The French tend to be insouciant about politicians’ amorous indiscretions. The sort of shenanigans that cause outrage in Britain only rate mirth in France.
Yet even against that backdrop, Benjamin-Blaise Griveaux, candidate for Paris mayor and former spokesman for Macron’s party, went too far.
That he had a mistress, Alexandra de Taddeo, 29, was par for the course. He is a French politician after all. But he also sent her a masturbatory video of himself, which spelled trouble.
The quality of our leaders everywhere never ceases to amaze me. Any man capable of sending such videos to a woman as a sort of Valentine is a vulgar barbarian. A politician doing so, especially in the midst of a campaign, is also a moron. I wouldn’t call this combination of qualities ideal in a politician, but it’s certainly widespread.
The video promptly appeared on a new website set up by the Russian refugee Pyotr Pavlensky, who had inherited Miss de Taddeo’s favours and hence the clip. A scandal ensued, and Mr Griveaux removed his candidature, probably scuppering Macron’s hope of his party gaining control of Paris.
As Manny watched his ratings plummeting towards 20 per cent, his ministers accused Putin of a deliberate attempt to destabilise France’s government. Actually, Vlad does have some previous in such activities.
Yet one would think that, considering that Macron is Putin’s staunchest ally among European leaders, this kind of action looks counterproductive. But only at first glance.
For Putin has a vested interest in sowing chaos and discord throughout the West. He seeks to create troubled waters out of which he can fish his status of a global statesman, acting as king-maker and playing politicians and countries against one another.
Still, the overall picture is murky, but looking at the personalities involved may clarify it. Prime among them is Pavlensky, either the key player or possibly a pawn in the hands of the key player.
With the ignorance of Russia so typical of Western papers, The Financial Times described him as the “patron saint of Russian dissidence”. This is an insult to all the heroes who’ve given their lives fighting Soviet and post-Soviet fascism.
Pavlensky is no dissident. He calls himself an artist, capitalising on the fashionably elastic definition of the word. His chosen genre is public self-mutilation and other publicity stunts, which he performs with both insane abandon and a talent for self-promotion.
His coups included sewing his lips shut, wrapping his naked body in barbed wire, lying naked in Red Square with his scrotum nailed to the cobbles and finally setting fire to the KGB/FSB headquarters at Lubianka.
Rather than being a real dissident, Pavlensky’s madness only served to mock and trivialise genuine dissent, thereby diffusing it. Using such lightning rods is Putin’s standard practice, although Pavlensky’s role remains only plausible conjecture.
Altogether he spent seven months in prison, which was remarkably lenient by Russian standards. But then in 2017 Pavlensky was accused of raping an actress at knifepoint, which could mean years behind bars.
Crazy or not, he assessed the situation and slipped out of Russia, fuming that the charge was trumped up. France kindly offered Pavlensky refugee status, which hospitality he immediately abused.
By way of gratitude, he set fire to the door of the Bank of France, an institution he clearly considers as oppressive as the KGB. That peccadillo earned him a year in prison, this time a French one.
Pavlensky is now at large, awaiting trial for “breaching privacy” and “divulging images of a sexual nature without consent”. His and Mr Griveaux’s paramour de Taddeo, a left-wing activist of long standing, was arrested with him.
Commenting on his motives, Pavlensky explained that he was protesting against the hypocrisy of Western politicians in general, and Mr Griveaux specifically. There Griveaux was, banging on about family values and parading his children on TV, while being such a naughty boy.
Pavlensky’s website is now shut down, but while it was active, he made no bones about his action being motivated not only by moral but also by political considerations.
He posted the video to take revenge on Mr Griveaux for betraying the ideals of the French Socialist Party and selling out to the “neoliberals” – just like his boss Macron. It’s not immediately clear how Mr Pavlensky reconciles his loyalty to socialist ideals with his assault on Lubianka that has a glorious history of acting on those ideals.
Anyway, this is as far as newspaper accounts went in commenting on Pavlensky’s motives. But they left out a key piece of circumstantial evidence that may throw light on the choice of Mr Griveaux as the target.
I’m not suggesting that the pool is large of French politicians who send onanistic videos to their mistresses, but an inquisitive person looking for evidence of sexual impropriety within that group wouldn’t have to look long.
Moreover, some potential targets might well occupy more prominent posts than poor Mr Griveaux, with a greater potential for causing damage to Macron. In fact, Pavlensky has indicated he has much juicy kompromat on many others. So why pick on Griveaux first?
The answer is so obvious that our papers were bound to miss it. When in 2018 Mr Griveaux served as spokesman to Macron’s party, he banned Putin’s propaganda channels RT and Sputnik from presidential briefings and press-conferences.
That was throwing down the gauntlet, and the KGB colonel isn’t the type to leave it on the floor where it fell. Revenge was in order, and it’s possible that Pavlensky was chosen as its instrument.
Hence Macron’s people who openly blame Russia for this action may well have a point. Putin’s sponsorship can explain how Pavlensky took only a couple of years to become so well-connected in Paris as to gain access to a wealth of compromising material on prominent politicians.
I do hope the French send Pavlensky down for years, and then deport him. But I have no hope of seeing full revelations in the French press. Manny wouldn’t want to upset his new friend Vlad – even if Vlad might have upset Manny.