WARSAW, Poland — When Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss authorities on a 32-year-old rape charge, the first reaction of many Poles was to immediately leap to his defense, but in recent days a counter-reaction has begun to set in that is much less favorable to the respected director.
Polanski’s detention caused a major stir in Poland, where it has dominated newspapers and television. Although Polanski — of Polish-Jewish background and a Holocaust survivor — left communist Poland in the 1960s, he is still seen as one of the country’s major cultural figures. In the first few days after Polanski’s arrest, which occurred Sept. 26 in Zurich three decades after he was convicted of having sex with a minor, he was strongly defended by Polish artists and politicians. Bogdan Zdrojewski, the culture minister, called the U.S. criminal proceedings against Polanski in the 1970s, “a legalized lynching,” accused the judge in charge of the case at the time of meddling, and suggested that the whole matter was tied to the recent U.S. decision to scrap the missile defense shield in central Europe.
Radoslaw Sikorski, the foreign minister, staged a joint appeal with his French counterpart to Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, calling for her to intervene in the affair.
Sikorski said he hoped the letter would be successful, “because Roman Polanski is a great artist, with great merit for Poland.”
Lech Kaczynski, Poland’s conservative and family values president, asked his lawyers to look into the matter.
Polanski’s fellow artists were even more forthcoming in his defense. Krzysztof Zanussi, the well-known Polish film producer, called the 13-year-old with whom Polanski had sex in 1977, “an underaged prostitute.”
“I don’t believe in the innocence of the victim,” he said on Poland’s TVN24 television. “She didn’t give the impression that she was there by chance.”
Polish artists, including Andrzej Wajda, the director and Oscar laureate, and Daniel Olbrychski, Poland’s best-known actor, joined in an appeal for the authorities to help Polanski.
The letter called for the president and government, “to undertake immediate and energetic actions aimed at freeing Roman Polanski, a citizen of the Polish Republic, and preventing his extradition to the United States of America.”
However, in recent days Polish opinion has begun to stiffen against the renowned director, with many newspaper opinion pages calling for him to return to the U.S. to face legal proceedings.
For one thing, the overt support of Polanski did not mesh with parliament’s recent decision to approve chemical castration for pedophiles, making Poland the toughest European country on sexual offenders.
Marek Migalski, a European MP for the right-wing opposition Law and Justice party, denounced the artists’ intervention in favor of Polanski, writing in his blog: “Would you use the same arguments if your buddy Romek got your 13-year-old daughter drunk and then played around with her?” Jerzy Sawka, a columnist for the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, wrote that the affair has made him reconsider the values of actors and directors he had once looked up to: “After the matter of Roman Polanski, nothing will be the same again. I’m listening and looking, and I don’t believe the words that are coming from people I once respected.”
As the clamor against Polanski grew, Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister, called on his ministers to express “greater restraint” over the director’s troubles.
“This is a matter which, obviously involves an outstanding Polish director, and did happen many years ago,” Tusk told reporters. “But this is a matter which involves rape, having sex with a child, and we cannot mix politics into it.”
He added that while it was proper for Polish consular officials to be involved because Polanski is a Polish citizen, “I see no reason why we — that is my ministers or anyone else in Poland — should turn this into a matter of a national character.”