Feature

Europe: The persecution of Roman Polanski

Acting on a warrant from an overzealous U.S. prosecutor, Swiss authorities arrested the director of <em>Rosemary&rsquo;s Baby</em> and <em>The Pianist</em> as he arrived in Zurich last week to accept a lifetime achiev

France is “indignant” at the arrest of Roman Polanski, said Jean-Luc Douin in Le Monde. Acting on a warrant from an overzealous U.S. prosecutor, Swiss authorities arrested the director of Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist as he arrived in Zurich last week to accept a lifetime achievement award at a film festival. Polanski is wanted for fleeing a 1978 charge of unlawful intercourse with a 13-year-old girl. French authorities were shocked by the arrest. Raised in Poland, Polanski has been a French citizen since 1976 and is a member of the Academy of Fine Arts. France and Poland are both requesting that Switzerland cancel the arrest or, failing that, that the U.S. drop the charges. “There is a generous America that we love,” said French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, “and there’s also a certain America that scares us—and that’s the America showing itself now.”

Polanski isn’t the first great artist to be hounded out of the U.S., said Luc Debraine in Switzerland’s Le Temps. In his day, Charlie Chaplin was “persecuted because of his taste for very young girls.” During Chaplin’s divorce from Lita Grey, whom he impregnated when she was just 16, the American press went wild with “revelations of his so-called perversion.” Later, during the McCarthy Era, he was accused of being a communist, and he ultimately fled to, “of all places, Switzerland.” How ironic that it is we Swiss who have now denied Polanski sanctuary.

“Our shame is absolute,” said Ariane Dayer in Switzerland’s Le Matin. We invited this cultural giant to our land and arrested him as he stepped off the plane. Our political and judicial branches “exploited a cultural event for their own little games.” We all know what’s really going on here. Switzerland hurt its relationship with the U.S. in a recent spat over American tax evadersholding secret Swiss bank accounts. The arrest of Polanski is an attempt to worm our way back into America’s good graces. It shows an appalling lack of respect for the man’s “artistic status.”

Maybe Switzerland is just trying to get the last laugh, said Sophie Gherardi in France’s La Tribune. The U.S. insisted that Switzerland cooperate with international law enforcement by handing over the names of secret bank account holders. Now, Switzerland has handed it a “poisoned chalice” in the form of assistance on the Polanski case. “You want judicial cooperation? All right, here’s your judicial cooperation!” President Barack Obama is now “caught between two fires.” His friends and supporters in Hollywood will be clamoring for Polanski’s release. But if Obama makes the slightest gesture of sympathy for the director, the “moral Right” will pounce, saying he is defending a sex offender. They would have a valid point, said Maciej Stasinski in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza. We seem to be forgetting that a girl was molested. “The man who committed that offense must answer for his act—whether he is Roman Polanski or a plumber.”

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