Dominique Strauss-Kahn "a sexual maniac": UBC prof
"Le Perv." "DSK Out". "Shame for France's image".
International headlines condemned the alleged sexual assault by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, French head of the International Monetary Fund, on a hotel maid in his New York hotel on Saturday.
However, not all French are convinced that the prominent Socialist Party candidate was guilty. Some speculate that it was a setup, intended to reduce him as a threat to current president Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election next year. In French newspaper Le Figaro, a sympathizer to Strauss-Kahn called the arrest an "international conspiracy" to "decapitate the IMF". According to a survey by broadcast regulator CSA, over half of French respondents believe that Strauss-Kahn was a victim to a set-up.
Yves Tiberghien, a political science professor at UBC, called the incident a "huge shock" and said that many people suspect that it was a setup.
"(The scandal) is so huge that it makes some believe -- even the official press in China that I was reading today -- that this can only be a trap," he wrote in an email from Shanghai. "Was he drugged? Was he trapped? ... how could he find himself in such a situation?"
Noting that Strauss-Kahn is "well-known as a womanizer," Tiberghien said "the pictures of him framed by the NYPD are too hard to believe, too shocking to understand."
Tiberghien emphasized the important role that Strauss-Kahn played in the IMF which has been all but overshadowed by the scandal.
"He has probably been the most active head of IMF ever, managing to reposition the IMF as crucial in the wake of the financial crisis, reforming policies of the IMF (for example, capital control), playing a huge role in the Euro crisis," he wrote.
"As well, he was positioned as the most popular candidate of any party for the presidential election in France and poised to announce his candidacy in June. He was the most competent of any politician in terms of economic policy." Tiberghien said that in the political context, his arrest was like "a mini-nuclear bomb for global economic policy-making and for French politics."
A blow for France's national image?
Immediately following the arrest, reactions from French politicians ranged from sympathy to embarrassment. Farid Laroussi, a French studies professor at UBC, said that while the incident was a "political earthquake" for France, its citizens don't consider the incident to have an impact on the country's international reputation, be it in Vancouver or anywhere abroad.
"As a person from France myself, I don't believe this damaged the national image or anything like that," he said.
Laroussi said the reaction by the French has been mainly stages of "shock, understanding and relief", explaining that while most people were surprised by the incident during the first 24 hours, they have started expressing relief that such a scandal did not break out later.
Although Strauss-Kahn's arrest has drawn comparisons to other powerful male politicians caught in sex scandals, such as Al Gore and Bill Clinton, Laroussi explained that the IMF chief is a unique case, and that he should not be viewed as representative of other politicians.
"He's a sexual maniac," he said. "This has nothing to do with cheating and mistresses. He has a real problem."
Laroussi said that although Strauss-Kahn's political career was likely "finished", French political culture tended to be more lenient toward private affairs.
"The US is much more conservative, much more Puritan," he said. "(French Socialist president) Francois Mitterand even had a daughter out of wedlock, but it was never an issue, and after it came out, he was actually re-elected."
Although Laroussi does not buy the theory that Strauss-Kahn was set up, he acknowledged that the incident would be a boost for right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, who has the "lowest approval rating" in the history of the Fifth Republic, which began in 1958.
Consequences for the IMF
In the wake of the scandal, the IMF has appointed John Lipsky to the position of acting managing director. In Tiberghien's view, the loss of Strauss-Kahn could have a negative impact for the rest of the world.
"DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn) was the most successful IMF head ever and the only one able to be both competent as an economist and very skillful as a political entrepreneur," he said, noting that he was the one helping countries like Greece and Portugal out of their debt crisis. "The EU will suffer from his absence."