No one writes to the Colonel

MORALISTS MAKE HOMOSEXUALITY to be a modern day curse but what is probably closer to the truth is that homosexuality is as old as the human race. The stigma attached to same sex relationships for eons has not made homosexuality go away but simply to go under.
One of the most flamboyant figures in Austrian history is Franz Eugen of Savoy who helped Austria in military campaigns against the Turkish invasion of 1683. The sexuality of Eugen was allowed only speculation at court.
Charles VI, Austrian emperor who died in 1740, is famous for his lack of interest in women. He enjoyed an intimate emotional relationship with a count instead, calling him "a true friend who loves me as I have loved him for 19 years..."
In Austria, homosexual identity and culture is said to have first tumbled out of the closet about a hundred years ago. However, the appearance in public of a homosexual subculture in the 19th century was accompanied by even more severe punishment for sodomy. Austria revised sodomy laws in 1852 increasing punishment in prison. This did not prevent men or women from openly choosing same sex partners for life. Helene von Druskowitz, Austrian philosopher who died in 1918, called men the curse of the world and suggested that women cultivate relationships with each other.
Feminism and lesbianism took root at the same time in Europe in the late 19th century, coinciding with the industrial revolution and urbanism. Fridolin's Secret Marriage is the first gay novel in German, published in 1875 by Adolf Wilbrandt, director of Austria's national theatre. Ever since the 1920s, the beautiful park between the same theatre and the impressive offices of Vienna's mayor remains a favourite rendezvous location for gay people.
It is the shame associated with being homosexual that is as cruel as the draconian legislation against same sex relationships. This is a theme that continues to inspire artists, including the life of Colonel Alfred Redl who was forced to commit suicide in 1913. Redl was born in 1864 in a relatively poor family in Ukraine. He joined the royal army of the Austrian empire at a young age and rose rapidly in the ranks. Redl loved the army. While other soldiers missed the family, Redl was content to earn a regular salary and was happy in the company of other men.
He graduated to a respected spymaster. He invented the use of hidden cameras way back in 1903 and used gramophone disks to record the conversation in interrogation rooms. Redl used the art of dusting powders to retrieve the fingerprint of Russian spies. He founded an intelligence sharing method with Germany and trained detectives in shadowing the enemy.
The undoing of Redl was his failure to keep his homosexuality a secret unlike other closeted homosexuals of the mighty Austro Hungarian Empire. Once the Russians discovered Redl's love affair around 1901, the military officer allowed himself to be blackmailed. Redl exchanged sensitive military information with the Russians even as he continued to serve the Austrian military. The same boys he had trained in the most sophisticated espionage system of that time eventually caught the colonel.
Redl committed suicide and is said to have suffered from syphilis. Historians claim that the treason of Redl is responsible for the defeat of Austria and Germany in World War I.
John Osborne, the angry young man and fierce critic of the English establishment, wrote A Patriot for Me in 1965 on the Redl affair. The critically acclaimed play inspired Istvan Szabo to film Colonel Redl in 1985 in the German language.
While Osborne concentrates on Redl's sexuality, Szabo explores the system that Redl lived in. The Redl affair ignites imagination as the debate continues whether he was a victim of a corrupt oppressive social system, or the system itself. What would be the fate of Redl if values imposed upon the individual by society did not force him to negate who he was and to hate who he was?
What would society be like if individuals are allowed to be who they are instead of being persecuted and criminalised by others who insist that they know better?
The fear of having his sexuality exposed, historians say, terrorised Colonel Redl to practise treason. He is said to have given the Russians plans of Austria's attack on Serbia, misguiding the Austrian military with false estimates of the strength of the Russian military, which in the end caused the death of half-a-million of his own people.

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