The new French culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, is fighting to save his brief ministerial career after opposition politicians expressed disgust at his autobiography, in which he justified sex tourism and admitted "paying for boys".
Mr Mitterrand, 62, the nephew of the late president, François Mitterrand, was thrown on to the defensive after rival MPs homed in on memoirs in which he described his delight in visiting Asian brothels.
The revelations, in his 2005 best-seller La Mauvaise Vie (The Bad Life), were unearthed by far-right politicians angered by his outspoken defence of the film director Roman Polanski, who was arrested in Switzerland for extradition to Los Angeles to face charges of having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
Socialists from the party created by Mr Mitterrand's uncle also voiced outrage and suggested that his three-month tenure as Culture minister should be brought to an abrupt end.
The furore is deeply embarrassing for Nicolas Sarkozy, who claimed to have struck a blow for "political openness" when he brought Mr Mitterrand, who is openly gay, into his centre-right government in June. The choice was reportedly influenced by the President's wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who has been trying to broaden the her husband's cultural horizons.
Mr Mitterrand admitted in his autobography that his attraction to young and implicitly under-age male prostitutes had continued even though he was aware of "the sordid details of this traffic". "I got into the habit of paying for boys," he wrote. "All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excited me enormously... the abundance of very attractive and immediately available young boys put me in a state of desire."
The book, which won critical acclaim and sold 190,000 copies in France, was presented by Mr Mitterrand – then a popular television presenter – as an "autobiography which is half real and half dreamed". It remains to be seen whether the suggestion that his descriptions of sex tourism were not strictly autobiographical will allow him to save his career. The memoir includes lurid scenes in male brothels in Thailand and Indonesia where boys are presented to Western tourists. An English translation is due out next year.
On Monday night, passages from the book were read out on live television by Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Yesterday, she said Mr Mitterrand should leave office to restore France's moral integrity. "Resign, Mr Mitterrand, and perhaps afterwards we'll be able to give lessons to other people," she added.
After a long silence, leaders of the main opposition party, the Socialists, decided yesterday to follow the lead of a party that they usually abhor, or ignore. "As a minister of Culture, he has drawn attention to himself by defending a film-maker accused of raping a child and has written a book where he said he took advantage of sexual tourism. To say the least, I find it shocking," said the Socialist party spokesman, Benoît Hamon.
Mr Mitterrand, however, tried to dismiss the attacks as politically motivated. "I am flabbergasted," he said after a cabinet meeting.
"If the National Front drag me through the mud then it is an honour for me. If a leftist politician drags me through the mud then it is a humiliation for him."
Mr Mitterrand was one of the most vocal defenders of Polanski, who has French citizenship and has lived there for 30 years, following the film-maker's arrest in Switzerland 10 days ago. He has since qualified his support, saying he was "stunned" at the time, but accused the US of callous behaviour.
"Just as there is an America which is generous and which we like, so there is an America which is frightening, and that is the America which has just revealed its face," he said.Reuse content