Imagine, if you will, someone going to the cinema to watch the latest James Bond film, and then, twenty years later, sitting up in bed and exclaiming to themselves “by heavens, I think that Blofeld fellow was a baddie!”

That’s basically where the French are, at the moment, with acclaimed author Gabriel Matzneff:

“The French writer Gabriel Matzneff never hid the fact that he engaged in sex with girls and boys in their early teens or even younger. He wrote countless books detailing his insatiable pursuits and appeared on television boasting about them. “Under 16 Years Old,” was the title of an early book that left no ambiguity.

Still, he never spent a day in jail for his actions or suffered any repercussion. Instead, he won acclaim again and again. Much of France’s literary and journalism elite celebrated him and his work for decades. Now 83, Mr. Matzneff was awarded a major literary prize in 2013 and, just two months ago, one of France’s most prestigious publishing houses published his latest work.

But the publication, on Thursday, of an account by one of his victims, Vanessa Springora, has suddenly fuelled an intense debate in France over its historically lax attitude toward sex with people who are underage. It has also shone a particularly harsh light on a period during which some of France’s leading literary figures and newspapers — names as big as Foucault, Sartre, Libération and Le Monde — aggressively promoted the practice as a form of human liberation, or at least defended it.

A day after the publication of Ms. Springora’s book, “Le Consentement,” or “Consent,” which sold out quickly at many Paris bookstores, the fallout continued. Prosecutors in Paris announced that after “analysing” its contents, they had opened an investigation into the case and would also look for other victims in and out of France.”

There’s been – very correctly – an intense focus in recent years on paedophilia and child abuse in the Catholic Church, and indeed in some state institutions in Ireland and the rest of the world, but very little focus at all on the fact that in the late 60’s (when a lot of paedophile clerics and civilians were being formed) there was a whole European movement on the left dedicated to promoting and justifying sex with children as a form of human liberation.

It is not, you might argue, a coincidence that child abuse in Ireland appears to have peaked in the 1970s and 1980s.

More from the New York Times (emphasis added):

“Caught now in the crosscurrents of France’s changing attitudes toward sex, Mr. Matzneff is the product and longtime beneficiary of France’s May 68 movement, the social revolution started in 1968 by students and unions against France’s old order.

With the slogan, “It’s forbidden to forbid,” the movement rebelled against authority and fought against imperialism, capitalism, racism, sexism and homophobia. Some also argued for abolishing age-of-consent laws, saying that doing so would liberate children from the domination of their parents and allow them to be full, sexual beings. …

Thinkers on the left, like Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, spoke in defense of the practice, or came to the defense of men accused of engaging in sex with people below the age of consent in France — which was and remains 15.

Libération, the newspaper co-founded by Sartre, championed pedophiles as a discriminated minority and ran personal ads by adults seeking children for sex.”

This wasn’t just a French problem, either. Here’s a German report from Der Spiegel in 2010 about the free love communes that sprung up in West Germany at the time:

“It has since faded into obscurity, but the members of the 1968 movement and their successors were caught up in a strange obsession about childhood sexuality. It is a chapter of the movement’s history which is never mentioned in the more glowing accounts of the era. On this issue, the veterans of the late ’60s student movement seem to have succumbed to acute amnesia; an analysis of this aspect of the student revolution would certainly be worthwhile. …

The left has its own history of abuse, and it is more complicated than it would seem at first glance. When leaders of the student movement of the late 1960s are asked about it, they offer hesitant or evasive answers. “At the core of the movement of 1968, there was in fact a lack of respect for the necessary boundaries between children and adults. The extent to which this endangerment led to abuse cases is unclear,” Wolfgang Kraushaar, a political scientist and chronicler of the movement, writes in retrospect.

A lack of respect for boundaries is putting it mildly. One could also say that the boundaries were violently torn open.”

The problem, of course, with investigating all these issues is twofold: First, there was simply so much of it about the place that nailing all the perpetrators is next to impossible. Second, it’s a source of such embarrassment to the European left that there is a huge incentive, politically, as well as active pressure, to forget about the whole thing.

But make no mistake, some paedophiles have done very well for themselves, and ascended to tremendous heights. For example, from Mary Ellen Synon, all the way back in 2009 (emphasis, again, added):

“I give you Daniel Cohn Bendit, an MEP for the German Green Party. He is a self-confessed kiddie-fiddler, but pulling down his trouser zip for tiny children hasn’t stopped him becoming one of the most influential members of parliament. Here is his story. Keep in mind this man has more power over the legislation of this country than does any member of the Dail.

Mr Cohn-Bendit is better known as Dany the red of the 1968 Paris Barricades. He is a kind of mid-century leftover leftie who was active in squatting, street fighting and agitation before he re-invented himself as a Green and was elected to the European parliament. Last month I went to watch him in a debate with Declan Ganley. The thing was standing-room only in a ballroom in a Brussels hotel.

Excuses

Mr Ganley produced a book Cohn-Bendit wrote in 1975. He read out Mr Cohn-Bendit`s account of how he had worked in a kindergarten and allowed the children to pull down the zip on his trousers and touch him intimately. In the book he had asked them why they wanted to play with him and not with each other, but in the end he ‘caressed’, his word- them too.

Mr Cohn-Bendit disputed none of it. Indeed when Mr Ganley finished reading, the former kindergarten teacher whooped that he had just won €500 because he had bet someone that Mr Ganley would read out that bit of his auto-biography. When Mr Cohn-Bendit’s supporters in the room did not give him quite give the sound of applause he seemed to be looking for with that reply, he changed tack and insisted that everything in the book had been discussed in Germany and France years ago and the parents of the children had never raised any concerns. Mr Ganley asked: ‘And the children, what did they say?’ Dany the Red assured him and the audience that years later the children had all said their time at the school was extremely happy. And then he went on about how attitudes were different in the 1970s.

At the time of that debate, Mr. Cohn Bendit wasn’t just a “Green MEP” – he was the leader of the European Green Party. Fiddling with children and admitting it has never been a particular bar to advancement for that generation of continental leftists.

The extent to which all of this European paedophilia influenced and emboldened our own paedophiles here in Ireland, is, of course, highly debatable. We were, after all, a relatively closed country with strict censorship on sexual matters. Considering the extent to which German child-love communes, or French newspaper adverts for children willing to please adults might have infiltrated Irish institutions is an entirely speculative pursuit, but it certainly can’t have helped the situation.

Paedophiles have, of course, always existed, and they have, predictably, always tried to normalise their own behaviours. That hasn’t stopped, either, and it’s something we have to remain vigilant about, because the consequences of it are not good.

The fact that Matzneff got away with this for the guts of 50 years, despite having written about it openly shows that there are plenty of people still willing to accept paedophilia as a kind of odd but harmless quirk in a person they like. Cohn Bendit remains at large as well. And of course, Europeans have been more than happy, at official level, to shelter admitted child-rapist Roman Polanski.

At least in part, one suspects, because it is preferable to confronting the fact that the romantic portrayal of the 1968 revolution in Europe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.