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March 27, 2023

DSK affair and the French response

DSK is by no means a closed case. It did bring a huge surprise last week, though, when details on the credibility of the ex-IMF chief’s accuser were made public, DSK was returned his bail and released (a conditional release to a certain extent). His partisans’ voices could be immediately heard in France, saying the whole judicial case was just ‘a political coup’, questioning the attitude in the matter of the management of the New York Sofitel Hotel, the place where this genuine soap opera began. While some French Socialist leaders mentioned confuse things calling for clarifications – such as the conduct of the New York district police commissar who had been awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honour by President Nicolas Sarkozy shortly before the incident, who did not report the incident to his superiors but chose to take it into his own hands, a quite incomprehensible thing to do as it concerned an international public figure – others suggested there might be an unknown side of the whole affair.

For instance, one such Socialist leader even launched the hypothesis of a ‘connection’ between French group Accor – owners of the New York Sofitel Hotel and certain ‘French laboratories’. We don’t know for now how the DSK case will develop, as some surprises, even major ones, are still possible.

The interesting part which is worth an analysis is the result of an opinion poll conducted recently by right-wing Le Figaro newspaper on the likelihood of DSK returning to the primary stage of French politics and possibly winning the 2012 presidential election against the current Elysee tenant, Nicolas Sarkozy. Technically speaking, DSK’s candidacy can still happen next year, as the French Socialists have not yet submitted their list. On the other hand, given that the former IMF chief is to appear in Court on July 18, the conclusion of the scandal is still unknown.

The survey found a comfortable majority of French people who think that DSK could not become the president of France in the 2012 election, should he run. However, setting aside the findings of the poll which, in fact, have been challenged by one of the newspaper’s readers on its forum, the Le Figaro audience being orientated towards the right, opinions expressed on the forum on the likelihood of DSK’s presidential candidacy are extremely interesting. Keeping in mind that it is a forum of comments where readers exchange views, the almost 500 posts highlight a common set of characteristics of the French public worth mentioning here.

First of all, what is obvious is a certain hesitation characterising part of the French electorate in respect of finding in DSK the true French ‘left’. Often called the representative of the ‘caviar-left’ or ‘platinum left’  – transparent allusions to the segment of the rich of very rich people assumingly sharing the equalitarian values of the political left – DSK is a person whose leftist legitimacy is challenged. One particular contributor was even wondering if Socialist means being left-wing and another one suggested to people to look the word up in ‘a good dictionary’ and see that ‘DSK stopped believing in Socialism a long time ago’.

Other readers look into the possibility that DSK’s rejoining politics may determine a re-inventing of the ‘left’, one of them finding that he is ‘the only person able’ to modernise it and another one saying that he could commit himself to doing that in order for the Socialists to become a credible alternative in… 2017. This last reader brings the argument that the French Socialism now has ‘demonetised leaders’ and the party simply cannot be modernised, the alternative being the pursuit of an Anglo-Saxon left-wing line, discarding the Marxism-Leninism.

All these questions regarding the left do not prevent other readers from speaking of a political decadence in France, of a shortage of competent leaders as long as so many respondents give a positive answer to the question whether or not DSK could come back to the national political stage. Quoting another opinion poll giving 43 per cent positive answers and 56 negative ones concerning DSK’s return, another reader says that it probably ‘explains the state of disintegration of this country’. The author tries to demonstrate that DSK is not a far-right, popular right or left-wing adherent, nor is he ‘a modernising father’, but that there is ‘a limit in everything’. Another commentator has big doubts on the logic of DSK’s standing for election, wondering how he would represent France in the USA, for example, after the scandal that caused the mass-media to storm into his life and where he has been called all sorts of names. ‘France – another reader says – deserves a stately and respectable president’. Another contributor finds that the feminine electorate – about half of the total number of votes – would not vote for DSK even if he was found ‘innocent’ in the New York rape scandal. His ‘sulphurous notoriety’ in France, strengthened by this new sex scandal, would be a strong argument against him. On the other hand, a female reader says she would vote for the candidate that best meets the job description, so she would unhesitatingly chose DSK. In her opinion, he is ‘the best candidate we can have, a brilliant economist the country definitely needs. His private affairs concern his wife and are of no interest to me’.

As demonstrated by this forum, to a certain portion of the French voters, guilty or not from a judicial point of view, the moral issue still remains and is crucial. One contributor accepts that ‘the man is no criminal, yet he does not deserve to stand for election as president. We should not forget that he admitted to the sexual intercourse. As long as he has such deviations of conduct, how will he be once elected? Don’t we want the officials we elect to be morally exemplary figures?’  Opinions on that are quite divided. Some say France should be represented at the highest level by someone ‘clean’ and DSK’s weaknesses are now known to an entire world. One person disagrees, pointing out that he is not the first nor the last man with this kind of sins and that ‘the strength of French politics has always resided in not judging… the politician’s private life’, especially since DSK is ‘a European martyr in the US, a symbol of the American threat lurking down on the European power’.

Other views suggest that the ‘affair’ indicates ‘the weakness of the French political class’ and, more than that, certain shortcomings of the hyper-centralised French state, advocating decentralisation, a reverse of the inherited ‘Colbertism’, of the ‘omnipotent state’ with a ‘rigid pyramidal hierarchy’, far ‘too complex’, with far ‘too many laws’.
Remember that such opinions are posted on a right-wing publication forum. It is not hard to imagine that left-wing opinions would probably tend to be more favourable to DSK. However, the question remains: will DSK rejoin politics?

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