Even the usually tolerant French are looking askance at an exploding “sex tourism” scandal surrounding their state cultural minister – who publicly criticized the arrest of Roman Polanski.
The scandal surrounding Cultural Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, 62, took a new turn late last week when he confessed to paying for prostitution, but denied pedophilia during trips to Thailand that he had previously written about in a 2005 autobiography.
Mitterrand has said his autobiography was mined for dirt to topple him from his post after publicly backing filmmaker Roman Polanski, who faces US extradition on 40-year-old child rape charges.
In a televised interview late Thursday from Paris, Mitterrand confirmed that he took trips to Thailand to cruise the "slave markets" and brothels for boys, and had paid for sexual encounters, but maintained that the “boys” in question were not minors but "youths." Paying for prostitution is legal in France, but not trading in sexual slavery.
Mitterrand is openly homosexual and a nephew of former French president François Mitterrand, who had been the country’s last Socialist president.
The minister stressed that homosexuals refer to all adult males as, "boys." But, In his 2005 memoirs, the minister, who is now facing political disgrace, writes that he got, "into the habit of paying for boys."
"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," he says in a passage of the book entitled, "La mauvaise vie" or "The Bad Life."
"All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excite me enormously… One could judge this abominable spectacle from a moral standpoint but it pleases me beyond the reasonable," he adds.
In Thursday’s TV interview, Mitterrand claimed that although he had described them as "young boys,” he went to Thailand to have sex with prostitutes who were his "own age."
During the interview, Mitterrand said that he condemns "sex tourism," which he called, "a disgrace."
"The book is in no way an apology for sex tourism, even if one chapter is a journey through that hell, with all the fascination that hell can inspire," he added.
The book was critically acclaimed in its day and Mitterrand, who has never hidden his homosexuality, was widely praised for his honesty.
Mitterrand's book came back to haunt him only after he offered a spirited defense of filmmaker Roman Polanski.
Polanski, now 76, was arrested in Switzerland in late September stemming from an active 1978 arrest warrant from Los Angeles for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He had initially been charged with a host of really horrible crimes, including kidnaping, and rape, and was also accused of drugging the girl to make her pliant enough to submit. Polanski had been living in France since he had fled from the US.
The award-winning director remains in Swiss custody and is fighting extradition to LA, where he potentially faces years in prison. Reports today say that he has offered his victim a half-million-dollars in a civil settlement.
Among other comments in support of Polanski, Mitterrand has called the arrest "terrible." He has suggested that his scandal was dredged up from his book by detractors who are trying to have him ousted because of his pro-Polanski stance.
In a news account in Saturday’s London Times, sources claim French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been reluctant to fire Mitterrand because of his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who had recommended his appointment and continues to support him.
The scandal has also sharply “highlighted the chasm between the French and the Anglo-Saxons. In Britain it would be unthinkable for anyone known to have paid boys for sex to land a minister’s job. France takes a more tolerant view and Mitterrand has been allowed to keep his job, protesting that he had sex with consenting adults rather than the ‘kids’ he described in his book,” writes Matthew Campbell for the London Times.
Despite some very strong calls for his resignation or removal from both sides of the political spectrum, members of Nicolas Sarkozy's inner circle have stepped up in Mitterand's defense.
Earlier last week, a top aide to the French president, Henri Guaino, told France 2 television that the media scandal was "pathetic," arguing that there was no need for Mitterrand to leave the cabinet.
"When there is a controversy as pathetic as this, with so much delay, I don't think there should be such drastic consequences," Guaino said.
The French far-right Front National has launched an online petition to call for Mitterand's resignation. The Socialist opposition party has also called it appalling that “an abusive pedophile” was serving as a cabinet minister.
"I find it shocking that a man can justify sex tourism under the cover of a literary account," a top Socialist figure, Benoît Hamon, said, according to a report posted by The Daily Telegraph.
Mitterrand has responded to the attacks by saying that it is "honor" for him to be dragged through "the mud by the National Front."
According to the London Times on Saturday, the French public’s patience may be wearing thin, and there are signs that Sarkozy may end up paying a political price for the scandal and his continued support for the beleaguered Mitterrand.
There is grumbling among his allies over Bruni-Sarkozy’s role and what had, until now, been regarded as a brilliant presidential strategy to undermine the Socialist opposition by offering top jobs to its heroes, racial minorities and to openly gay politicians.
According to media accounts, only a quarter of viewers found Mitterrand convincing as he responded with indignation and anger to a grilling by a female journalist during Thursday’s TV interview focusing on his activities in Thailand’s brothels.
The Curator: Generally, I weave my commentary into the report as it proceeds. In this instance, I am expressing my views at the end because I am so FUCKING furious that I did not trust myself to present the actual facts in any kind of balanced way.
Mitterrand claimed he had asked Sarkozy if he thought the book would be “an obstacle.” The president had replied: “Not at all. I’ve read it. It’s a very good book.”
How is it even possible in this day and age that a developed country would promote anyone who had admitted to cruising sexual “slave markets” in an impoverished country? Are you FUCKING kidding me?
Mitterrand was described as “mild mannered,” as if that excused his reprehensible behavior. Sexual slave markets exist because men (infrequently women) like Mitterrand service them! Survival at its most basic drives parents to sell children into this torturous existence, or children already living on the streets are forced to survive in such a debased fashion.
I was sexually molested as a child. I’m 53 now and I still haven’t gotten over it – can you even imagine how damaged, destroyed these children are/will be?
Let me be clear, I strongly support the decriminalization of prostitution, but only involving consenting adults! The concept of sexual slavery boggles the mind and seems a fabrication of novelists – not journalists. It is so far from US sensibilities that I am at a loss to know the correct response. I do know this: Mitterrand should be removed – NOW. He should have been prosecuted, but at the very least, he should lose a bit of the privilege that put him in a position to participate in such heinous behavior. He should be a public disgrace.
In fact, all of France, and other countries too, should do some real soul searching about enabling such an abusive subculture to exist anywhere, either in developed or underdeveloped countries.
In America, we bear a lot of responsibility for the propagation of drug production worldwide because we buy as much of this poison as they are able to produce. While sexual slavery is rare here, we in the US also drive children into prostitution to survive, and then pay for their “services.” Often, drug use and addiction causes women and children to turn tricks to get drugs, what law enforcement calls, "things for things."
For God’s sake, at some point, this type of destructive madness must end. To be human at a fundamental level dictates that we must protect children – whether they reside next door, or on a dirt street half-way around the world.