IN MEMORIAM: FRANCOIS MITTERRAND
JANUARY 8, 1996
PETER MORGAN, ITN: Francois Mitterrand was born in 1916. The son of a rural station master, he made his mark at his local school in the Chironte. Young Mitterrand, they said, would not be part of any group unless he could be its leader. War disrupted Mitterrand's youthful ambitions. He joined the infantry, and as France fell to the Germans, he was wounded. He became a prisoner of war and at his third attempt managed to escape. Back in France, Mitterrand worked at first for Marshal Petain's pro-Nazi Vichy government. Later, he downplayed his ties with that regime and stressed his work for the Resistance.
FRANCOIS MITTERRAND: (speaking through interpreter) I started my political life in the Resistance. It was there that I had my first responsibility.
PETER MORGAN: But a recently discovered photograph showing Mitterrand with Marshal Petain suggested a more uncomfortable truth. Mitterrand continued to lead a political double life, cultivating the extreme right and the extreme left to further his career. Soon after the liberation, Mitterrand joined the government as its youngest minister, but when DeGaulle returned to power in 1958, Mitterrand left the government. In political exile, the former conservative discovered Socialism. DeGaulle always ridiculed the conversion. Others, though, sense that Mitterrand was thinking ahead.
SYLVIE PIERRE LA BROSOLETTE, Political Editor, L'Express: If he couldn't be the chief of DeGaulle, then he preferred opposition, and then he discovered the left, and so everybody who had in mind 20 years of a Mitterrand right wing discovered a Mitterrand being more and more on the left.
PETER MORGAN: The next 20 years were marked by frustration and failure. In 1968, Mitterrand overplayed his hand during the student riots. Bolstered by a pact with the much larger Communists, he challenged DeGaulle for the presidency. He offered himself as either president or prime minister and failed to win either. By the time Mitterrand made his third run for the presidency in 1981, he had a reputation as a loser. But the sitting President, Valery Giscard D'Estaing, was even less popular, and Mitterrand finally came to power, cast as the man of principle. Mitterrand's reign started with a rush of socialist enthusiasm. But Socialism soon ran into trouble. The franc was devalued, Finance Minister Jacques DeLors warned that Mitterrand's plans were undermining the economy. The experiment was over, and in 1986, the right took control of Parliament, sharing power with the pragmatic president. Under him, France became the great motor of European union, the best way, in his view, to control a newly united Germany. Mitterrand, like other Western leaders, was powerless, though, to stop a more brutal vision of Europe emerging in the former Yugoslavia. He was already ill with cancer when he visited Sarajevo at the height of its siege. Gestures like these and France's strong commitment to the U.N. force in Bosnia slowed the war but did not stop it. In one of his last appearances, Mitterrand, the agnostic president, was also asked what the real God might say to him if he went to heaven.
FRANCOIS MITTERRAND: (speaking through interpreter) God would say: "At last, you know." And I would hope that He would add, "Welcome."