French culture minister embroiled in pedophilia row
French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said Thursday he would not resign over his autobiographical novel that describes paying Asian boys for sex and denied having ever engaged in pedophile acts.
Mitterrand said he “never” considered resigning since a controversy over the book erupted this week after his staunch defense of fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski, arrested in Switzerland on a US warrant on child sex charges.
President Nicolas Sarkozy had earlier Thursday told the minister, the nephew of late Socialist president Francois Mitterrand, that he still had his support, he said.
When “The Bad Life,” described by its publisher as a “novel inspired by autobiography”, was published in 2005, Mitterrand confirmed he had paid for sex in Asian brothels, but rejected rumors of pedophilia.
The minister, appointed to the rightwing government in June, on Thursday again said he had never paid a minor for sexual favors, and insisted he had “never done any wrong against anyone in my life, never.”
“I absolutely condemn sexual tourism (and) I condemn pedophilia in which I have never in any way participated, and all the people who accuse me of that type of thing should be ashamed,” the 62-year-old told TF1 television.
He made the appearance on national television after French politicians from both left and right demanded he respond to the allegations that his memoir endorses sex tourism.
Mitterrand however also admitted that with his sexual practices he had “committed an offense against the idea of dignity, human dignity.”
But the minister, who previously had a successful career as a writer, documentary-maker and television presenter, said that the “offenses” he had committed were commonplace.
“Among all the people who are watching tonight, where is the one who has not at least once in his life made this sort of mistake?” the visibly angry minister told TF1.
He also warned that “one must not confuse homosexuality with pedophilia.”
Mitterrand’s defense of his book back in 2005 was broadly accepted and the book was praised for its shocking honesty and literary quality.
But now, as a minister in a government that has prosecuted sex tourists, his position is more difficult.
The passages in “The Bad Life” that have sparked controversy deal with the hero’s visits to brothels and boy bars in Thailand and Indonesia.
The hero describes the mixture of feverish excitement and guilt he feels as he hands over money for sex with “boys” whose age he does not state.
“The profusion of boys who are very attractive and immediately available puts me in a state of desire that I no longer need to curb or hide,” Mitterrand writes.
He told TF1 some parts of the book were a journey “through this hell and the fascination that this hell can hold.”
The current controversy over the book began when Marine Le Pen, a leader of the far-right National Front, described Mitterrand’s past as “an indelible stain” on the government and called for his resignation.
Leading Socialist Party figures quickly piled in.
“It appears impossible for the prime minister and the president to keep him in the government, now that they know about his defense of and confession to reprehensible sexual practices,” Socialist lawmaker Arnaud de Montebourg said.
When Roman Polanski, who lives in Paris, was detained in Switzerland late last month, Mitterrand called the arrest “absolutely horrifying” and said it showed “a side of America which is frightening.”
But he has since toned down his support, repeating on Thursday that he has reacted emotionally to the detention of the Oscar-winning director he considers a great artist.
Polanski, 76, fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 13-year-old girl.