Rivals from across France’s political spectrum joined in a chorus of alarm and dismay Friday and warned that French democracy is in danger after an online leak of sexual images led an associate of French leader Emmanuel Macron to pull out of the race to become mayor of Paris.
Rapid expressions of support for Benjamin Griveaux, even from political rivals, were a striking reminder of the longstanding and widely held view in France that public servants’ private lives are largely off limits.
A Russian performance artist claimed responsibility for posting the sexually explicit videos that apparently prompted Griveaux to end his bid for Paris City Hall. It is alleged the married Griveaux sent the videos to another woman.
Politicians warned that people will no longer want to stand for elected office if they run the risk of their private affairs becoming public, and that the leaking of sexually explicit material to take Griveaux out of the municipal elections was a threat to France’s proud democratic traditions.
“We’re not trying to elect saints,” said Sébastien Chenu, a spokesperson for the far-right National Rally party, normally an unforgiving political opponent of Griveaux’s centrist camp. Chenu was speaking on BFM-TV.
On the far-left, former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon also expressed support, saying Griveaux was the victim of score-settling and that French public life must not become prey to voyeurism.
“The publication of intimate images to destroy an adversary is odious,” Mélenchon tweeted.
Accused of ‘hypocrisy’
Lawmaker Cédric Villani, who split from Griveaux’s party to stand against him in Paris, warned in a tweet that his rival was the victim of an attack that posed “a serious threat for our democracy.”
Griveaux previously served as a spokesperson for Macron’s government. His sudden withdrawal from the mayoral race could leave Macron’s centrist party without a candidate in the French capital for the municipal elections next month.
A grim-faced Griveaux announced the withdrawal himself on Friday morning, saying he’d been targeted by “vile attacks” on the internet and social media.
“For more than a year my family and I were subjected to defamatory, false statements, anonymous attacks, the disclosure of private and stolen conversations and death threats,” he said.
He didn’t comment specifically on the authenticity of the images or on the people depicted.
The newspaper Libération said Pyotr Pavlensky, the performance artist, called the daily on Thursday night and said he obtained the video from an unnamed source who had a relationship with Griveaux.
Libération quoted Pavlensky as saying that he wanted to denounce Griveaux’s “hypocrisy.”
“He is someone who is always playing up family values, who says he wants to be the mayor of families and always cites as examples his wife and children. But he does the opposite,” Libération quoted Pavlensky as saying.
Griveaux, 42, has three children with his wife.
A lawyer for Pavlensky confirmed that the artist published the videos. Juan Branco said he had warned him beforehand of the legal risks of doing so.
Branco said the show of support from other politicians for Griveaux “is very specific to France” and demonstrated “the impunity of the French elite.
“That’s what Pyotr Pavlensky wanted to denounce, it’s the double standards that some people are protected and others aren’t,” he said in a phone interview.
Pavlensky left Russia in 2017 after being told of rape accusations against him and later announced that France had granted him political asylum.
Paris is the most coveted of France’s municipalities and a political fiefdom that has been used in the past, notably by former French President Jacques Chirac, as a springboard for higher office.
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor since 2014, is running for re-election.
Hidalgo called for “respect for the private lives of people and of families” and said the affair “isn’t worthy of the democratic debate.”
It remained unclear whether Macron’s party would turn to Villani or another candidate.