Too beautiful for jail?

Posted on May 4, 2012 by

The leading contender for the Prettiest Politician Placard is clearly Yulia Tymoshenko (although Yingluck Shinawatra is giving her a run for her money, if you prefer brunettes), and that’s resulted in a bizarre news cycle lately. Her face is being plastered on every news site, day after day, as they are apparently very glad to have an excuse to post more pictures of the Ukrainian beauty.

If you haven’t been following the case, here’s a summary (from the Chicago Tribune):

Nine European leaders are shunning a Central European summit hosted by Ukraine this month, adding to international pressure on the former Soviet republic over its treatment of jailed opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko.

The move, which follows allegations of Tymoshenko’s beating in prison, highlights Ukraine’s growing isolation and casts doubts on Kiev’s plans to improve its image abroad by hosting the European soccer championship next month…

Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and Yanukovich’s main political rival, was sentenced to seven years in prison last October for abuse of office after a trial that the West says was politically motivated.

She is now in a prison in the city of Kharkiv, one of the Euro-2012 venues. She has been on a hunger strike since April 20 in protest at what she said was an assault by prison guards, an allegation denied by the prison administration.

I’m not going to claim to know whether or not the conviction was true, or whether the new set of charges being brought against her for tax evasion are true, or even that I have any particular interest in her plight. But I was intrigued by a comment left by a Spiegel Online reader (in German, my translation):

Here are the facts: Whether she’s guilty or not, she is simply too pretty to be in a jail. Over 50 and still so attractive… I have nothing against offering her asylum.

Although clearly meant to be sarcastic, he was simply noting what everyone else has realized, but nobody wants to admit: Yulia Tymoshenko is so beautiful that it horrifies people to think she’ll rot in jail, regardless of what she’s actually done. There’s been a string of cases like this before, from Casey Anthony to Amanda Knox, but this is taking it to a new height, as international political figures join the pageant.

As another commenter noted:

And who is checking on the other political prisoners, that are also imprisoned in Ukraine?

Yes, I’m asking myself the same question. Why the unusual amount of concern for this particular political prisoner? My guess is that the others are simply less photogenic.

Breivik noted the same tendency for people to side with those they find physically attractive, which is why he put so much effort into supplying good photographs of himself, so that they could be displayed right after his arrest. I have to admit, this is how I responded to them, “My first thought was that I dated an Austrian guy who looks a lot like him. Just missing the high collar on his jacket.” And another female commenter noted, “That guy is pretty handsome. This whole thing makes no sense. He doesn’t fit the profile at all.” Please excuse us, as that was just our gonads talking.

The same dynamic marred the OJ Simpson trial, as the women of America were clearly on his side for reasons other than a hunger for truth and justice. So, if we women struggle that way, I wonder what it must be like for men? Contrary to any feelings of persecution the self-deluded might feel, it’s human nature to give the benefit of the doubt to people who are good-looking, and the more good-looking you are, the bigger the benefit. The urge can be overwhelming, which is why beauty can be such a moral hazard for the possessor, and why white-knighting for not-so-innocent damsels in distress is so ubiquitous.

Does having the face of an angel give you a “get out of jail free” card? The Ukrainians themselves have so far remained steadfast in the face of international outrage, as they apparently have a surplus of such beauty and aren’t as easily swayed by it, but the uglier Westerners continue to be very concerned. Will she get a “humanitarian reprieve”, or will the wheels of law continue to turn regardless of how many spectators wish they could free her and take her home? The suspense is killing me.

Although you can’t blame a girl for trying, perhaps justice really will be blind this time.