by Jeff Fecke | September 28, 2009 • As we noted the other night, Roman Polanski holds dual French and Polish citizenship, and both nations’ governments have been assiduously lobbying for his release, because evidently both governments believe that being famous allows you to rape kids. This has allowed leaders in both countries to join Hollywood in declaring that this is really just a case of American puritanism. Yes, we silly Americans, believing that forcibly raping a child is something that should be punished! Surely our European brethren are much more sophisticated, and understand that it’s okay to drug and rape a barely pubescent girl.
Except — funny thing — it turns out that far from finding Roman Polanski to be a charming guy who makes swell movies and just once kinda sorta raped a child, and then — funny story — only entered into a relationship with a fifteen-year-old for a while, the European public seems to view Polanski as a creepy pederast rapist who should probably face the music.
We start in Poland, home of Anne Applebaum’s husband. Do the Poles think Polanski should go free? Only about as much as they detest the polka:
One of these steps is an appeal letter to Hillary Clinton. Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner are sending it jointly (Polanski holds dual citizenship – Polish and French). The main reason the authorities have now started to take a low-key approach is their electorate. An opinion poll published today shows that less than 25 percent of Poles would like to see Polanski escape another trial. “This is a very surprising result,” says Jan Stolarz, a sociologist with a polling organization.
He told ABC News that “in light of the near-hero status Polanski enjoys here, this is very telling. People no longer believe that achievement can buy you immunity and that all are equal before the law…This is very encouraging,” adds Stolarz.
Results of the opinion poll are reflected by many Web site comments. Most readers would like to see Polanski extradited to the U.S.
“I’m ashamed that my president and a few ministers are protecting a pedophile,” reads one. “Law is law and money cannot buy you justice. Polanski, Obama or Mr. Jones — in a lawful state all are equal.”
To many Poles, Polanski had been an iconic figure. Events from 30 years ago, his past, were just an ambiguous blur, certainly nothing that could overcast his greatness.
Today, there seems to be a change. With Polish public reaction so vocal and negative, with the past once again revealed, Polanski’s tarnished image may never recover in his homeland. Only a handful of politicians and fellow artists appear to be dedicated to saving the icon.
Huh! You don’t say! It seems that the folks in New Europe1 don’t think it’s okay to excuse an artist for raping a child, just because he happens to be famous. But we all know how those Eastern Europeans are. So Soviet. So repressed. Why, they eat barszcz! And pirogies! Hardly a nation full of extra savoir-faire. So let’s turn to the nation that gave us the beguiling word coquette, la République française.
One would think that France would certainly have rallied around Polanski. This is, after all, the country that gave us Maurice Chevalier, best known for “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” Lock up a man simply because he got a bit forceful after experiencing le coup de foudre? Quelle horreur!
Now, let me preface this by noting that I have not been able to locate a scientific poll of French attitudes on Polanski. But the anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that far from seeing Polanski as the victim of a femme fatale and a repressed America, they feel that whatever the director’s œuvre, his actions seem pretty close to meurtre de sang-froid:
Marc Laffineur, the vice-president of the French assembly and a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling center-right party, the UMP, took issue with the French culture and foreign minister’s remarks supporting Mr. Polanski, saying “the charge of raping a child 13 years old is not something trivial, whoever the suspect is.”
Within the Green party, Daniel Cohn-Bendit — a French deputy in the European parliament whose popularity is rising — also criticized Sarkozy administration officials for leaping too quickly to Mr. Polanski’s side despite the serious nature of his crime. On the extreme right, the father and daughter politicians Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen also attacked the ministers, saying they were supporting “a criminal pedophile in the name of the rights of the political-artistic class.”
Meanwhile, an international team of lawyers was fighting Tuesday to free Mr. Polanski from a Swiss jail, where he’s being held for possible extradition to the United States. The arrest last weekend of the 76-year-old filmmaker as he arrived at Zurich’s airport to attend a local film festival is quickly exposing deep fault lines between his supporters in the arts, entertainment and politics and his increasingly outspoken critics.
Marie-Louise Fort, a French lawmaker in the Assembly who has sponsored anti-incest legislation, said in an interview that she was shocked that Mr. Polanski was attracting support from the political and artistic elite. “I don’t believe that public opinion is spontaneously supporting Mr. Polanski at all,” she said. “I believe that there is a distinction between the mediagenic class of artists and ordinary citizens that have a vision that is more simple.”
The mood was even more hostile in blogs and e-mails to newspapers and news magazines. Of the 30,000 participants in an online poll by the French daily Le Figaro, more than 70 percent said Mr. Polanski, 76, should face justice. And in the magazine Le Point, more than 400 letter writers were almost universal in their disdain for Mr. Polanski.
That contempt was not only directed at Mr. Polanski, but at the French class of celebrities — nicknamed Les People — who are part of Mr. Polanski’s rarefied Parisian world. Letter writers to Le Point scorned Les People as the “crypto-intelligentsia of our country” who deliver “eloquent phrases that defy common sense.”
Mon dieu! It seems the oh-so-above-it-all French are, like people everywhere, properly horrified by the rape of a child. Far from being a sign of American prudery, the arrest of Polanski seems to most of France and most of Poland the way it seems to most of America: as the reasonable outcome of a thirty-odd year flight from justice.
Frankly, I’m not surprised. It always seemed to me to be absurd to believe that the French would see rape as a trifling matter. Still, as with the general left-right agreement in America, it’s heartening to see. And it’s a reminder of just how out on an island Polanski’s strongest supporters are.
*1 Just wanted to see if I could get all y’all old-school blog readers to flash back to February 2003.