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Poles cool on cultural hero Polanski

In his home country, Polanksi once enjoyed widespread support. Now, public figures scramble to keep his scandal from affecting the national image.

Polish director Roman Polanski attends a news conference for the film "Chacun son Cinema" at the 60th Cannes Film Festival, May 20, 2007. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

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.