OBITUARY: Robert-Andr Vivien

It is to be hoped that during his last illness Robert-Andr Vivien was able to follow the election of Jacques Chirac as the new President of France. This would have reminded him of another election in which he played a part, that following the death of Georges Pompidou in April 1974.

It was widely thought that the obvious Gaullist candidate for the succession was Jacques Chaban-Delmas. Vivien was close to him, having been Secretary of State for Housing in his government from 1969 to 1972. But Chirac, then Minister of the Interior, did not believe that Chaban-Delmas would succeed in defeating the Socialist Franois Mitterrand, and this belief was confirmed when the opinion polls, which had been very much in Chaban-Delmas's favour, began to turn against him.

Chirac organised a declaration by a number of members of the Gaullist party, which was hostile to Chaban-Delmas. Vivien, the deputy for Seine- et-Marne, was most indignant, loudly denouncing the signatories who, he claimed, were simply seeking posts and promotion. "Ils vont la soupe," he declared, using a phrase of General de Gaulle's that had lost none of its scorn. But Valry Giscard d'Estaing was elected President, and Chirac became his prime minister. A later manoeuvre made Chirac Secretary- General of the Party, another position that Chaban-Delmas had coveted. Vivien sympathised with Chaban-Delmas. "It's either April Fool's Day or Napoleon's day," he commented.

But it was neither. Vivien was fiercely hostile to Chirac. He called him a traitor to Gaullism; he publicly compared him to Ptain; on five separate occasions he refused to accept telephone calls from him. But Chirac's offensive was one of charm. He claimed to admire Vivien for his honesty and courage and he offered him a post. Vivien refused the offer, but was pleased that it had been made, and later joined with Chirac in trying to persuade Chaban-Delmas not to stand against Edgar Faure for the Presidency of the Assembly.

Vivien was born at Saint-Mand, near Paris, the son of a textile manufacturer. He joined the Resistance movement, and later served with the French contingent that fought in Korea from 1950 to 1953, where he was wounded and decorated. He returned to the family business but was drawn into local and regional politics. In 1962 he was elected deputy, and held the position virtually until his death. In 1983 he became mayor of Saint-Mand.

In the Assembly Vivien was prominent in many commissions, notably those of finance and the budget. He was interested in communications and served on many official bodies, administering Radio France and Antenne 2. He wrote a book on the problem of prostitution. But above all he was famous for his tendency to interrupt speakers during Assembly debates. Equipped with an unusually loud voice and an acute contempt for anyone who was not a Gaullist, he was one of the great characters of the Palais Bourbon. But he also illustrated a well-known dictum. After insulting the Communists in debate, he would join them in the Assembly's bar, where cordiality reigned. After all, they had been in the Resistance together. Patriotism takes precedence over politics.

Robert-Andr Vivien, politician: born Saint-Mand, France 24 February 1923; married 1946 Colette Venot; died Paris 9 May 1995.

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