The graphic selfies from inside the Swiss parliament
- 24 August 2014
- From the section Magazine
What's going on in Swiss politics? Or, rather, what's coming off? Throughout this cool, damp summer, hot and steamy stories have been emerging from Switzerland's parliament - in the form of some very graphic naked selfies.
First there was a series of selfies from a parliamentary secretary, taken in her office inside parliament.
Were they stolen from her? Leaked to the public by an unscrupulous colleague?
Why no, she posted them on twitter herself - admitting all the while that she was terrified one of her parliamentary co-workers might find out.
Well, since she had 11,000 followers on Twitter that didn't take long, and the pictures did of course find their way into the papers.
There is no disguising the familiar, staid, matronly shape of the parliamentary furniture in the background - although once those pictures reached the media, that was the only shape that was recognisable, since everything in the foreground was so graphic, it had to be pixelated into invisibility.
The case caused a brief debate in Switzerland - was it permissible to take such pictures at work?
Surely, some argued, taking photos of yourself naked was a private matter? But, quicker than you might a drop a hat, or indeed any other item of clothing, her bosses decided the secretary's behaviour was inappropriate, and she was divested of her job.
But the matter didn't stop there: this week a Swiss member of parliament and city mayor, Geri Muller, has also been found taking selfies.
This is a man who regularly adorns the studios of the political chat shows, he's a darling of the left, he's a man we've all interviewed.
Now we know far more than any of us wanted to know about him: he has been sending worryingly revealing pictures of himself via WhatsApp to an online friend.
Some of the pictures were taken and sent in his mayor's office, one was even sent from the debating chamber of the Swiss parliament - although we're told reassuringly, the picture was actually taken somewhere more private.
Unfortunately perhaps for Muller his pictures, and the more than suggestive texts that accompanied them, were kept by his female friend even after the relationship cooled.
He wanted them back, she didn't oblige, he called the police, and soon enough the story was all over the papers.
And so a humbled politician appeared at a packed press conference.
Tears in his eyes, voice breaking, he apologised, he told us he was thoroughly ashamed.
We were beginning to feel sorry for him, until he hastened to add that the WhatsApp exchanges hadn't been about sex at all.
Oh no, he and his friend had been having "an intellectual conversation about a book project on erotic fantasies".
At this point a muttered chorus of "Pull the other one" could be heard.
Politicians in trouble
•In September 2006 US Congressman Mark Foley resigned after it was revealed he had sent sexually explicit e-mails to men as young as 16 who were on his staff
•In June 2011 US Congressman Anthony Weiner (pictured) resigned after sending lewd photographs to several women on Twitter
•In July 2013 Weiner's bid for the Democratic nomination in New York's Mayoral election was derailed after it emerged he had been sexting a woman
•Later the same month Louisiana politician Joe Stagni apologised after an image of him in his underwear turned up on the city council's computer - he admitted sending it to a city employee and having an "inappropriate" relationship with her
So what do these cases tell us about Swiss politics?
Are they even more boring than we suspected? Is removing their clothes and taking photographs the only highlight in the everyday tedium of Swiss politicians and their staff?
Interestingly the Swiss media are now engaged in an intense bout of soul-searching about whether #selfiegate should have been reported on at all.
In Switzerland the domain known as the "privatsphaere" is still, to many, sacrosanct.
It means more than the usual definition of the right to privacy. It's a belief that what happens in your home, or outside of work is for you alone, and no-one, not the police, not the social services, and certainly not the media, should have access.
This attachment to personal privacy is at the root of all sorts of aspects of Swiss life, from banking secrecy to the slowness with which Switzerland introduced laws against domestic violence.
Your money, and the way you treat your wife, are - the thinking goes - your business, and no one else's.
In fact what this case suggests to me is that there is still one rule for powerful men, and another for ordinary women.
The parliamentary secretary was suspended from her job, the politician, although temporarily relieved of his mayoral duties, will stay in the national parliament.
"We'll have forgotten about it in a couple of weeks," said one loyal colleague.
Personally I'm not so sure - just as Bill Clinton and cigars remain inextricably linked for many, I think it's going to be hard to watch this politician debating in parliament and not remember him, sitting in his mayor's office with his smart phone, wearing only a T-shirt.
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