Republican King

Philippe Marlière

  • BuyMitterrand: A Study in Ambiguity by Philip Short
    Bodley Head, 692 pp, £30.00, November 2013, ISBN 978 1 84792 006 5

AT 8 p.m. on 10 May 1981 François Mitterrand made history. On Antenne 2 – a state-run television channel – his face was broadcast to millions of French households. It took three seconds for the image to appear clearly, but it felt like an eternity. First, a bald head (which, at this stage, could have been mistaken for that of the incumbent, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, also bald), then the eyes and the mouth and, finally, the full portrait. For the first time since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958 the French had elected a socialist president. Had Mitterrand failed on his third attempt at the Elysée, he would have been remembered only as a cabinet minister of the Fourth Republic and the unhappy architect of the Union of the Left; by now, thirty years on, his name would have faded.

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