Polanski in Poland: National Hero or Disgraced Icon?

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk today brushed aside any notion that Poles should be fixated over Roman Polanki's arrest.

"I don't think this national uproar is appropriate," he told reporters. "This is a moral and legal matter and not one of national or political consequence."

Polanski's arrest on charges that he fled the U.S. more than 30 years ago to avoid sentencing on a child rape charge has energized Polish public opinion to such a degree that even the Prime Minister felt it necessary to calm emotions. And, crucially, to distance himself from the case. In contrast to Tusk, many ministers in his cabinet view Polanski as a source of national pride -- and standing up for him as a matter of national prestige.

VIDEO: Roman Polanskis agent addresses the latest details in the case.
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Polanski's popularity in Poland has always been huge. His rare theatrical performances sell out months in advance. He speaks to packed audience halls and his early films are treated as icons of contemporary Polish culture. In a country where film schools and the art of movie making have traditionally enjoyed a unique status, Polanski, a Lodz Film School alumnus, is simply revered.

No wonder that his arrest made such an impact. Polish newspapers, TV and news Web sites are brimming with the Polanski case. And it is not just the average reader and viewer who are interested. His arrest has literally hit the Polish political scene.

During his couple of days in Swiss custody, Polanski has managed to pitch political parties against one another and to spark a national debate on morality and art.

Polish political life is being dominated by Polanski's case. Some are asking if the government is doing enough to defend him. Others argue that the state should not squander its authority by sympathizing with a pedophile.

Everyone feels obligated to take a stand. President Lech Kaczynski got his lawyers involved and said, "Polanski is morally wrong. But much time has passed…"

Ex-president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa came out in Polanski's defense saying that, "He'd already repented for the sins of his youth."

The highly respected Association of Polish Film Makers issued an open letter. Its signatories appealed to the Polish president and government to take "energetic steps to free Polish citizen Roman Polanski and to prevent his extradition to the USA."

"Although the events from thirty years ago were morally wrong, Polanski's departure from the USA was an escape from a court lynch. There were solid reasons to believe that Roman Polanski would not be given a fair trial," the letter continued.

Poland Has Europe's Harshest Law Against Pedophilia

As emotions run high, some reactions verged on the bizarre. Film director Borys Lankosz, whose new film will be in the running for the Oscars, fumed against the Swiss. In a TVN24 interview he insinuated that the Swiss were prostitutes "who agreed to set up a trap by inviting Polanski and then caught him...Switzerland is not a place to visit, not in a long time," said Lankosz.

The big irony is that the often uncritical and unconditional involvement in Polanski's case is happening against the backdrop of a new Polish law against pedophilia. Polish elites who defend Polanski so vehemently seem to forget that only last week (Sept. 24), the Polish Parliament passed Europe's harshest law against pedophilia.

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