Cultural clash over grave of Mitterrand

MARY DEJEVSKY

Paris

An unseemly row has broken out over Francois Mitterrand's plans for his burial. Two months ago news leaked out that the former president and his wife, Danielle, had obtained a plot of land on the site in east-central France where Vercingetorix rallied the Gauls in 58 BC - an event seen as the symbolic founding of the French nation.

According to the report - initially denied, but then confirmed by the regional authorities and by the Mitterrands - the committee responsible for preserving the site, Mount Beauvray in the Morvan national park, had sold the former president a 100-square-metre plot for the token price of one franc. Now, a subscription campaign has been set up by a local artist to try to ''buy back'' the plot and preserve the site intact.

The artist, Chantal Dunoyer, once applied to the conservation committee to buy a plot on which to exhibit her work, ''saving the site from an influx of tourists'', but permission was refused. Her association, ''A Plot for Everyone'', aims to ''contest the system of privilege and connections which is leading to the fragmentation of the site''. Ms Dunoyer says she wants to ''preserve the integrity of Mount Beauvray and restore its initial archeological and academic vocation''.

Morvan is close to Mr Mitterrand's heart: it is an area of strangely striking landscape, and includes Chateau Chinon, of which he was mayor, and where he votes. One of his last presidential acts was to inaugurate an archaeological museum on Mount Beauvray.

Mr Mitterrand, whose last two years in office were dogged by illness, has given interviews in which he has spoken of death and his doubts about the existence of God and an afterlife. So far, his health has held out, and, since he handed over to Jacques Chirac five months ago he has been seen walking and dining in the Latin Quarter of Paris, where he has a house, and visiting family and friends in various parts of France.

His wife has described the burial plot polemic as ''shabby and regrettable''.

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