Obituary: Pierre Laffont

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Pierre Laffont, journalist, politician, publisher: born Marseilles 12 March 1913; died 17 March 1993.

ON 28 April 1959, Pierre Laffont, deputy for Oran, was sitting in the National Assembly when he received a note. To his surprise, it told him that General de Gaulle wanted to see him at five o'clock the next afternoon. Their conversation was long and contained much that Laffont, one of the Liberals of the French population in Algeria, was pleased to hear.

De Gaulle assured him that he considered Algeria to be French, that he believed in the fraternisation of the communities there, that he would never recognise the chief rebel organisation, the National Liberation Front. 'What a pity,' said Laffont to the General, 'that the people of Algeria cannot hear these words.' 'But you can repeat them,' said the General. Laffont did better. He published them in full the next day, in the newspaper which he directed, L'Echo d'Oran. De Gaulle, perhaps surprised, nevertheless confirmed that the substance of the article was correct. 'Papa's Algeria is dead' was the phrase that everyone quoted, which made the article famous.

But de Gaulle's Algeria policy did not follow the lines that Laffont had understood. In another interview, in November 1960, Laffont was shocked by the General's brutality towards the French of Algeria, and with courage and honesty he protested. But in vain. Liberals such as himself were becoming isolated as a section determined to solve the Algerian problem by assassinating de Gaulle, and as de Gaulle's determination to leave Algeria at all costs became more plain. Laffont claimed that he was surrounded by extremists, and, in 1961, he resigned both as deputy and as editor of his newspaper. This put an end to a long career of journalism in Algeria.

After independence he worked in publishing, particularly with Editions Robert Laffont (his brother) and with the Paris-Match Group. He became particularly incensed with de Gaulle when he discovered more details of what he considered to be his duplicity. He was shocked to learn that, only a few weeks before his 1959 meeting, de Gaulle had made a tentative contact with the nationalist rebels via no less an emissary than his future Prime Minister Georges Pompidou. In his writing he showed bitter hostility to de Gaulle, but he continued to attack those of the settler populations and the military who formed the Secret Army Organisation. Both of these, he claimed, had been the real enemies of French Algeria.