Obituary: Pierre-Henri Teitgen
Thursday 10 April 1997
He was one of the creators of the only new political party to emerge from the war and the Resistance in France. This was the Mouvement Republicain Populaire, the Social Catholic party that was always known by its initials, the MRP, and which, having been the second party in the elections of October 1945, became the country's leading party in the elections of June 1946. It gained 28 per cent of the national vote.
Teitgen's role in the creation of this party came from his activities in the Resistance. By profession an academic lawyer, after demobilisation he chose to go to the occupied area and was appointed to the University of Montpellier. In September 1940, in co-operation with Francois de Menthon, he decided that opposition to the Vichy government should be organised, and on 25 November the first number of the clandestine newspaper Liberte appeared. In his lectures Teitgen chose to describe the police state of Napoleon III, and their anti-Vichy, anti-German relevance became well known. At the same time, mainly through personal contacts, Teitgen built up a force of some 9,000 adherents, together with two small units of volunteers, who were prepared to commit acts of sabotage. The group Liberte merged with the larger resistance movement Combat and he was one of the editors of the newspaper of the same name which was the most famous publication of the time.
He knew all the vicissitudes of the Resistance. His position was clear: he opposed Vichy and the Germans, he supported General de Gaulle and Free France in London. However some of those in Combat were anti-German but pro-Petain. There was constant insecurity, as when, towards the end of 1941 an adventurer who had strayed into the ranks of Liberte was arrested for black market activities and who then betrayed many of his associates. But Teitgen remained loyal to de Gaulle and to Jean Moulin (whom he subsequently defended against charges of being a Soviet agent). He transferred his activities to Paris in 1943, where he wanted the National Council of the Resistance to proclaim de Gaulle as the national leader. This did not prevent him from having meetings, early in 1944, with a representative of Marshal Petain, who was discussing the reconciliation of all French people.
Four days before the Allied landings in Normandy, Teitgen was arrested by the Gestapo, but he escaped from the train that was taking him to a concentration camp. He returned to Paris and in September de Gaulle made him Minister for Information. It was then that he made his first impact on the organisation of post-war France. He gave permission for the Figaro to continue to appear and he helped to found two newspapers, Le Monde and, in Rennes, Ouest-France. He was well able to assist in the appointments of editorial staff, his father, Henri Teitgen, having worked for Ouest- Eclair before the war. Le Monde became possibly the most important French newspaper and Teitgen overruled de Gaulle, ensuring that it would be independent and not semi-official. Ouest-France is the paper with the largest circulation in France.
In May 1945 he became Minister for Justice and it fell to him to see to many of the cases which had emerged from the conflicts which had taken place within France. Naturally, the sympathisers of Vichy thought him too harsh and the leaders of the Resistance thought him too lenient. But he kept his reputation as being fair-minded and just. He continued in this post after de Gaulle's resignation in January 1946 but tried to maintain relations with the General. However he did not agree that the new President had to be given extensive powers because of the imminence of war with the Soviet Union. When the General formed his new party in April 1947 Teitgen turned away from him.
The MRP had been founded in November 1944 as a non-confessional party which nevertheless saw itself as the heir to the Christian-inspired democratic parties that had existed pre-war. It was therefore a party of social reform and of liberty. Teitgen was criticised for supporting the French war in Indo-China, and he served as minister and Vice-Prime Minister in several governments which prosecuted that war. The reason was that he saw the Viet-Minh as communists. It was different in Algeria, where he thought that the excesses of torture should be avoided and where major economic and social reforms carried out. He wanted a new Algeria, but he told the 1956 MRP Congress that anyone who handed over Algeria should be impeached. As Minister for Colonies he accomplished much of the work for the Deferre law of 1957 which established assemblies in the Africa colonies.
In 1958 he opposed the return of de Gaulle. He lost his seat in the Assembly where he had represented his home department of Ille-et-Vilaine since 1946. Typically he returned to his academic career, as Professor of Law at the University of Rennes, and later Paris.
He remained an influential figure in the MRP, denouncing the dictatorial government, as he put it, of the Fifth Republic and its nuclear policy. A supporter of European federation he was appointed to the European Court for the Rights of Man in 1976. This was his final post, an appropriate recognition of his principles and career.
Pierre-Henri Teitgen, lawyer and politician: born Rennes 29 May 1908; married; died Paris 6 April 1997.
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