When it comes to sexual crimes here in France, it’s tough to find a politico willing to cast the first stone. The French media may be in a frenzy over the rape charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but First Lady Carla Bruni looked unusually demure 36 hours after the news broke: “I have no comment,” she said almost sweetly when asked on television about the man who was expected to be her husband’s major rival for the French presidency in 2012.
President Nicolas Sarkozy — nationally renowned for his truculence (he likes to publicly call constituents who irk him “pathetic jerks”) — has observed an equally pristine silence. In fact, almost every French political figure queried about the charges against DSK (as he is known here) has solemnly intoned the need to withhold judgment. French Socialist party leader Martine Aubry told Reuters that pictures of a disheveled Strauss-Kahn at his arraignment were “profoundly humiliating.” The prominent left-wing philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy is actively defending DSK, asking how “a chambermaid would enter alone, contrary to the custom of two-person housekeeping brigades in the great New York hotels, into the bedroom of one of the most-watched people on the planet.”
The allegations against DSK are frightening. But almost as scary is the French slowness to meaningfully distinguish between alleged sexual violence and the playful, consensual — if not always successful — seductions for which the culture is famous. Does their silence signal restraint — or is it complicity?
Very few come out of Parisian political soil smelling like a rose: People disagree with each other in public but sleep with each other in private. Carla Bruni’s roster of former lovers reportedly includes the ex–Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, another prospective candidate for the French presidency and prominent critic of her husband. Bruni was dubbed “the Terminator” in a recent book by Justine Lévy, the daughter of Bernard Henri-Lévy. She claims Bruni seduced her husband, Raphaël Enthoven, while Bruni was still romantically entangled with his father, Jean-Paul Enthoven.
The French playwright Yasmina Reza wrote a book about Sarkozy when he was a presidential candidate — a book in which she makes painfully clear that she’d love to seduce him — and then dedicated the book to her adulterous lover, “G” — reputed to be none other than Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose middle name is “Gaston.”
All of this you could hear discussed by Claire Chazal and Laurence Ferrari, the celebrity anchorwomen on France’s biggest news station, TF1. Laurence Ferrari is rumored to have had an intimate relationship with Sarkozy as he teetered between marriages — and to have replaced the iconic TF1 anchor, Patrick Poivre d’Arvor (“PPDA”), with Sarkozy’s assistance. PPDA in turn conducted a long-term secret relationship with Claire Chazal while married with four children; the two anchors only very recently admitted that PPDA is the father of Claire Chazal’s 10-year-old son.
Strauss-Kahn’s publicized sex life has already included an admitted affair with one of his subordinates at the International Monetary Fund; he was forced to make a public apology for his “poor judgment.” An anonymously authored book, purportedly by one of DSK’s female aides, claimed he frequented a wife-swapping club with his third wife, Anne Sinclair, and concluded: “Like all great political animals, he has trouble controlling himself.”
In addition to the willing sexual partners, DSK is alleged to have had unwilling ones as well. The journalist Tristane Banon claimed this weekend that DSK summoned her back to an empty apartment to complete an interview in 2002, only to seize her arm, tear her brassiere, pin her to the floor, and break the zipper of her jeans. After she kicked and punched her way out the door and fled into her car, she received a text message from her assailant: “Do I frighten you?” Her mother, the Socialist politician Anne Mansouret, convinced her not to file charges.
For the time being, my Parisian compatriots seem more exercised by displays of materialism among their politicians (especially on the left) than by alleged acts of sexual violence. Less than a month ago, DSK was caught on-camera in front of his home on the Place des Vosges as he climbed out of a 120,000 Euro Porsche. Never mind that the Porsche was not his but a friend’s: The image of a Socialist presidential candidate exhibiting such capitalistic indulgence was reviled, lampooned, and condemned all over the French media; it soon earned the label “Porschegate.”
As I write these words near the Place des Vosges, with DSK imprisoned far from his $3,000-a-night hotel suite, I’m still waiting for France’s political class to acknowledge Sofitelgate.