May 16, 2011

On DSK – USA vs France?

Follow-up to Madrid celebrates San Isidro from Around Europe 2010-12

The San Isidro day, even in Madrid, despite the fest and the sunny day, despite a demonstration against youth unemployment (at last!), despite the heat of the local elections campaign (next week), and despite Contador taking the lead in the Giro on the spectacular Etna stage, has been dominated by the news from New York - as even in my comments on yesterday's blog. By the way, the Spaniards, on the brink of sinking as they are, are scared by anything that can shake the market and make waves.

Comparing US and French media reports, I am impressed by some deep divides on this.

(1) On the 'présomption d'innocence' which is invoked in France, and the guilotine attitude in the US. Remembering that DSK has already been the object of heavy charges, later proved unfounded, three times, on this I side with France.

(2) On sexual harassment. US and France being rather extreme opposites (puritan repression vs male-chauvinist je-m'en-foutisme), the choice between the two is tough, but in doubt, I prefer to side with who has less power, i.e. the victims, so I am with the US. In particular because the French (and their other Latin cousins) are excessively tolerant of affairs involving abuse of hierarchical power. DSK has a bad record on this and whatever happens to the Sofitel case, his career is over - and rightly so. I also remember that on this, societies themselves shift and swing over time, so let's hope it is a good development for France... 

(3)... which leads to the third point: DSK is not charged of sexual harassment, but of rape, a very different magnitude of crime in most legal systems (including the US, which actually has a particularly technical definition of rape, different from most European ones). Yesterday I tended, like the French, to be innocentist: come on, someone focussed on winning presidential elections just does not hang around naked jumping on cleaning ladies - not even Bill Clinton, not even Berlusconi behave like that (as far as we know).

Today more details emerge that suggest culpability, though, so I suspend any judgment. Even the French websites, tonight, are suddenly less indignant about US persecution. On rape, I would hope, there should be no French/US difference, and tolerance should be nil. But I am obviously wrong, as proved by the similar French-US confrontation on Polanski. And even today, the French are appalled by the 70-year jail sentence the Americans are threatening. I can't side with the French if they show any tolerance of rape, while still siding with them on legal culture (point 1). So today I prefer the more aware US. The only point the French have, remembering what said above (that countries change over time), is that you can't ahistorically backtrack and apply the puritan morality of the 2000s to the liberal 1970s. But Polanski was guilty - the issue is just whether he has already paid enough or not -, and if DSK is guilty, he should pay a big deal - whether 70 years or not. [I declare an interest: I am a fan of Polanski's first Polish film, Nóz w wodzie, and very much like The Pianist. But artists do not have a licence to commit crimes.]

(4) Finally, there is the economy, stupid. Even without believing conspiracy theories that are popular with the French, DSK was (simple past tense) the best IMF Director ever. On the crisis, the banks and the bail-outs of indebted countries, the IMF proved to have more of a social conscience than the EU - a reversal of roles since twenty years ago, when the IMF followed the neoliberal 'Washington consensus' and the EU was led by Jacques Delors - another French socialist and the father of DSK friend/enemy Martine Aubry.

Only a couple of days ago I admired DSK's performance in the movie Inside Job, by Charles Ferguson, a much better attempt than Micheal Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story at putting the financial crisis on the big screen. Well, on this, between the French and the US, even between Sarkozy's Finance Minister and Obama's, not to speak of between French economic thought and US economists (and business schools), I still side with the French.

To conclude, there are still some things I like of France, even if they should learn a few others from the Americans. To paraphrase François I, rien n'est perdu, fors l'honneur.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. emma

    Tout à fait!

    17 May 2011, 08:45

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