If you will forgive the awful image this conjures, I’ve been trying to put myself into the diapers of a 14-month-old child in an east European orphanage. Is this the worst situation I could be in? Being abandoned in Somalia is probably worse. But let’s concentrate on the baby with parents MIA in lands east of the Oder-Neisse line.
This little person has worked out that smiles and gurgles give him a good chance of being picked up, so he is gurgling at this nice stocky man with funny glasses who, wonder of wonders, wants to adopt him. Even though he’s already 14 months old and past prime adoption age. Even though chances are he’s HIV-positive. Even better, the nice man has oodles of money. This is too good to be true.
Which guarantees it is not true and is a dream about to be noisily squelched, as it was last week by Yuriy Pavlenko, the minister of family, youth and sports in Ukraine, where our little orphan resides. Pavlenko says Elton John can’t adopt one of his country’s fabulous, in-demand HIV orphs because he is too old (62) and is married to another man, a union not yet appreciated by the good people of Ukraine. So, for your own sake, little Lev (that is the name of our orphan), Elton John and spouse, David Furnish, will not be allowed to give you a gorgeous forever home in Berkshire. I think we can all be fairly certain that when little Lev grows into big Lev and fully appreciates this decision made for his very own good, he will come after Yuri and his cohorts with homicide in his heart. I would.
The specific circuitry of the Ukrainian mind is not familiar to me, but there are certain eternal verities in this story. Little Lev is a part of that phenomenon known as the besprizornost, the children of the former Soviet empire who have either lost, or been dumped by, their parents. They’ve been called, inter alia, vermin, hooligans, foundlings and “waifs in drab tatters,” but the long and short of it is that they are stuck in orphanages. Sometimes they are not on the adoption list, as little Lev is said not to be, since his HIV-positive mother hasn’t decided what to do with him. This unhappy, unholy mass of besprizornost continues in the post-Soviet years as HIV rates skyrocket and newly independent states flounder in economic disarray.
If the Ukrainian bureaucrats are hung up on rules (adopt little Lev and you have to adopt his brother), or are simply homophobic or lean more toward Christian evangelicalism than is fashionable in the West, so be it. They will have to answer to Ukrainian society where the besprizornost have a high rate of turning into criminals. My beef is with the chattering classes of the West, who have taken up the Ukrainian decision with delight.
“Elton John, forget children and adopt a cat” was the front page slash of the Daily Telegraph. Inside, writer Andrew Pierce dismisses John as an unsuitable parent because of his tantrums and late conversion to fatherhood. Pierce gives his own credentials, as a gay man himself and one who spent two years in a British orphanage after his mother attempted to escape the “harsh moral climate that was sixties Britain.” Well, we can all pull that one off: two years in a ’60s British orphanage bears about as much resemblance to the world of a Ukrainian AIDS orphan as my experience as a ward of the court in harsh postwar 1940s Britain does. Zero.
In the Spectator, columnist Rod Liddle allows for the possibility that John may have been motivated by the “most charitable impulses when his eyes fell upon baby Lev,” but finds the impulse sickening. Along with some digs at John’s being seen sniffing Tom Ford’s new perfume Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, which Liddle tells us was described by some critics (one?) as having the subtle aroma of a man’s crotch—imagine the cartwheels when that aperçu surfaced in the research—he criticizes John’s impulse as merely a “lifestyle choice,” like a nicely crafted bit from Prada. Then throwing in Angelina and Madonna, he underlines how children as “lifestyle choices” are society’s big problem.
I have no idea what this means anymore. At least 50 per cent of births, abortions and C-sections are lifestyle choices. Little Lev’s present address is a lifestyle choice of his parents. One could swallow this muck if Liddle or Pierce were prepared to adopt Lev themselves. But this is just a column and, once written, chances are they won’t pay the slightest attention to the child.
Writing about people you don’t know and embodying your own opinions in them is a breeze. “It is hard to imagine an environment less suited to the rearing of children than that inhabited by Sir Elton John and David Furnish,” opines Liddle, whose notion of the Elton John environment is that of the outsider with nose pressed hard against Google. Writing about people you do know is so much more awkward: you’ve got the obstacle of reality in the path of your Pegasus, making it harder for the old horse to soar.
I do know John and his spouse Furnish: they’d be fine parents, if obsessive about clean hands and behind-the-ears. Perhaps Elton and David might subcontract some of Lev’s bringing-up to a team of nannies and educationists, but I expect they’d do a far better job of vetting experts in child-rearing than the Ukrainian orphanage. And while I’ve never asked him, I rather think Elton would delight in a rousingly heterosexual son.
Refusing to allow an adoption from an orphanage to anyone short of Jack the Ripper and child molesters is fundamentally wrong and is redeemed only by the objector being willing to adopt the orphan themselves. That is a moral imperative. Little Lev lives with the consequence of it not being followed.