Free Roman Polanski? Case shows US-France cultural divide
French elites lobby to "Free Polanski." American and French students pick sides in a French debate over the rape case.
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“France sanctifies writers and artists,” argues Paris intellectual Karim Emile Bitar.“From statements by French government officials and from Polanski’s numerous supporters in the cultural industry, there is an obvious underlying assumption: that talent and artistic genius should allow someone to get a free pass and be above the law,” says Bitar.Skip to next paragraph
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French vs. American students
On Monday, at an international business school in Normandy, American and French students debated the case. The French entirely took Polanski’s side, and the Americans, with one exception, countered.
French students described the case as “Polanski Gate,” a “blatant case of puritanism,” and that “time has passed,” according to a professor who witnessed the debate.
American students said the French did not want to hear that Polanski drugged and had sex with a 13-year old girl when he was 44, cared little for the girl’s suffering, and were exhibiting “Pavlovian anti-Americanism.”
Unofficial French opinions
Still, by Tuesday that French official position was taking some legal and cultural fire – aimed mainly at French elites. The website Le Point reported that 97 percent of comments opposed the French official position. Readers criticized the “hordes from Boulevard St. Germain,” a popular celebrity-intellectual area, and “the politico-bobo-cultural elite” who backed Polanski “with pompous sentences that defy common sense and the rule of law.”
Other websites report similar comments, swinging well against Polanski.
Former student leader and current Green party member of parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit criticized the authorities, telling French radio: “This is a judicial problem and I think that a culture minister, even if his name is Mitterrand, should say: ‘I need to know the details of the case’… This is the toughest story, because there was a rape on a 13-year-old girl. She said herself: ‘I didn’t file a complaint’ and also said ‘I got a lot of money.’”
The girl, now a married mother of three in Hawaii, has said that years ago she sued Polanski and settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. In January, she asked a California judge to dismiss the criminal case, and has said several times that she wishes the media coverage would stop.
Former legal columnist at Le Monde, Luc Rosenzweig, writes: “The mobilization in Polanski’s favor is impressive: both states of which he is a citizen, Poland and France, are expressing all the more outrage since they have no chance of stopping the judicial process. Hollywood, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Prenzlauer Berg and other urban sanctuaries of culture and good taste are on the verge of insurrection and claim the immediate release of the author of the Pianist."
However, he adds: “From a strictly judicial point of view, Roman Polanski’s arrest at the Zurich airport is perfectly in accordance with the judicial conventions between Bern and Washington. A rape of a minor – of which Roman Polanski stands accused – does not have a statute of limitation in Swiss or American law.”