Sad anniversary for Mitterrand: The left's woes have marred their big day, writes Julian Nundy in Paris

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The Independent Online
THE DATE strikes a chord in the minds of the French: 10 May, the day 12 years ago that Francois Mitterrand was elected President, ending a conservative monopoly on government that had lasted 23 years.

This year it is a sad anniversary, after the suicide nine days ago of Pierre Beregovoy, Mr Mitterrand's last Socialist prime minister - a tragic finale to the rout of the left in the March parliamentary elections. As the newsweeklies ask who or what killed Beregovoy, there is an atmosphere of recrimination, some of which touches the 76- year-old President himself.

One account after another tells of Beregovoy, who turned his bodyguard's gun on himself less than five weeks after the election that cost him his premiership, telephoning the Elysee Palace asking to speak to Mr Mitterrand. According to these accounts, the calls were not returned.

On Thursday 29 April, two days before the suicide, the President finally called his former prime minister and made an appointment to see him the following Monday, the first time they would have met since Beregovoy resigned on 29 March. This was at the urging of Hubert Vedrine, the secretary-general, or chief of staff, of the Elysee.

It was the owner of a well- known Paris restaurant who prompted the phone call. Paul Benmussa of Chez Edgard, a haunt of politicians, told Maurice Benassayag, a member of the President's staff, of his concern for Beregovoy. Mr Benassayag told Mr Vedrine.

On Friday 30 April, Mr Mitterrand told Michel Charasse, the former budget minister, that Beregovoy should prepare a defence of his economic policies. This was in anticipation of the publication of a report on the economy ordered by Edouard Balladur, the new Prime Minister. Mr Charasse replied: 'I don't think he's in a state to do so.'

As politicians of right and left blamed judges and journalists for exposing an interest-free loan to Beregovoy from a man later accused of insider trading, Mr Mitterrand took up the cudgels in his funeral oration last Tuesday, saying Beregovoy's honour had been 'thrown to the dogs'.

Now there is growing anger at the initial reactions. On Friday, in Bouillon de Culture, television's most popular cultural programme, the main guest was Jacques Attali, head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and senior adviser to Mr Mitterrand for 10 years after his 1981 election.

Philippe Alexandre, one of French radio and television's most prominent political commentators and a normally mild- mannered man, attacked Mr Attali's new book Verbatim, a compilation of notes from his first five years at the Elysee. It showed, said Mr Alexandre, the disdain of the President for those most loyal to him.

Mr Mitterrand's second mandate, which started with his re- election in May 1988, is beginning to look as unhappy as his first mandate was successful. During his first seven-year term, his rule did much to dilute the formerly sectarian nature of French politics and his diplomatic skills made him an important player on the world scene.

From the late 1980s, alarmed by prospects of German unification and the collapse of the Soviet Union, his international grasp slipped. At home, unemployment continued to grow and, finally, recession loomed. Although figures show France doing better than other countries, the average citizen is unimpressed, as was demonstrated by the left's election defeat.

In Verbatim, Mr Attali relates how Mr Mitterrand told Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the president he defeated in 1981: 'You only made one mistake, standing for election again.' Without some dramatic turnaround in his fortunes, it is a judgement some might be tempted to apply to Mr Mitterrand.