Roman Polanski free? European cheers, and jeers

French and Polish officials praised the decision by Swiss authorities to free Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski. But some ordinary citizens and French elite said a different judicial standard is used for the rich and famous.

Franka Bruns/AP/File
French-born film director Roman Polanski waves during a media presentation in Berlin, in this file photo.

Polish and French foreign ministers, European artists and intellectuals expressed satisfaction today at the release of the Polish director Roman Polanski. But some European elites – and ordinary citizens – showed a markedly different sense and sensibility about his fate.

"A prudent decision,” declared Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, upon hearing that the 76-year-old director of “Chinatown” and “The Pianist” had been freed by Swiss authorities. And French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said, “The great Franco-Polish director” can now “rejoin his friends and family and work fully….”

“Thank you Switzerland! Bravo Switzerland!,” said former French minister of culture Jack Lang.

Swiss legal authorities decided not to extradite Mr. Polanski to the US, after he pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful sex with a minor in 1977, but then fled the country. The Swiss justice minister cited an inability to examine a US prosecutor's records that bore on the amount of time Polanski had already served and the deal struck with the Los Angeles court.

Polanski’s monitoring bracelet was shut off today, and he left his Swiss chalet where he was under protective custody since late last year. Polanski has been in Swiss hands since last September when he was arrested en route to a film festival in Zurich.

The Polanski case last year played into transatlantic cultural divides and opinions. If the American position was “Arrest Polanski!” – the European celebrity and official cry was to “Free Polanski!”

The director is a revered artiste in France, and known widely in Europe as a Polish Jew who returned to his country in 1936, survived the Holocaust, and went on to become an acclaimed director in both Europe and the US. A Polish foreign ministry statement today underscored these factors in a statement supporting the Swiss ruling: "A solution was found which takes into consideration the complicated legal terms of this case and the life situation of Roman Polanski.”

When Polanski was detained last fall, European elites here initially filled the airwaves and discourse with outrage at what seemed American “puritanical” and petty bourgeoise morality in calling for Polanski to face charges after 30 years. But that wasn’t the whole story then, or now.

Ordinary opinion on the French blogosphere today is divided, measured, and occasionally ugly – expressing cynicism at a world of celebrity wealth and glamour, where crimes are not served, and justice is manipulated. One blogger wrote that if Polanski’s first name were Rashid or Mulud, he would be in jail today.

Typical was a comment on Liberation, the French newspaper, website: “This affair makes even more obvious that for the ‘rich and famous’ justice is different from what it is for ordinary people…”

Yet the divides and debates in France and elsewhere in Europe are taking place to a degree among intellectuals. One of Polanski’s biggest supporters in Paris is the philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, one of the first to inaugurate a petition for Polanski last year, and who today spoke to Polanski, later telling reporters, "I am overcome by joy! …I have just spoken to him; he is in the same state of mind as the millions of citizens who supported him. His feeling is that justice has been rendered to him."

Yet among some of the millions who are not as enthused as Mr. Levy is rival French philosopher Michel Onfray, who has also risen in popularity here, and wrote: “Because one is a film-maker or a minister, one should not submit to the same laws as everyone else? To sodomize a 13 years old girl after having made her drink – is it a crime, yes or no? That the victim renounced her charge after she was given a payoff doesn't change anything: justice is not the matter of the culprit or that of the victim, it is the matter of the magistrates.”


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