Entrevista:O Estado inteligente

quinta-feira, maio 26, 2011


The New Yorker

Paris Postcard


by Philip Gourevitch May 30, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-KahnL

In Paris the other day, a woman arrived late to a lively dinner party, accepted a glass of champagne, and, taking a seat, asked, "So? What are we talking about?" Then she let out a mirthless chuckle to signal that the question was rhetorical. Since Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York on charges (which he has denied) of sexually assaulting an African immigrant hotel maid, there really was no other topic of conversation in the Parisian society that had produced him, particularly among the left-of-center caste of politicians and journalists of which he and his wife, Anne Sinclair, were stars.

Strauss-Kahn, the (now former) chief of the International Monetary Fund, was expected to be the French Socialist Party's Presidential candidate in next year's election; and Sinclair, an American-born heiress, was for a long time a host on one of France's most popular TV news shows. Nearly everyone at the dinner had known them, and it was the handful who knew them best who now spoke most convincingly about his history as an aggressive and incessant groper of women.

According to the stories, he grabbed women in elevators, he cornered them in gardens, and if they resisted he liked to pursue, with phone calls and text messages. Everyone knew, the dinner guests said. For instance, the hostess recalled, there was the time at one of Strauss-Kahn's homes when he seemed as if he didn't care who saw him make his moves. Even his wife had to have seen, the hostess said. Surely not, the host said.

Through the windows, the spring evening dimmed to black, and the party moved to the dining room, where the stories continued. Earlier that day at the Café de Flore, Pascal Bruckner, the philosopher, had remarked of Strauss-Kahn, "He wasn't a womanizer—he was sick." Everyone at the dinner party agreed, and they, too, spoke of Strauss-Kahn in the past tense.

This was a change from the initial reactions to his arrest in France, where the news was greeted mostly with disbelief. A poll conducted the next morning found that nearly sixty per cent of French people thought that Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a conspiracy. Denial had quickly given way to indignation—not at the alleged rapist but at the outrages to which he was subjected by the American criminal-justice system. The French were appalled to see video of Strauss-Kahn's perp walk in Harlem and photographs of his arraignment: a usually impeccable man appearing unshaven, with his coat collar askew, and his face dark with an exhausted mixture of defiance and defeat.

It is illegal to take and display such photographs in France, where the protection of reputation is considered an extension of the presumption of innocence, just as it is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions to parade or humiliate prisoners of war. (French reporters had no compunction about publishing the name of the alleged victim, a practice held in contempt by American journalists.) But, because Strauss-Kahn was captured and photographed in New York, the French press had pounced on the pictures and made them inescapable.

"It is savage, this photography," an aide at the French Foreign Ministry, on the Quai d'Orsay, remarked. Then he added, "But if he did what the maid says . . ." The photos had made that "if" real to him: the seriousness of the crime in question, the extent to which the alleged acts were an assault not only on the woman but on the entire system of order and meaning to which a great public servant's life should be devoted. The I.M.F. chief, he thought, now appeared like a figure from Dostoyevsky: "Strauss-Kahnikov," he said.

To Pascal Bruckner, the photos showed "the face of a libertine" and "a bulldozer." Strauss-Kahn had never actually declared his candidacy, and in the past he had been such a lacklustre campaigner that Bruckner suspected that he did not actually want to run. "I think his passion was sex, much more than power," Bruckner said. "I have many women friends in the Socialist Party who have told me stuff about him. It's dreadful." He thought Strauss-Kahn's friends should have encouraged him to seek psychiatric treatment instead of the Presidency.

Back at the dinner party, guests were engaged in a discussion of eccentric conjugal arrangements, in the course of which the astonishing phrase "wife-swapping Freemasons" was spoken. The host remarked that in a marriage there is often "complicity in pathology." The guest with the mirthless laugh declared that that was a pretty good description of marriage, period. But everyone agreed that there was a big difference between the charge of violent crime—attempted rape, no less—and the habitual sexual harassment that they had tolerated in Strauss-Kahn. When conversation turned to the French libel laws that inhibit reporting bad behavior, another woman said, "I'm beginning to think all the pictures of Strauss-Kahn in custody were a good thing—maybe they'll put some fear into men."

Meanwhile, across town, Dominique de Villepin, the Gaullist former Prime Minister, suggested that the Strauss-Kahn affair ought to put some fear into Socialists: "While they say, 'We feel betrayed,' others would say, 'But you knew and you didn't say anything.' " Now nobody in Paris was talking about anything else. So it was startling to find a politician who preferred to say nothing. The writer Jacques Attali, a former adviser to France's last Socialist President, and an old friend of Strauss-Kahn's, said, "I think the best service I can give him is not to speak, not to hear, not to listen, as a kind of moment of mourning"—which was saying a lot. 

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