LETTER: Mitterrand: a man of political courage and faith

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From Mr David Lowe

Sir: I was surprised to read such a misleading interpretation of recent French political events as described by John Laughland ("Mitterrand's deadly legacy", 11 January).

The French nation has mourned Francois Mitterrand's passing and many beyond the frontiers of France have paid tribute to his great contribution to European co-operation, to the promotion of equality, to his attacks on racism and nationalism: "Nationalism, c'est la guerre!"

His personal political trajectory towards the left in French politics, from a comfortable bourgeois rural childhood and adolescence, the impact of Nazi occupation and his own period in captivity and then as one of the leaders of the French resistance who dared to oppose de Gaulle, his ministerial responsibilities in the Fourth Republic alongside Pierre Mendes-France and others, formed a complex personality. In spite of this, and probably because of this, he became one of the few European politicians or political leaders to have developed a clear strategic vision of his country's role in Europe, and Europe's role in global politics.

He continued to inspire French youth and his election in 1988 to a second term of office owed much to the support he earned among the younger French electorate. He himself admitted that his great regret was not to have achieved more in the fight against unemployment, particularly among the young.

To accuse Mitterrand of dictatorial and centralising tendencies, as Mr Laughland does, is ridiculous. Who was responsible for the greatest decentralisation of French political decision-making since the Napoleonic era? The empowerment of local and regional authorities was among his earliest constitutional reforms; his respect for the electorate's choice following the left's defeat in 1988 and 1993, and his management of the cohabitation period under the premiership of Chirac and Balladur, consolidated French political institutions; the Maastricht referendum giving the people their chance to decide on France's future in Europe, though a great political risk, demonstrated both his own political courage and his faith in the French people.

Yours faithfully,

David Lowe


11 January