Feature

France: The end of privacy for politicians

“For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic,” a Cabinet minister has been forced to answer questions about “his sexuality, his intimacy, the most secret part of himself,” said Alain Duhamel

Alain DuhamelDernières Nouvelles d’Alsace

The French have always allowed our politicians to keep their sex lives private, said Alain Duhamel. Whether a leader had a mistress, a gay affair, or a child out of wedlock was never considered relevant to his or her ability to perform the duties of office. But now, “for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic,” a Cabinet minister has been forced to answer questions about “his sexuality, his intimacy, the most secret part of himself.”

French television has subjected Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand to this “humiliating display” because of a few lines in his 2005 autobiography, in which he wrote of his self-disgust at having “got into the habit of paying for boys” for sex while vacationing in Thailand. The French far right, already incensed that Mitterrand was supporting the filmmaker Roman Polanski in his battle to evade jail for having sex with a 13-year-old, seized on that anecdote to smear Mitterrand as a pedophile. The minister was forced to explain that the prostitutes he slept with were “consenting adults” and that he condemned sex tourism.

Most French voters believe Mitterrand should keep his post. But the taboo against prying has been broken. We could even end up like Britain, “where newspapers obsess about politicians’ sex lives.”

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