All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Sarkozy's idea of culture

Où sont leurs Droits ?Image by Romain [ ] via Flickr

I shall have to go to the public library in the nearest big town, and have telephoned the chief librarian, for this is how things are done in France, to find, reserve and sit upon a copy of a book published by Frederic Mitterand, nephew of the late President Mitterand and currently Minister for Culture and outdated treatment of domestic staff. Under no circumstances will I be buying it, but I want to read, not only the excerpt about which so much fuss is being made, but the whole book. My one fear is that, from the style of the excerpt so far quoted, it will be one of those ghastly inch by inch inspections of the navel indulged in by the well connected nonentities who so often crawl to the heights in our society, and I shall be obliged to return the book earlier than planned, thus mucking up my economy shopping schedule.

Now, in French politics it is a given that anything proposed or done by the 'Front National' has to be either ignored or treated as if one had accidentally trodden in something unmentionable. Given this clue, you will have realised that the FN is a right wing party whose policy is that France is for the French. Speaking as an outsider, I think that is the policy of all French political parties, it's just that the rest don't make it so obvious. Whiffs of anti semitism used to emanate from the party, but as they seem also to be against everyone else outside France and anyone inside France who can't show they were descended from Joan of Arc's granny, I don't get too worried about it. I don't know if anyone remembers seeing the First World War cartoon of 'the morning hate', with the Prussian junker family sitting around the breakfast table in glowering unity, but that seems to sum up the attitude of the FN. Whatever it is, they're agin it. However so widespread are their targets that you can't take it to heart.
Except that one of their targets has.

Frederic Mitterand.

When the film director Roman Polanski was copped in Switzerland on a warrant from the Americans concerning sex with an underage girl, Mitterand blew his top. Polanski, after all, had French citizenship. Polanski was an artist. Polanski had suffered enough. He had lost family in the Nazi death camps. His wife had been murdered by the Manson gang. As Minister for Culture, Mitterand aligned himself firmly with all the artists and celebrities who seem to think that one's talent exempts one from punishment for unlawful acts.
It didn't go down too well in the country at large, and in the supporters of the ruling right wing UMP party in particular. You could see them thinking
'Well, the next time someone comes to court for touching up little girls in the swimming baths, he'll be claiming that he has been punished enough....his grandfather did forced labour in Germany....and he paints pictures that the council, with no sense of artistic discrimination, wash off the walls.'
The UMP is against touching up little girls, let alone what Polanski is supposed to have done to one. I think most people anywhere are against it and want it stopped. As they do the child sex trade in Thailand. France has in fact prosecuted people guilty of participating in this filthy business on their return to France.

Now we return to the book, 'La Mauvaise Vie'. Published in 2005, part of it deals, apparently, with Mitterand's sexual preferences and practices, including his experiences in Thailand, and would appear to make him as guilty as those whom France has already punished for such activities. They are punished, but he is in power.

The leader of the FN, Marine Le Pen, read an excerpt from the book on national television and called for Mitterand's dismissal. I shouldn't think most people even knew that the book existed up until that moment and, casting my mind back, I can't say that I recall reading any reviews, either, but I do tend to cut out whole areas of stuff that doesn't appeal to me when I go through the papers. It might have made a stir in 'precious' circles, but clearly not in the nation at large, although ignorance of the literary reviews is no excuse for appointing such a person a minister.

The first reaction in high circles? Well, as always, where the FN is concerned, ignore will go away. No reporting in the Figaro.
Questioned by journalists, Mitterand shrugged it off

'It's an honour to have your name dragged through the mud by the FN.'

Then, it seems, the Socialist Party - PS - decided to break ranks. Their spokesperson, while uttering the phrases of revulsion obligatory when mentioning the FN, concurred with them that Mitterand should be held to account for his activities. Now, the PS has always claimed some intellectuals in its' ranks, and certainly has plenty of campaigners against exploitation of children, so why is it that Mitterand's proclivities and activities passed them by?

Only the cynical would observe that he was a member of the PS.
Only the cynical would observe that he broke ranks with the PS when he accepted Sarkozy's offer of a job in government.
Only the cynical would observe that the PS suddenly wakes up to all this when it has a chance of a bit of political infighting.

I don't care for the witch hunt which will surely start up. Mitterand's proclivities were known when he was appointed, but he will inevitably be thrown to the wolves.
The responsibility lies with the main political parties, the PS and the UMP. The former should never have allowed him to come to his somewhat limited prominence and the latter should never have allowed him to be appointed to government. Weasel words about the law not having been in effect when he was enjoying himself in Thailand excuse nothing.

The worrying thing is that it has to be left to the 'outcast' party, the FN, to bring the matter to public attention. They have been agitating since he was appointed, and while one cannot exclude political infighting from their motivation either, at least they did something while main stream politics sat on its' hands.
I would be happier with the state of our society and government if the newspapers would turn their attention to just how divorced the ruling caste have become from the people they rule, as evidenced by this man's rise to prominence, rather than turning the spotlight on the man himself, but, as always, uncomfortable questions are never addressed. If it were the child of one of our rulers being abused, no stone would be left unturned to find and punish the perpetrator...but if it is one of their own abusing a child of the caste they rule, then it can be passed off with a shrug. A child is a child, wherever or whoever they are, but our rulers don't appear to understand this.

So why am I ordering the book from the library? Well, to see whether there is any basis at all for the claim that he is describing what took place in his imagination, though from the excerpts I've seen in the press that would be a very long shot indeed, but also rather in the same spirit that, as a child in my aunt's house, I used to read the sheets of 'The News of the World' spread over the floor when it had been washed. Horrified fascination with the unknown. However, I have a feeling that the book will produce the same effect as that of the lurid revelations of activity in turkish bath houses used to do... distaste followed by boredom. I shall probably be echoing the words of that immortal journal's investigators
'I made an excuse and left.....'

Pity Mitterand didn't.

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  1. Your blog gives us a view into the politics and workings of the country. Its interesting. And whenever I read it I can't help but think how similar the politics in France is to that of India.

  2. Fly!! I just got in and wanted to write to you with the info you requested about commenting on my Walt Whitman post. I'm sorry there was a problem when you tried earlier. Blogger hasn't been running too smoothly lately, I am afraid. Here's the link to the post. Please look at the bottom [the Label section] for the comment link:

    Now, your post here at French Leave -- all I can say right now is OMG. I want to savor every word and understand the situation. French culture is complicated. I am afraid I would be hopelessly lost trying to make my way through it all without offending everyone. More in a few minutes.

  3. Fly!! OMG, what a distasteful situation you are putting yourself into to be able to dig to the bottom of this pile of manure. The arrogance of the ruling class knows no boundaries. It is a worldwide characteristic -- France seems to be in the spotlight now. I think you are right, when you read the relevant material, you will be stunned, a wave of nausea will roll over you, and then you will close the book. You "get it." You understand. The man has no business holding any public office anywhere on the planet! Sounds like the rightwingers and the socialists understand it, too. All decent people feel as you do -- any abuse of any child is unacceptable. All perps should be punished. Period. I will keep an eye on this and hope it turns out for the best for the people of France. It is a shame the elected leaders are so out of touch with the citizens. [We're going through much of the same thing here on other issues.] On the Polanski issue, Big Hollywood supports him, while the general population is horrified by his behavior. Do keep us posted on your adventure to the library and of course what happens with Mitterand. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and extra background information. Utterly fascinating!!!

  4. Another brilliant blog.

    Advice please. Being the sort of french reader that needs a dictionary to be sure of the exact meaning of a newspaper article. What should I be making the effort with? What radio/tv programme or newspaper is going to give me this sort of information?

    Maybe I'll just wait til you blog it :)

  5. No wonder he came out in support of Polanski then, if the FN's reading of the book is correct. Birds of a feather and all that.

  6. Recipes for the life....makes you wonder who learned what from whom when the French had Pondicherry as a colony...

    Sunfower Ranch, thank you for the guff on Whitman. Much appreciated.
    What horrifies me is that the leaders of the PS, with clear evidence of his 'tastes' from his book, did nothing about him and the leaders of the UMP, with the same evidence, can appoint him to government. Their party members are outraged, but the leadership seems so divorced from reality that his being the nephew of President Mitterand is more important to them than that he was complicit in ruining the lives of children.
    It shows just how powerless we are that this can happen.
    It isn't a pleasant subject about which to blog...but it is a damn sight less pleasant for those exploited children.

    Rosie, as always in France, politics comes into your choice of paper...and the TV is pretty useless. Marine Le Pen hijacked the TV programme Mots Croises with her the producer and presenter get a large flea in the ear from management.
    Figaro will only print anything damaging to the UMP when it has to...when every other paper has done so...Liberation likewise for the PS...le Monde ponderously gets round to most things in time. Why not flick through them online to get a flavour?
    I take le Monde as a daily rag...except that,this being first world France, it is a day late as I live in the sticks and the thing is distributed by rail, so what with that and the all singing all dancing post 'modernisation', it sticks in the sorting office until the next day....they probably do it better in outer Mongolia.

    Pueblo girl, yes, no wonder he was blowing steam from all orifices.

  7. Vaguely surprised that Rue 89 didn't break it. They're usually pretty good and as you say Mr M lost any possible loyalty from that direction when he supped with the devil.

    Could it simply be that the book is so impossible to read that it has taken people this long to realise what he was saying? I'd have expected the FN to go after him far earlier otherwise.

    Whatever. He can't stay in the job.

  8. Jon in France, While not privy to the counsels of the FN - not descended from Joan of Arc's granny - I think they only kicked up when he was appointed to office. Judging by the current mudslinging about what the elephants of the PS get up to in Tunisia I suppose that they didn't want anyone asking what their own holiday snaps were like....
    I think it was rue 89 that had a good commentary about how he is being cut adrift, though..
    Sarkozy had to be mad to appoint him. I know men find it wiser to please their wives and Sarkozy must have it difficult refusing that man eating shark anything, but shouldn't he have thought just a little before agreeing to appoint one of Carla's friends?
    If nothing else, where does this place France's 'civilising mission' in the world with a minister for culture with this background?

  9. What is weird about this business is that this document has been in the public domain for four years. Even if no-one else had read it (and the French can't constrain the foreign media from printing things they really rather weren't public, believe me, so why this didn't make more waves in 2005 I can't say), the DCRI would have done so as part of the vetting process before Mitterrand's appointment ever happened.

    Rumour has it that at least two of Sarko's ministerial choices were dropped at the vetting stage because of interesting items in their pasts and these were not in the public domain.

    So, since his appointment would have inevitably led to this coming out and embarrassing the regime, why was it allowed to happen? Unless, of course, the delightful Marine was either fed a bum steer or was being over selective with her quotes.

    He's on the box this evening. Perhaps that will clear things a bit. Or not. If not, someone's going to have the actually read the damn book.

  10. Jon, I haven't got my hands on the book yet but a friend (French) who did read it when it first appeared says that it says what Marine said it said. She also said that the whole thing is turgid and pretentious, but also that there was a rumour at the time that he published the book because someone was threatening to go public about his lifestyle, so he was getting his story in first.
    I imagine it didn't make a stir because outside his own circle no one was very interested in him.
    But yes, the vetting really slipped up here. All in favour of politicians being able to have a private life, but a history of sex tourism is just a bit beyond the pale.
    Latest explanation I heard was that he refers to anyone male, of whatever age, as a 'boy', so I expect that that is what he will be trotting out on the box.

  11. Hi Fly,

    This is my first visit to your blog, and one I've enjoyed greatly as the U.S. generally does a poor job with international news. Please let us know when you get the book. I am watching Polanski's case with a jaundiced eye, as it is now between Polanski and the state of California rather than he and his victim.

    Much of the current opining strikes me as stupid since the man allegedly admitted to his crime before fleeing the country, something few take into account. It really saddens me that otherwise reasonable people would discount the rape of a minor who was drugged in favour of Polanski's contribution to cinema, as though the two are somehow related, and say that he should bear no consequence. I sometimes wonder whether the world has simply gone mad, and I am no rabid right winger...Looking forward to reading more here.

  12. e, thank you for visiting.
    I have read the book and it is now back in the library,where an anxious queue awaits it.
    The except read on TV was accurate...Mitterand has since been on TV to make it clear that he doesn't have sex with minors and doesn't promote sex tourism - personally, I think he is a liar.
    However, what concerns me is how any government can think it appropriate to appoint such a person to power.
    The point is made that if we knew about the private lives of politicians, there would be damn few of them in office...well, good, is all I can say.
    No one standing for office is going to be a Sir Galahad, free of sin, but people are sensible...people know the difference between errors we can all make and conduct which is entirely beyond the pale.
    Apologists for Mitterand argue that 'this sort of thing goes on in impoverished countries' if that somehow makes it all right. It does cannot, and France recognises this in its own legislation, so how can Sarkozy appoint a man who preys on the vulnerable to be, of all things, Minister for Culture?
    France claims to have a civilising mission in the world.What is the world to think of French civilisation?

    The book, by the way, is one of those navel watching tomes. 'Look at me, aren't I fascinating?'
    No, Monsieur Mitterand, you are not. You are a disgrace.