Offensive CharmDominique Strauss-Khan
Though perhaps less well known outside France, where he has held several influential political offices, DSK could be accurately described as one of the most powerful men in the world. That is until he was recently arrested in New York, charged with the sexual assault of a hotel maid, incarcerated and eventually granted bail—provided he remain under house arrest. This humiliation ended more than three years of heading up the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as managing director, a position from which he wielded genuine global influence. An experienced, shrewd and charismatic politician, there is no telling what his absence will mean for the continuing and nuanced discussions on European bailout plans. What is certain is that he will no longer run as a candidate for forthcoming French presidential elections—a race he was generally anticipated to win.
DSK has international origins. Born in 1949 to a lawyer father and journalist mother in a wealthy suburb of Paris, the family soon moved to Agadir, Morocco. It was there that the young Jewish boy of French descent spent his early years, until moving to the salubrious principality of Monaco, in 1960.
After gaining his bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from the renowned Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (better known as Sciences Po), DSK pursued an impressive academic career. Although he would eventually be named a lecturer at Sciences Po in 2000, from the early eighties he concentrated his efforts on politics, and performed very well indeed.
Already very active in influential socialist circles—he was close with future French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin—the election of Socialist President Francois Mitterand in 1981 marked the beginning of DSK’s rise. As a political activist he helped to found the influential Jewish think tank Socialism and Judaism. By 1986 he was serving in parliament and by 1991 he was named minister for Industry and Foreign Trade.
By the turn of the century, from his position as minister of Economics, Finance and Industry, he had garlanded his career as a political economist by giving fresh impetus to the concept of a European currency. The euro could well have been consigned to the junkyard of bad economic ideas, if it were not for DSK. Before taking the reins at the IMF, an ill-fated run for French President in 2006 merely hinted that he would inevitably one day lead the Fifth Republic.
DSK has often benefitted from the lenient view—widely taken in France— towards rampant womanizing and unashamed extra-marital affairs. He has developed a tragically old-fashioned, somewhat pitiable reputation as a romantic and devilish rogue when it comes to sex—his detractors would call him lascivious, but his friends would champion his charm. It is within this context that the shocking details of his arrest are tussled with. The timing of his arrest has fanned the surprisingly popular view among his supporters that he has been the victim of a conspiracy. As a likely candidate for the presidency there is no doubt that he has recently been the target of smear campaigns—mostly playing upon his excellent credentials as a champagne socialist. But the vile nature of the allegations now against him must surely be beyond the limits of political gamesmanship. Or perhaps nothing is out of bounds in the political realm DSK has thrived in for so long?
Published: Tuesday 24 May 2011 Updated: Tuesday 24 May 2011