenship. It was unceremoniously stripped from her after she defected to the US at age 18. Despite the murmurs about her sexual orientation, America embraced her. She was given a green card one month after her defection and became a US citizen six years later. She in turn demonstrated her commitment to the US by playing for America in the 1981 Federation Cup event against Czechoslovakia. The event was held in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Talking about spitting in your face. There was no doubting Navratilova’s loyalty.

And Navratilova has over the years been deeply critical of Czechoslovakia. She said that in 1975 – the year she defected – gays and lesbians were routinely placed in insane asylums. Coming out of the closet was not an option. Indeed, Navratilova only came out after she became an American citizen. At that time, her own father stated that he would have preferred her to be a prostitute. In America, despite claiming to be bisexual, Navratilova has had several public affairs with women, reportedly with the novelist, Rita Mae Brown, and most infamously with the former Texas beauty queen, Judy Nelson, who sued her for palimony after their relationship ended.

But now, in explanation of her decision to regain her original citizenship, Navratilova is claiming that she is ashamed of President George Bush and his policies, especially his lack of support for gay and lesbian rights. This is such manipulative bullshit. I can only surmise that Navratilova might have been counting on George Bush’s unpopularity to help deflect attention away from any close examination of her decision, and the deep well of ingratitude that it implies. So she blamed Bush.

Whatever his failings – and they are many – I have never heard anyone before accuse George Bush of setting back gay and lesbian rights to the state they were in Czechoslovakia. On the contrary, the vice-president’s daughter is not only openly gay, but she has been willing to engage an open dialogue about the differences between her views and her father’s. She has never been silenced by her father or his boss.

But to hear Navratilova tell it, she might as well not have left Czechoslovakia. And she has been carping on this crap for several years. In 2002 she told a German newspaper: “The most absurd part of my escape from the unjust system is that I have exchanged one system that suppresses free opinion for another. The Republicans in the US manipulate public opinion and sweep controversial issues under the table. It’s depressing. Decisions in America are based solely on the question of how much money will come out of it and not on the questions of how much health, morals or environment suffer as a result.” And last year Navratilova told the Czech daily, Lidove Noviny, that while she was once ashamed of Czechoslovakia, she now felt ashamed of the United States under Mr. Bush: “The thing is that we elected Bush. That is worse. Against that, nobody chose a communist government in Czechoslovakia”.

The defense mechanism that Navratilova is using to justify her behavior is called ‘splitting’. Psychologists use this term to explain the very unhealthy tendency to divide the world into all-good and all-bad. People who use splitting as a defense tend to view things in extreme polarities – as always either-or, black or white, good or evil.

When Navratilova fled Czechoslovakia in 1975, she couldn’t say enough bad things about that country. She repeatedly denounced its communist regime. She repudiated every aspect of its government and its policies. Now that she has decided that she wants to be Czech again, America under Bush has become all-bad.

Don’t get me wrong. There is much for which President Bush needs to be held accountable. But influencing a lesbian woman to reclaim her country-of-origin is not one of them. Navratilova is doing what Navratilova has always done – she is splitting in order to justify her decision. In the thirty plus years she has enjoyed the fruits of being American – including being one of the first openly gay individuals to receive corporate sponsorship from Subaru – Navratilova seems to have grown very little. What makes this especially sad is that I don’t for a moment believe that anyone would have begrudged her decision to make peace with her past. It is beyond pathetic that, at age 51, she was unable to find a healthy way to do so.

But perhaps Connie Chung said it best back in 2002 when, in response to Navratilova’s typical splitting, confronted her with, “I wanted to say, go back to Czechoslovakia. You know, if you don’t like it here, this is a country that gave you so much, gave you the freedom to do what you want”. Well it appears that Navratilova has done just that.


Your bloviating TennisTitan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
tennischick said...

sorry - i deleted the above by mistake and have no idea how to undo it. Oops!