Do you remember Dominique Strauss Kahn? Or DSK like we call him in France? He was a high profile French politician, once the Head of the International Monetary Fund, French Ministry of Finance, and one press release away from becoming a serious candidate to become France’s President in 2012.
He was basically one of the most powerful men in the world, until this day of May 2011 when he was taken on a “perp walk” in New York City, handcuffed, his eyes blitzed away by hundreds of journalists witnessing a fall like we only see in Hollywood movies. That year DSK was accused of attempted rape and sexual assault by a room cleaner in the Sofitel hotel he was occupying, Nafissatou Diallo. The Sofitel trial was reported on international media, and ended with a settlement where DSK gave 1,5 million dollars to Diallo. Although he settled and therefore escaped a final decision of the judge, potentially a conviction, if DSK had been a Norwegian politician this would be a good example of what Norwegian journalists call a political suicide. But in France he was still called a “seductor”.
In Norway a non registered stabbur will get you out of a job. In France aggravated pimping will make you a potential President of the Republic.
It doesn’t stop there. Between 2013 and 2015 he was in another trial, accused this time of aggravated pimping in a prostitution network in North of France and Belgium. Acquitted again. He admitted having orgies but also said he did not know the 40 women laying with him were prostitutes. The prosecutor found that he had benefited from prostitution that others had paid for. So he is not guilty, legally. What about morally? But imagine you read in the newspapers the painful testimony of a woman at the bar explaining the sadism in the man’s eyes when he forced them to perform sexual acts (never named) she were uncomfortable with. Would you vote for this man if he wanted to exist again in the political arena of your country? Even if he begged for forgiveness? (DSK didn’t, in case you were wondering).
If you are Norwegian your answer to this question is certainly “no”. Although this man was never found guilty, there are so many stains on his CV that he lost all the trust of the people he is supposed to represent. In his carrier he was also accused twice of corruption (also acquitted or settled out of court). Plus he doesn’t seem to respect women very much, not a good sign for Norwegians.
But if you are French the spectrum of answers is much wider. Believe it or not, recent polls show DSK in the top 5 of the politicians French voters see as good candidates for the 2017 presidential elections. And he recently wrote two opinion pieces on the way Germany and the EU deal with the Greek crisis that show that he does not see himself as politically dead at all. Not only does he see himself as back in the game, so do French voters.
In Norway on the other hand, one does not need to be accused of aggravated pimping to become a political outcast. You don’t even need to do something criminal, and you don’t even need to be convicted. You rent a storehouse without the right authorizations and you lose all credibility as a politician (Åslaug Hage). That was not even a crime, it was a mistake, and wrong, but still. There are many other examples of Norwegian politicians who had to resign or at the very least apologize for a scandal of this scale: Fabian Stang and his under the table work in his house, Åslaug Haga and her storehouse, Trude Drevland and her free ticket to Venice (for work), or Bård Hoksrud and his Latvian prostitutes to name a few (naming a few politicians, not prostitutes). In France such stories would hardly raise an eyebrow. Maybe create a little laughter.
Norwegians apologize, French accuse others of their crimes
In Norway the first move of a politician is to apologize and ask for the forgiveness of its voters. Politicians don’t apologize in France, that just shows you are weak. Even worse, when a scandal comes out in the news, the classic defence for a French politician is to look outraged. “I am a victim!” is what they scream in the media. Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppé, Jean Francois Copé all said they were victims of a conspiracy when they were accused of all sorts of crimes. And the French public tends to believe them especially in the case of DSK’s Sofitel case.
You can see the difference: in Norway all the politicians involved in a scandal of any scale apologize at any cost, if possible even before the scandal comes out in the media like Fabian Stang did for having used black labour. Even if they did something wrong but not illegal Norwegian politicians will have to apologize, lay flat and if permitted publicly whip themselves with cries of self blaming and “I will never do it again I promise”. Norwegians, so Christian of them, will usually grant them forgiveness. If not, these people are out of the political game. But if they are still in the stain will remain forever.
Norway and France definitely don’t have the same standards of morals and ethics for their political leaders. So in Norway, the amount of dirt a politician needs to be out is a little handful, in France it is a whole truck of dirt. Oh wait bring two. You know what, I don’t know how much dirt French people need to blacklist a politician. Because apparently (alleged) rape or corruption aren’t enough.
It comes down to this: Norway wants Equality, France protects its Elite
I think the cultural context plays a role in what Norwegians and French people expect from their political leaders. Norwegian politicians are expected to be irreproachable on a moral level and to respect not only the written laws of Norway but also all the other unwritten Norwegian principles leading the public life: a mix of Janteloven, equality, trust of the public and respect for women. The eyes of the people and of the media are on politicians at all time to make sure they don’t use their power to benefit people they like, or that they don’t use money from the tax payers for their private activities. Or that they don’t disrespect women, children, or actually anyone. The public, voters and media are always there to remind those they have elected: Who do you think you are? You are one of us, and don’t you dare think you are better than us for one second. They need to be trusted, and if they cross the line (which is very close) that makes them less trustworthy, politicians have to face consequences which are not always proportionate to the actual mistake. But I am French, so what do I know of a proportionate punishment, it is unheard of in the political elite of my country.
In France our elite has always had more rights than the common people. Unlike Norway which comes more or less from an egalitarian society, French society has, to my knowledge, never been egalitarian. Nobles and then bourgeois always had more rights than us, the common people. The very big distance that exists between the political elite and the voters also doesn’t help. Once met the Minister of Finance of Norway walking in the streets of Oslo, don’t think that anyone would meet Sarkozy or any Minister in the streets of Oslo. The King even took the tram for heaven’s sake! The French politicians have have a life we don’t have, they have money we don’t have and our worlds never meet.
A profound disrespect for women? No it’s seduction!
Elitism of the political system in France is strengthened by profound disrespect for women. As a French woman what I found shocking beyond the actual crime he was accused of were the reaction of French politicians and journalists when commenting the scandal. It revealed how socially accepted it is to disrespect women and how lightly violence against women is judged among the intellectual elite. Jean Francois Kahn, historian, writer and journalist said about the accusations against DSK that there was no rape in this case as DSK only exercised his right to “troussage”.
This is the right bourgeois had in France until the 17th-18th century to use any maid or slave as their sexual object at any time. They would “trousse” women without them expecting it, and could never be charged for it as they owned these women. Another journalist, Franck Tanguy, chroniquer at the radio RMC, said “this woman (Nafissatou Diallo) can’t read or write, she is as ugly as an ass and she just won 1,5 million dollars. She is really living a fairytale”. (If you want to throw up the bucket is right there. As a side note, this man did not lose his professional credibility or his job after saying that basically a victim of rape is living a fairytale). Again, unheard of in Norway.
Do you prefer a competent immoral leader or an incompetent ethical one?
I am not giving a very good image of my country. But sometimes I don’t understand how we (I include myself in this because I am also a French voter) can continue accepting such behaviour among those who are supposed to represent us and be the best of us. French voters are tired of the scandals that literally come out on almost every politician in activity. Last year Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President, was involved in so many judicial cases that Le Monde had to make simplified diagrams for the public to understand. The general feeling among the French public is that all politicians are or have been compromised in illegal activities. “They are all from the same elite schools, and know each other from before whatever their political party today. They are basically a bunch of white men in politics for decades who are covering each others’ backs. What can we do?” is a common mantra one hears among French voters. The extreme right wing, le Front National, is of course benefiting from this big mess.
The great irony of this situation is that the French voters keep voting and excusing these same politicians they despise. Unfortunately the French have a very short memory and also very forgiving. To write this article I had to dig into archives and history of many French politicians and I re-discovered all the corruption cases against what seems to be virtually every single politician in activity. Such as for example Alain Juppé, former Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Budget who was convicted of embezzlement, with 2 years of suspended prison sentence and 10 years of ineligibility (later down to one). But I had forgotten stories like this one. And other French people are the same. Public images are rebuilt after a scandal, and the media probably helps give that extra push for politicians to appear clean and trustworthy of being elected again. Guess where Alain Juppé is now. Bingo! In the top 5 of the best candidates seen by the French voters to be in the run for the next Presidental election. All cleaned up.
Imagine now that your country is in a deep economic crisis and you believe collectively that only an economist can save your souls. Sorry, your pensions. In this case, many French people believe that DSK is so smart that he can solve the Greek crisis and maybe France’s economy. “I prefer being led by a competent immoral politician than by an incompetent ethical politician” is something I have heard very often when interviewing French people over this question. As if that was the only choice we had.
If DSK was Norwegian, or for that matter if Norwegian morals applied to French politics who would be left? If you take out of the French political scene all those accused or convicted of sex and corruption scandals a vast majority would be out. And what would that leave us with? Opportunities for new, young, hopefully clean women and men, with diversified ethnic and religious and social backgrounds to build tomorrow’s France. You know, people who actually represent the current French society. Instead we don’t hold our politicians accountable and vote for the same old white elitist men drowning to their eyes into the “secrets de la République”.
What can I say, Vive la France!