Monday, October 12, 2009

Minister of Pedarism

A couple of weeks ago, when I shot off a post about Roman Polanski, I mentioned in passing the public statement made by France's Minister of Culture condemning the arrest. Now it turns out that Frédéric Mitterrand also has a past involving sex with youngsters.

Polanski Statement

After Polanski's arrest on September 26, the French Culture Minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, made a public statement in which he said it was "absolutely horrifying" that the director would be arrested like this in connection with an incident which was now ancient history. He is also quoted in the press as saying "in the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has shown its face."

As I said, if you think of Roman Polanski as one of the most esteemed directors of our time his arrest seems shocking, but it's pretty understandable when you recall the serious allegations against him (drugging and sodomizing a 13yo girl) and the fact that after pleading guilty in 1978 he fled the country and has been evading the long arm of American justice ever since.

The Bad Life

As reported by the BBC, Mitterrand's statements motivated France's opposition to dig up some "ancient history" on the minister himself. In 2005, when Mitterrand was a private citizen, he published an autobiographical novel called La mauvaise vie ("the bad life") in which he wrote about paying for sex with young boys in Thailand.

The book is a wishing well of juicy quotes. For instance, "the profusion of young, very attractive and immediately available boys put me in a state of desire that I no longer needed to restrain or hide." Far from being put off by the sordid details of the sex trade, or sympathising with underpriviliged, young Thai people pushed into prostitution, Mitterrand's narrator found it to be a turn on: "all these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excited me enormously." Mitterand, who is openly bisexual, claims that he used the word "garcon" loosely and that none of the young men he paid for sex were underage.

Now the attacks are coming from the left and the right. Benoit Hamon, a spokesman for France's Socialist Party, said of Mitterrand in an interview with Reuters "as a minister of culture he has drawn attention to himself by defending a film maker accused of raping a child and he has written a book where he said he took advantage of sexual tourism. To say the least, I find it shocking." Meanwhile the second in command of the far right Front Nationale, Marine Le Pen, read excerpts from the book in a television interview and declared that this affair has left "an indelible stain" on the Sarkozy government. She called for Mitterrand to resign.

The French have a reputation for being very liberal and permissive when it comes to sexual mores: for many of them the case of Mary Kay Letourneau -- the California schoolteacher who was jailed for carrying on an affair with her underaged student -- was a tragic love story. I'm not about to make some "only in France..." comment; I mean does anyone remember the salacious IMs Mark Foley exchanged with that teenager who had served as a congressional page? Still, the French afford their politicians more privacy and they tend to give less weight to reports of sexual misconduct in their personal lives. But if nothing else the Mitterrand affair will definitely cause the Sarkozy government some embarassment: France engages in talks with nations like Thailand about how to help put a stop to sexual tourism and now there's a member of the government who is himself a confessed sexual tourist.

The Mitterrand political dynasty

If Frédéric Mitterrand's last name sounds familiar that's because his uncle François Mitterrand, who was known for comporting himself with the dignity of an Egyptian pharoah, served as France's President from 1981 to 1995. President Mitterrand was head of the Socialist Party, but Frédéric's political inclinations are apparently further to the right: he was a well-known French television personality before Sarkozy asked him to join his government in June of this year.

BBC News recently ran an article on the Mitterrand dynasty. The family is originally from the Cognac region in southwest France, where they made their fortune in the early 20th century producing vinegar. In 1993, President Mitterand's son Jean-Christophe was fined for tax fraud after he received millions of francs in connection with the illegal sale of weapons in Angola. François Mitterrand also had a daughter, Mazarine, by his mistress whose existance was hidden from the public for many years. Mazarine Pingeot is a best-selling author whose novels are laughed at by critics.

Images: brilliant photo of Frederic Mitterrand in 3D glasses taken from sky news blog; photo of la mauvaise vie by AP taken from BBC News

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