The French Disease

 

These days, as Claire’s father points out, a fair number of Frenchmen are upset. Many, in fact, have fallen prey to a frenzy of fear and loathing. One can hardly blame them. The image of Dominique Strauss-Kahn – who was three days ago a leading Presidential contender in France – doing the perp walk in Manhattan is the sort of thing that would set on edge the teeth of almost any of his compatriots, and they are none too happy that he is being held without bail on Rikers island. No public figure in France has in recent times been subject to anything like this. Justice there is reserved for the little people.

As Dominique Moïsi put it in an op ed in The New York Times, “Disbelief, shame, humiliation … the French have no words left.” Here are reactions reported in that newspaper by Steven Erlanger and Katrin Bennhold:

[Former French Justice Minister] Élisabeth Guigou, said she found the photos of Mr. Strauss-Kahn in cuffs indicative of “a brutality, a violence, of an incredible cruelty, and I’m happy that we don’t have the same judiciary system.”

Ms. Guigou, a Socialist like Mr. Strauss-Kahn and a member of Parliament, told France Info radio that the American system “is an accusatory system,” while in France, “we have a system that takes perhaps a little more time but which is, despite everything, more protective of individual rights.”

Max Gallo, a prominent historian and commentator, agreed that the two systems were different. “It’s the first time in the history of France that a top-level figure is treated like a common criminal whose guilt is already established,” he said. “But it also manifests an egalitarianism in the American justice system that surprises us in France.”

He said, “People are asking, ‘Was it really necessary to do that?’”

The images struck several commentators as being more akin to scenes from American television crime dramas — dubbed versions enjoy tremendous popularity in France, among them “C.S.I.,” known as “Les Experts,” and “Law and Order,” known as “New York Police Judiciaire” — than from French life.

“It was images from Greek tragedy mixed with those of American TV series,” the centrist politician François Bayrou said at a news conference. “Everyone who has seen these images has had their throat tighten, they were so arresting and confounding. It’s the destiny of a man that is toppling, with very important consequences for himself, his party, his country.”

Others unmentioned in the Times are less restrained. Gilles Savary, a Socialist deputy in the European Parliament, wrote on his blog: “To tell the truth, everybody knows that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a libertine; what distinguishes him from plenty of others is his propensity not to hide it. In Puritan American, impregnated with rigorous Protestantism, they tolerate infinitely better the sins of money than the pleasures of the flesh. It would be easy to trap a personality so unresistant to feminine attractions as D.S.K.”

Arielle-Dombasle-Bernard-Henri-Levy-Kiss.jpgNo one, however, has been as outspoken as Strauss-Kahn’s friend Bernard Henri-Lévy. After expressing incredulity that “a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet,” he launched into a rant:

What I do know is that nothing in the world can justify a man being thus thrown to the dogs.

What I know is that nothing, no suspicion whatever (for let’s remind ourselves that, as I write these lines, we are dealing only with suspicions!), permits the entire world to revel in the spectacle, this morning, of this handcuffed figure, his features blurred by 30 hours of detention and questioning, but still proud.

What I know as well is that nothing, no earthly law, should also allow another woman, his wife, admirable in her love and courage, to be exposed to the slime of a public opinion drunk on salacious gossip and driven by who knows what obscure vengeance.

And what I know even more is that the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.

This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.

I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.

I resent the New York tabloid press, a disgrace to the profession, that, without the least precaution and before having effected the least verification, has depicted Dominique Strauss-Kahn as a sicko, a pervert, borderlining on serial killer, a psychiatrist’s dream.

I am angry with all those in France who jumped at the occasion to settle old scores or further their own little affairs.

And I hold it against the commentators, pundits, and other minor figures of a French political class overjoyed at this divine surprise who immediately, indecently, and at the very first opportunity commenced with their de Profundis drivel by talking about a “redistribution of the cards” or a “new deal” at the center of this or of that. But I must stop here, for it makes me nauseous.

I’m angry with, to name one, the French M.P. Bernard Debré, who comes right out and denounces a man he calls “disreputable,” one who “wallows in sex” and has conducted himself, for a long time now, like a “scoundrel.”

I hold it against all those who complacently accept the account of this other young woman, this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.

The other woman, of course, the one who is French, is Tristane Banon, god-daughter of DSK’s second wife. In 2002, as I mentioned in an earlier post, when she was twenty two and working on a book, she arranged an interview with Strauss-Kahn – which ended in tears. Here is what she said in a television interview four years ago:

He wanted me to hold his hand while he answered [my questions]. He said, “I can’t do it if you don’t hold my hand.” After the hand, it was the arm, and after the arm it was a bit further, so I stopped him.  We ended up fighting . . . It was more than a couple of slaps, I kicked him, he opened my bra, tried to open my jeans . . . It finished very badly.

Tristane-Banon-007.jpgBanon, who described DSK as “a chimpanzee in heat,” reportedly contacted a lawyer at the time of the incident, and he told her that he had a file detailing numerous incidents of a similar sort in which her assailant had been involved. But, in the end, she chose not to make a formal complaint – for fear that, by doing so, she would put an end to her career as a journalist in France. Let me add that she was not alone in making such an accusation.  As French actress Daniéle Evenou put it in another television interview at about the same time, “Who hasn’t been cornered by Dominique Strauss-Kahn?”

The reports I have read suggest that there is enough physical evidence to prove that there was a physical encounter between Strauss-Kahn and the maid at the Sofitel Hotel in mid-Manhattan, and The New York Post reports that DSK’s defense attorneys are planning to argue that what took place was consensual. I would not be surprised if Tristane Banon were to testify regarding her experience with the man.

What we are about to see is an airing of the dirty linen of France, and it is not going to be pretty. As I pointed out in a chapter entitled “A Despotism of Administrators” in my book Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift, France is a democracy in name only. In practice, it is an oligarchy ruled by a narrow political class, largely drawn from among the hundred or so young women and men who graduate each year from the Ėcole Nationale d’Administration. These énarques run the civil service, dominate the political parties, monopolize ministerial positions within the government, and manage the country’s major corporations. For all intents and purposes, as Tristane Banon understood, they are above the law.

DSK is not himself technically an énarque, but he taught at ENA, and he is an honorary member of that elite group. The real reason why so many people in France are upset by what is happening in New York is that they could never imagine that, in their country, the law would be enforced against someone like them — someone as important as DSK.

There is another aspect of the issue that also deserves emphasis. The French are apt to sneer at the Puritanism and the “rigorous Protestantism” of the Anglo-Saxons, and they tend to look down on those who “tolerate infinitely better the sins of money than the pleasures of the flesh.” This posture will be hard to sustain in the future, for the conduct of Strauss-Kahn is going to make French libertinism seem more than a mite bit unsavory. We may even hear a bit more about the conduct of Roman Polanski – a child-molesting artiste thought to be above the law, who has been harbored in France for something like thirty years.

When the dust has settled – especially, if, as I suspect will be the case, the evidence is dispositive and Strauss-Kahn is convicted in open court – there may be considerable soul-searching in France. There certainly ought to be.

There are 44 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PaulARahe
    david foster: . . . here’s Peter Drucker, writing in 1969:

    “The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers…Yet this is the flexibility Europe needs to overcome the brain drain and close the technology gap…And the European who knows himself competent but is not accepted as such-because he is not an “Oxbridge” man or because he did not graduate from one of the Grandes Ecoles and become an Inspecteur de Finance in the government service–will continue to emigrate where he will be used according to what he can do rather than according to what he has not done.”

    With the growing credentialism in the U.S., the distinction made between US and European approaches is less of a bright line than it was when Prof Drucker wrote the above. · May 17 at 7:24pm

    That was one of the points I made in my book.

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    @CharlesMark

    “Justice there is reserved for the little people”. For all I know M. Strausse-Kahn may be guilty of all of the charges and more. And I have no great liking for French Socialists. But isn’t it a bit pre-emptive to assume that the ritual humiliation of any accused constitutes “justice”. If by some chance he turns out to be innocent, won’t he have suffered an enormous injustice? Is the presumption of innocence just a quaint notion?

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    @PaulARahe
    Leslie Watkins

    Dan Holmes: · May 17 at 5:01pm

    True, Dan. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill political corruption charge. Or the currently rather banal charge of groping someone. This is a charge of physical battery on the most intimate scale perpetrated by a very powerful person upon a very unpowerful person. The only thing close in the list above is Clinton, but unfortunately for the accurer there, the event took place years before it was discussed in public. Sure, the U.S. system is rigged on behalf of the elites, but for Henry-Lévy, who was not there, to assert that the woman’s accusation is absurd on its face and to describe DSK as “charming, seductive, … a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman” is beyond clueless. Recall that he also supported Polanski. The prick from hell he is. · May 17 at 7:37pm

    Amen.

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    @AdamFreedman

    I was struck by this:

    Ms. Guigou, a Socialist like Mr. Strauss-Kahn and a member of Parliament, told France Info radio that the American system “is an accusatory system,” while in France, “we have a system that takes perhaps a little more time but which is, despite everything, more protective of individual rights.”

    Poppycock. The French have an inquisitorial system in which the judge can cross-examine witnesses, appoint experts, and pretty much get the outcome he desires. The judge’s power is far weaker in the Anglo-American “adversary system” where the litigants are free to develop the strongest possible arguments with the judge serving as umpire. The accused in America has far greater rights than his French counterpart. Just ask Alfred Dreyfus. If he were alive, of course.

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    @MarkWilson

    “I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed ‘accusatory,’ meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.”

    What a strange way to describe innocence until proven guilty.

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    @PaulARahe
    Misthiocracy: Dr. Rahe, can you shed any light on my query about where the onus of proof lies in French criminal proceedings? I’ve tried Googling it but I haven’t found the answer.

    One of the reasons I’ve long believed the French criminal system puts the onus on the accused to prove their innocence is because, when Canada wrote it’s constitution in 1867, Quebec was allowed to keep using the French civil law but was not allowed to keep using the French criminal system. I was under the impression that the onus of proof was one of the reasons.

    But I’m fully prepared to be proven ill-informed on the matter. · May 17 at 5:56pm

    The French system is an inquisitorial system. The investigating magistrate is both prosecutor and judge. There is no jury. And nearly everything takes place behind closed doors. To say that the system is open to abuse is an understatement.

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    @Misthiocracy

    “[Former French Justice Minister] Élisabeth Guigou, said she found the photos of Mr. Strauss-Kahn in cuffs indicative of “a brutality, a violence, of an incredible cruelty, and I’m happy that we don’t have the same judiciary system.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the French legal system assume that an accused person is guilty unless proven innocent? For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been under the impression that in France the onus is on the accused to prove their innocence, rather than on the state to prove the accused person’s guilt.

    Is my understanding of French criminal law incorrect?

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    @PaulARahe
    Michael Labeit: The Economist Intelligence Unit publishes the Democracy Index which purports to measure the extent to which a nation is democractic. According to the index, France is a “flawed democracy”, hence I’m skeptical of Dr. Rahe’s claim that France is an oligarchical non-democracy. Flawed democracy and non-democracy are distinct political orders. · May 17 at 7:41pm

    Edited on May 17 at 08:26 pm

    The French go through the motions. Every so often they have elections. The only one that matters is the Presidential election. Within a month or two after it takes place, the French elect the National Assembly, which they hand over to the newly elected or re-elected President’s party. In practice, what they have is an electoral monarchy. But here’s the rub. Both parties are run by the graduates of the the Ėcole Nationale d’Administration (a very small group: ca. 100 in each annual cohort), and the Presidential candidates are in practice drawn from this group or from those affiliated with it. In effect, this is an oligarchy — what I called in my book a despotism of administrators. I would not call it a democracy at all.

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    @DanielSattelberger

    To be fair, the Dreyfus Affair happened over a hundred years ago, so there’s certainly the possibility that France reformed. On the other hand, if their justice system takes longer than ours, I’d hate to see how long it actually takes.

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    @GoodBerean
    Charles Mark: “Justice there is reserved for the little people”. For all I know M. Strausse-Kahn may be guilty of all of the charges and more. And I have no great liking for French Socialists. But isn’t it a bit pre-emptive to assume that the ritual humiliation of any accused constitutes “justice”. If by some chance he turns out to be innocent, won’t he have suffered an enormous injustice? Is the presumption of innocence just a quaint notion? · May 17 at 4:32pm

    Good point.

    I loathe the trappings of aristocracy, as did the founders. However, the public “perp walk” that seems to have become increasingly popular since Law and Order does not serve justice. It does emphasize the egalitarian nature of justice. And it does seem fitting that an aristocratic French “Socialist” experience a little American “égalité“.

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    @LadyBertrum
    Charles Mark: “Justice there is reserved for the little people”. For all I know M. Strausse-Kahn may be guilty of all of the charges and more. And I have no great liking for French Socialists. But isn’t it a bit pre-emptive to assume that the ritual humiliation of any accused constitutes “justice”. If by some chance he turns out to be innocent, won’t he have suffered an enormous injustice? Is the presumption of innocence just a quaint notion? · May 17 at 4:32pm

    The ritual humiliation he endured is experienced by EVERY famous and/or powerful American credibly accused of a crime. They all do the perp walk. Bernie Madoff and Michael Jackson did the perp walk. It’s the theatre of shaming the powerful for the benefit of the powerless. See? Justice is blind. Is it justice? No, just part of the cost of power and fame in America.

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    @PaulARahe
    Charles Mark: “Justice there is reserved for the little people”. For all I know M. Strausse-Kahn may be guilty of all of the charges and more. And I have no great liking for French Socialists. But isn’t it a bit pre-emptive to assume that the ritual humiliation of any accused constitutes “justice”. If by some chance he turns out to be innocent, won’t he have suffered an enormous injustice? Is the presumption of innocence just a quaint notion? · May 17 at 4:32pm

    Ordinary folk who are accused are treated in the same fashion. What bothers the French is that we are not making special provision for a notable.

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    @LadyBertrum
    Paul A. Rahe

    Charles Mark: “Justice there is reserved for the little people”. For all I know M. Strausse-Kahn may be guilty of all of the charges and more. And I have no great liking for French Socialists. But isn’t it a bit pre-emptive to assume that the ritual humiliation of any accused constitutes “justice”. If by some chance he turns out to be innocent, won’t he have suffered an enormous injustice? Is the presumption of innocence just a quaint notion? · May 17 at 4:32pm

    Ordinary folk who are accused are treated in the same fashion. What bothers the French is that we are not making special provision for a notable. · May 17 at 4:51pm

    Yes, but the paparazzi aren’t interested in Average Joe/Jane drug dealer/pimp/prostitute. Serial killers get a lot of attention, though.

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    @DanHolmes

    Charlie Rangel. Kathleen Sebelius. Timothy Geithner. Bill Clinton. Barack Obama.

    A recent, partial list of our “elites” who have gotten away with breaking the law. And the American justice system is “egalitarian?” It is termed “accusatory?”

    Give me a break. The American list is probably just as long as the French one.

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  15. Profile Photo Member
    @CharlesMark
    1)Perhaps the French are a bit sensitive about the whole “J’accuse” thing when it comes to Jews? Of course that noble statement was made in defence of the wronged Jew. 2)With respect Good Berean, If this “perp walk” (not “alleged perp” I note) is to emphasise the egalitarian nature of justice then shouldn’t there be a live feed of the arraignment of every accused for the edification ( or is it titillation?) of the masses?Perhaps on multiscreen in Times Square and on a dedicated cable channel?
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    @BillWalsh

    Hey, can we get the Vatican to lead a class-action suit on behalf of American Catholics to say that it ain’t just Protestants who are happy to nail a rapist SOB, if that’s what DSK proves to be?

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    @Claire

    Paul, your most interesting point–and a very accurate one–is that France is ruled by the énarques. What’s interesting is that oligarchical though the system may be, they are excellent administrators. If you must have such a system, it’s quite good to have it run by énarques.

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    @nordman

    A French Disease?

    It would be nice if we could distance outselves from that mentality so cleanly.

    Judging from the way the Left defended Clinton, gave him pass, and vilified his victims, I’d say we’re infected with it as well.

    So if the French were to scream ‘Hypocrisy!’ , they would have a point.

    But it’s appropriate that DSK has been arrested, as two wrongs never make a right.

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    @CharlesMark

    Dr Rahe, I could post all night about the arrogant French people I have had to deal with (and many decent ones too).I don’t particularly care what peculiarly French sensitivities are aroused by this episode.As a humble Irish lawyer (not a criminal lawyer) I just find the whole thing unseemly no matter who the accused may be or what nationality, race, religion, occupation, political leaning, etc. Am I wrong?

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    @PaulARahe
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Paul, your most interesting point–and a very accurate one–is that France is ruled by the énarques. What’s interesting is that oligarchical though the system may be, they are excellent administrators. If you must have such a system, it’s quite good to have it run by énarques. · May 17 at 5:17pm

    You are right about their competence. They are bright and well-trained. But the consequence is rigidity and privilege. I do not think that France has been served well by “rational administration.”

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    @JohnnyHammerstock

    Hmmmm…can’t decide between two French legal delicacies: Devil’s Island or the Guillotine. But We are just so accusatory. Excusez-moi!

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    @PaulARahe
    Charles Mark: Dr Rahe, I could post all night about the arrogant French people I have had to deal with (and many decent ones too).I don’t particularly care what peculiarly French sensitivities are aroused by this episode.As a humble Irish lawyer (not a criminal lawyer) I just find the whole thing unseemly no matter who the accused may be or what nationality, race, religion, occupation, political leaning, etc. Am I wrong? · May 17 at 5:21pm

    DSK’s conduct has long been unseemly, and no one has dared to put a stop to it. The process of justice in the United States can certainly give rise to a media circus. But it has the great virtue of being transparent. The system of justice praised by Élisabeth Guigou is anything but transparent. Almost everything of importance takes place behind closed doors — where the influential can have their way. I prefer the adversary system. DSK will have his day in court, and his lawyers will represent him well. I think that ordinary Frenchmen will find the process quite instructive.

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    @nordman

    And then there’s all the Kennedys that somehow seem above accountability as well… .

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    @KenSweeney

    France: love the food, hate the people.

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    @LadyBertrum

    I do wonder what the average working class Frenchman/woman thinks and feels about this situation. Are their feelings of national pride hurt or humiliated as the feelings of the elite appear to be? Or, are they pleased that a powerful man is being held accountable? How they respond to Tristane Banon maybe telling. Is she a victim or as BHL says….

    “…….who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.”

    It will be interesting to see how this young lady is treated.

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    @CharlesMark

    Thank you Dr.Everything you say makes absolute sense to me.(This humble Irish lawyer is in court in 8 hours so it’s time to sign off- Bonne Nuit!).

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    @Misthiocracy

    Dr. Rahe, can you shed any light on my query about where the onus of proof lies in French criminal proceedings? I’ve tried Googling it but I haven’t found the answer.

    One of the reasons I’ve long believed the French criminal system puts the onus on the accused to prove their innocence is because, when Canada wrote it’s constitution in 1867, Quebec was allowed to keep using the French civil law but was not allowed to keep using the French criminal system. I was under the impression that the onus of proof was one of the reasons.

    But I’m fully prepared to be proven ill-informed on the matter.

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    @user_90781
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Paul, your most interesting point–and a very accurate one–is that France is ruled by the énarques. What’s interesting is that oligarchical though the system may be, they are excellent administrators. If you must have such a system, it’s quite good to have it run by énarques. · May 17 at 5:17pm

    Claire, have you ever heard the old joke about the difference between heaven and hell?

    In Heaven, the Germans are the bureaucrats, the English are the police, and the French are the cooks.

    In Hell the French are the bureaucrats, the Germans are the police, and the English are the cooks.

    French Bureaucracy pigeonholes everyone, and the énarques make damned sure most people stay in their pigeonholes. I sometimes wonder if they would have been better off under the aristos.

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    @PaulARahe
    Lady Bertrum: I do wonder what the average working class Frenchman/woman thinks and feels about this situation. Are their feelings of national pride hurt or humiliated as the feelings of the elite appear to be? Or, are they pleased that a powerful man is being held accountable? How they respond to Tristane Banon maybe telling. Is she a victim or as BHL says….

    “…….who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.”

    It will be interesting to see how this young lady is treated. · May 17 at 5:53pm

    I fear the worst, but she may emerge as a heroine in the popular eye. However this turns out, there will be quite a drama.

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  30. Profile Photo Contributor
    @user_59824
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