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Goncourt prize winner NDiaye stands by Sarkozy 'police state' comments

French-Senegalese author Marie NDiaye, who last week won France's top literary prize, the Goncourt,says she stands by her comments about President Nicolas Sarkozy creating the "atmosphere of a police state" in France.


AFP - French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand backed a book prize winner's right to free speech Thursday after she was attacked for calling President Nicolas Sarkozy's vision of France "hideous."

Marie Ndiaye, winner of this year's prestigious Goncourt Prize, has been sparring with a right-wing lawmaker over a magazine interview in which she said Sarkozy's election was a factor in her decision to move to Berlin.

In the interview given three months ago, the 42-year-old writer said she had left France with her partner and two children "mostly because of Sarkozy".

"I find this climate of heavy policing and surveillance hateful," Ndiaye told the magazine Les Inrockuptibles. "I find this vision of France hideous."

Since winning the literary prize, Ndiaye has stood by her remarks, prompting Eric Raoult, a member of Sarkozy's right-wing party, to declare that Goncourt winners should exercise "restraint" and not criticise French institutions.

"It seems to me that the right to express one's self cannot be turned into the right to insult or settle one's own personal scores," said Raoult in a letter to the culture minister.

"A well-known person who defends France's literary accomplishments must show some degree of respect toward our institutions," he said.

But Mitterrand disagreed and indicated he would not be dragged into the row.

"Writers who are awarded the Goncourt Prize have the right to say what they want," Mitterrand told France-Bleue Isere radio on Thursday.

He went on to say that the same applied to Raoult.

"I should not have to arbitrate between a private individual who says what she wants and a lawmaker who says what's on his mind," said Mitterrand. "This concerns me as a citizen. This doesn't concern me as a minister."

The brouhaha had prompted one of France's culture gurus, Bernard Pivot, to argue that Goncourt winners should not be held to any rules.

"It's true that the Goncourt bolsters their status, gives them an aura, a certain legitimacy," said Pivot.

"But they are speaking only for themselves when they speak, not for the Goncourt Academy (that awards the prize) and certainly not for France."

Earlier this week, Ndiaye conceded that her comments may have been seen as "excessive" and denied that her move to Berlin after Sarkozy's 2007 election was a form of self-imposed exile.

"I don't want at all to appear like I fled some kind of unbearable tyranny. But for some time now, I have found the climate in France to be quite depressing and morose," she said.

Socialist opposition leader Martine Aubry meanwhile told Raoult he should apologise to Ndiaye for suggesting that she should watch her words, and accused him of seeking to "silence opponents" of the Sarkozy government.

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