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French Polanski backer in controversy of his own

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand defended the film director detained over old charges of sex with a minor. Mitterrand is now under fire for his account of sex with male Thai prostitutes.

October 09, 2009|Devorah Lauter

PARIS — France's minister of culture, whose forceful defense of film director Roman Polanski brought scrutiny to his own life, denied in a television interview Thursday that he had slept with underage boys and said his 2005 book about his experiences should not be taken as a literal memoir.

Tilting his head to the side and occasionally glancing at his folded hands on the table, Frederic Mitterrand sought to explain passages he wrote in "The Bad Life" ("La Mauvaise Vie") about having sex with young male prostitutes in Thailand.

"Yes, I had [sexual] relations with young men, but one cannot confuse pedophilia with homosexuality," the 62-year-old politician said, insisting that he had had sex only with adults.

"It is neither a novel nor my memoirs. I preferred to leave things vague," he said. "Nothing is true, nothing is false," he added. "It was a way to tell a life story that resembles mine a lot."

The book, widely perceived as autobiographical, raised some questions when it was published but did not cause a scandal and sold well. It resurfaced after Mitterrand made a much criticized and emotional appeal in support of Polanski after the Polish French director's arrest Sept. 26.

Polanski was jailed in Switzerland on a warrant stemming from his guilty plea three decades ago to charges of having sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles. He fled the U.S. in 1978 before sentencing and had lived in Paris ever since.

Polanski remains in custody while he awaits a decision on a U.S. extradition request.

Mitterrand, a nephew of the late French President Francois Mitterrand, has been under fire since his defense of the Oscar-winning director in which he lashed out at what he called the "scary" side of U.S. justice.

The far-right National Front party has called for his resignation, and party member Marine Le Pen read excerpts of his book on French television Monday.

Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said that he was "violently shocked" by the book and that "the question is to know whether Mr. Frederic Mitterrand should resign or not."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has not spoken out on Polanski's arrest, nor has he explicitly come to the defense of Mitterrand, who told French reporters that he was the victim of "gutter" attacks from opposing politicians.

The controversy over the minister's book struck a sensitive nerve throughout France. The nation is still reacting to vocal support for Polanski among the political and artistic communities, which many viewed as a sign of a legal double standard.

"These guys all think they are above the law," said one man in his 40s, who requested anonymity while discussing the sensitive topic as he watched Mitterrand's interview Thursday night. "He wrote this book, then defends Polanski. . . . There is such a gap between politicians and regular people."

He added that he "didn't believe for one second" that the minister's book was more fiction than fact.

In one of the excerpts from the book published in the French dailies Le Monde and Le Parisien, the narrator describes feelings of repulsion and attraction concerning nights he spends at a Thai brothel, where he writes that garcons -- boys or young men -- wearing tight T-shirts sold their bodies.

"Money and sex -- I am at the heart of my system," the narrator says, adding that it "after all works, because I know that they won't refuse me."

During his appearance on French television network TF1, Mitterrand insisted, "I never hurt anyone."

"The Polanski affair has become the Mitterrand affair," he said.

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Lauter is a special correspondent.

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