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Switzerland's Polanski Protection Program | The Nation

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Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.

Switzerland's Polanski Protection Program

Dear Switzerland,

Like many people I have fantasies about getting away with a crime, so I've followed the Roman Polanski case with great interest. Drugging and anally raping a 13-year-old girl doesn't appeal to me, I was thinking more of… well, maybe I'd better not say till I hear from you! Suffice it to say there are lots of people who annoy me deeply and sometimes I wonder how I contain myself. Anyway, I understand that should my darker impulses get the better of me I can take a plea bargain, flee sentencing, claim the judge was biased and corrupt, and live in one of your lovely geranium-festooned chalets for many decades as a respected member of the community. If I stay free long enough, my victims, like Polanski's, might even get so frustrated with the whole business they urge the courts to drop the case. I'm sure you would agree that this demonstration of magnanimity would be edifying and inspiring to the crass and puritanical American public. Polanski's friend the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy has made this point frequently.

My question is, What happens if eventually the law catches up to me and America wants me back? In the case of Polanski, you found a technicality in the extradition request—there's always something, isn't there? You also cited "national interests." But most of his supporters say the real reason is that Polanski is a terrific film director. Mr. Lévy, instance, says "His behaviour is not my business. I'm concerned about his movies." He also says, "Writers and artists often have bad reputations. It's not important for them to look good. Baudelaire, Nabokov. François Villon, Jean Genet. Today, Philip Roth." I dunno—I met Philip Roth once and he was a bit testy about a review I'd written of one of his books, but I don't think he's actually a criminal.

So what I want to know is, how great a writer do I have to be to have the Swiss government protect me once I arrive? Granted, my writing may not be in the same class as Chinatown or The Pianist—but what about Rosemary's Baby? I thought that was a pretty silly movie and not scary at all. Also is six books enough, or do I need to write more before I commit my crime? Ideally, I'd like to wait until I'm in the chalet and have lots of time for contemplation. And do sales figures come into it ? I really hope not—this is creative work we are talking about, after all, and everyone knows its value can't be measured in cash or popularity. Perhaps the world just hasn't caught up with me yet and you could tell the Americans you need to wait till I am dead and posterity delivers its verdict. Then, if it turns out I wasn't great enough to deserve Swiss protection after all, you can ship my corpse back to the district attorney.

Please let me know if I can send you copies of my books—unfortunately, I have plenty on hand. Perhaps you could share them with Polanski's many high-brow defenders—M. Lévy, French culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand and foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, to say nothing of le tout Hollywood. It would be great to know in advance that I'd have them all on my side against the "lynch mobs" who don't understand about Art.

I'll be here in my office, abiding the law and keeping myself to myself—at least, until I hear back from you.

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