The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Characters: François Mitterrand

François (Maurice Adrien Marie) Mitterrand. Who is this man? A nationalist youth, a socialist leader and a President of France. Perhaps his contradictions are best epitomized by his view on religion: “I was born a Christian and shall doubtless die in that condition. But meanwhile…”

Mitterrand as a civil servant of Vichy France, the legal, authoritarian and anti-Semitic successor to the Third Republic. He served well, eventually being awarded the Francisque by Marshal Pétain. In 1948 he married Daniele Gouze, whose family had fought Vichy in the Resistance.

Mitterrand for President: Francois Mitterrand – a young President for a Modern France – Take your future in your own hands – Vote for the single candidate of the Left

De Gaulle had worked hard to create a Fifth Republic whose electoral systems (2 round elections for President and Parliament) would exclude extremist parties and create a permanent centre-right government. For two decades the Left was excluded, Mitterrand sought to overcome this through a tactical alliance with the (pro-Soviet and Stalinist) French Communist party.

Holding the rose, symbol of Socialism, Mitterrand becomes the elected-monarch which is the President of France with a massive parliamentary majority independent of Communists and Centrists. The result was massive reform: nationalizations (which had long gone out of fashion in other Socialist parties), tax hikes, boosted welfare/pensions and (attempted) decentralization.

Rushmore Mitterrand: “Ah! Mitterrand, he’s really missing in the political landscape” “Oh really? You think so?”

His victories had brought the Left (which had been excluded from power for two decades) to idolize Mitterrand: nicknames from Tonton (uncle) to, simply, Dieu (God). Ironically, after the failure of his initial inflationary economic policies (which some blame on the global economic recession) he instituted a regime of austerity which cut deficits and inflation which his right-wing predecessors had tried (and failed) to implement.

He set the precedent for experimentation and sensible economic policies which, because he was Left-wing, were legitimate (much like Nixon’s anti-communist credentials meant he wasn’t crucified by Right-wingers for his sane foreign policy) which continues to this day (Jospin later combined the 35h week with substantial tax cuts and privatizations).

National President: the Grande Arche used in the spectacular celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

With the end of Socialist economics as a radical alternative, Mitterrand became a consensus President, incarnating the Nation rather than the Left. He instituted an activist foreign policy (defending Chad from Libya in 1983 and 1986, supporting US nukes in Europe and participating in 1991 Gulf War). Domestically, he created lots of semi-useful to useless public works from the Channel Tunnel, the Louvre I.M. Pei Pyramid and the Grand Arch above. Mitterrand was a master of symbols as a means of communication from Franco-German reconciliation to the Gulf War.

De Gaulle and Mitterrand on Chirac’s 10th anniversary as President: “Welcome to the Club!”

French presidents can last a loooooong time, too long for their own good.

Mitterrand: Socialist prince.

He was a tad vain and monarchical. Besides flirting with fascism in his youth, he tolerated corruption in his administration and intervened unconvincingly during the Rwandan genocide. He said leaving office: “I am the last of the great presidents. Nothing will be as before [because of European Unification/Globalization].”

Mitterrand's most enduring legacy: the reconciliation of the Left with Gaullism, the Fifth Republic and the market economy. Things like cohabitation and alternance (divided government and switching Right-Left-Right), present in America since the Revolution, finally became normal in French democracy.

The French have deep nostalgia for Mitterrand's presidency, his post-mortem approval ratings are higher than de Gaulle’s, but it really is time for France to say

Adieu Mitterrand!


Blogger scott said...

First !

Nice article. Like all the pictures-they add a lot.

I never thought about it, but you are right that he was the transitional president. Really puts Chirac as a wanna-be.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting one, despite the subject not being UK domestic.


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