Mitterrand's last word on his role in Vichy
One of the country’s most respected commentators on Russia, the EU and the US, Mary Dejevsky has worked as a foreign correspondent all over the world, including Washington, Paris and Moscow. She is now the chief editorial writer and a columnist at The Independent and regularly appears on radio and television. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham.
Tuesday 23 April 1996
He completed the books, published today, only in the final days of his life and they contain his last words on the two big controversies that marked his later years: claims that he collaborated with the Vichy regime and accusations that he "misread history" by resisting the reunification of Germany.
On the unification of Germany, Mitterrand comes out fighting and appears to have been stung by the accusation that he misread history. The first time he broached the question in public, he says, was during a visit to Moscow in July 1989. He knew that his hosts strongly disapproved of unification - and implies that it would have been bad manners to disagree.
He charts his statements, interviews and articles between then and the day - again in Moscow - where the Allied powers finally approved the end of Germany's division, insisting all the time that he did not oppose unification, but merely laid down necessary conditions. "If moving towards unification was legitimate, that still did not mean that it should come about just anyhow," he says, insisting that it should be "peaceful and democratic". The only real disagreement with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, he claims, was over recognition of the German-Polish border along the Oder-Neisse line, but insists that they managed to preserve good relations despite this.
If I could be accused of anything, Mitterrand says, "it was that I did not jump through the window of the first carriage of the train [of history] ... but if I was left on the platform, so were a lot of other people."
On his connections with the Vichy regime, Mitterrand is ambivalent, while making every effort to appear forthright and reasonable. He presents himself as an eternal rebel, who bucked any curb on his freedom, while appreciating a strong leader when he saw one. Hence his decision to serve the Resistance in France rather than abroad, and his growing contempt for Marshall Petain - for "perpetually compromising".
For his decision to settle in Vichy after escaping from Germany in 1942, and his acceptance of a job ("only on contract") with the Vichy regime, his only defence is rhetoric: "What am I reproached with? Of not having been in the resistance in 1940, when I was in prison in Germany? Of being press-ganged by Vichy to take a high-level post for pay equivalent to less than today's minimum wage? Of having breathed the air of this town for a few months - air that many others gulped down and suffered no ill effects from?"
Mitterrand has admiration, but also misgivings about, General Charles de Gaulle. Only De Gaulle, he suggests, could have united the resistance and emerged as France's liberator. But, he argues, if De Gaulle's resistance appeal from London had not been mythologised in the way it was, "De Gaulle would not have been able to obscure the internal resistance, whose role has been systematically and unjustly played down."
In one anecdote Mitterrand sums up the chancy atmosphere of the time. Returning to Paris in 1943 as "Resistance agent Morland", he was stopped by the officers looking for blackmarket goods. His case contained a British pistol and cyanide capsules. It was examined, and handed back: "No butter, no eggs? On your way!"
- 1 Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
- 2 James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
- 3 Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermesiter and vodka
- 4 Here’s the damning letter Robin Williams wrote to his Mrs Doubtfire co-star's principal after they expelled her
- 5 Ferguson protests: 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein ‘arrested’ by police during St Louis demonstrations
Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson police shoot and kill second young black man
James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
Iraq crisis: Islamic State's message to America - 'We will drown you all in blood'
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...
£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...
£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...
£475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...