After his victory in the French presidential elections on May 10, 1981, the socialists cheered François Mitterand like a Moses who would lead the “peuple de gauche” from the 23-year drought of right-wing politics to paradise on the left.

Forty years later, nostalgic memories of election day are still alive for many French people.

The effective journalistic attempt of the philosopher Michel Onfray to expose François Mitterand as a political charlatan and to hold him responsible for the decline of the left is directed against their nostalgia.

Both the admiration and the contempt for Mitterand are exaggerated.

One can soberly predict that the French socialists will not live to see a day like May 10, 1981, this “journée exemplaire” again anytime soon.

The French who sat in front of the television on election day had a premiere.

Before the name of the election winner was named, his face gradually formed on the screen, roughly pixelated.

At first you could only see a high forehead: the audience had to think that Giscard d'Estaing, the favorite of the polls, had been re-elected.

Accompanying music from Kraftwerk


But the more of the winner's head could be seen, the greater the surprise, and finally the television announcer counted like a referee in a duel: "5, 4, 3, 2, 1: François Mitterand est élu Président de la République." At Bild Mitterands, the direction was based on the electronic sound of a German band: the “Kometen-Melodie 2” by Kraftwerk.

Forty years ago on May 10, it rained in France, but that did not prevent people from pouring out onto the streets shortly after eight o'clock, there were 200,000 on the Place de la Bastille in Paris, complete strangers formed the Farandole round dance, es the exuberant mood of a “fête populaire” prevailed.

“Mitterand, you Soleil!” They shouted under the umbrellas, a new era dawned: “At last freedom, finally equality!”

Captured by revolutionary fury, the poet Aimé Césaire, who represented his homeland Martinique as a member of the National Assembly, was enthusiastic: “Today, May 10th 1981, all of France is dancing on the Place de la Bastille, as it was on July 14th 1789 danced on the ruins of the shattered monarchy. "

Extra sheet!

On the evening of May 10, 1981 at the Place de la Bastille

Source: AFP


Mitterand's investiture on May 21, 1981 initially followed the protocol: handover in the Elysée Palace, wreath-laying at the Arc de Triomphe, inaugural visit to the Hôtel de Ville.

Mitterand himself orchestrated the pathetic end of the day.

The pathos can still be felt in the television recording today: the presidential limousine turns left from Boulevard Saint-Michel into Rue Soufflot, which climbs gently up to the Panthéon.

The limousine stops.

Mitterrand gets out.

Behind him you can see a billboard on which a department store announces in large letters: “Le Self est ouvert”.

Tens of thousands have to be kept at a distance by stewards.

Alone, the newly elected President, with three red roses in his hand, walks towards the Panthéon.

Inside, accompanied only by the television cameras, he lays the roses on the graves of the resistance fighter Jean Moulin, the socialist leader Jean Jaurès and the MP Victor Schoelcher, who played a decisive role in the abolition of slavery in 1848.

In front of the Panthéon, the Orchester de Paris, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, will play the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

At the end of the day, Placido Domingo will play the Marseillaise.

The soul of France


The "eternal loser" - in 1965 against Charles de Gaulle, in 1974 in the first duel against Valéry Giscard d'Estaing - had finally won, the left was in power.

The decision of the French Communist Party to vote for the Socialist in the second ballot - and the refusal of Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac to recommend that his voters cast their vote to incumbent President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing - were decisive for Mitterand's election victory.

These "relief operations" could not diminish the self-esteem of Mitterrand, who claimed that "the soul of France" lived in him.

What actually lived in him was the soul of the Fourth Republic, in which he had been State Secretary or Minister in no less than eleven cabinets.

There was one constant in François Mitterand's political life: jealousy of de Gaulle and envy of his political legacy.

In October 1958, the French approved de Gaulle's draft constitution in a referendum.

The fifth republic was born, and France became a presidential monarchy.

Mitterand denounced the constitution as a guide to a “permanent coup d'état” - and, when he was elected president, used with Aplomb every political leeway and every personal advantage that de Gaulle's constitution offered him.

Mitterrand, the dictator?

According to Michel Onfray, the coup did not come about at de Gaulle, but under Mitterand.

In the system of the Fifth Republic, monarchical and grassroots democratic elements are inextricably linked.

The president is ruler by the grace of the people, he has to legitimize his rule plebiscitarily.

If he loses an election, he resigns - as de Gaulle did in 1969 when he failed with the referendum on regional reform.

But Mitterand did not think of resigning when the socialists lost the parliamentary elections twice - in 1986 and 1993.

He disregarded the will of the people and thus became the "dictator" for Onfray as the Mitterand de Gaulle had insulted.

In a double biography with Plutarch borrowed title “Vies Parallèles.

De Gaulle / Mitterand “Onfray juxtaposed the résumés of two opponents of French politics, whose political convictions were as different as the preferences of their private lives.

Onfray combines political and private matters into a pattern that links worldview, lifestyle and taste preferences and is reminiscent of the habitus term Pierre Bourdieus.

Latent anti-Semitism

It is a panorama of greatness on the one hand and wickedness on the other, it shows the sharp contrast between a hero and a villain career.

How differently than as a hero can one describe de Gaulle, who as a largely unknown brigadier general refused to accept the surrender of France and on June 18, 1940 from exile in London appealed to the French via the microphones of the BBC to follow him and to resist the Nazis Afford?


And how different from political villains, indignantly Onfray, one has to describe Mitterand, who as a youth was one of the rabid thug gangs of the extreme right, was awarded the highest order of the Vichy regime as a young politician by Pétain and swore allegiance to the marshal , shortly before the liberation of France mutated into a resistance fighter, “learned to speak socialist”, as an observer scoffed, and remained lifelong friends with René Bousquet, the police chief of Vichy, who organized the raids on the French Jews and their transport to the German extermination camps .

A latent anti-Semitism remained noticeable throughout his life: When Mitterand was asked in an interview about the book by Pierre Péan that exposed his right-wing extremist past (“Une jeunesse française”), he became angry: “You see how powerful and corrosive the Jewish one is Lobby in France is! "

Not in the "Pléiade"

As is customary in the French literary society, Onfray not only evaluates two politicians, but also two authors. The literary verdict in the trial against Mitterand hits the “accused” with the sharpness of a guillotine: “He's not in the Pléiade!” Of course, the memoirs Charles de Gaulles, while François Mitterand's occasional writings can be found in the junk boxes of the bouquinists for one or two euros. In addition to de Gaulle, the “homme de lettres”, Onfray makes the author Mitterand appear like an illiterate.

The soldier and the fascist - the educated and the superstitious - the husband and the libertine - the tragedian and the egoist - the lion and the adder.

These are the names of some of the chapter headings in Michel Onfray's parallel biography.

The parallel leads into the polemic, but it is a polemic that is based on research, many aggressive assertions onfray are footnote-secured.

Mitterrand with his wife Danielle

Source: AFP

With his book, published last year, Onfray wanted to overthrow an idol of the French left - he has now tightened his reckoning with Mitterand in an interview with “Figaro”.

The longest-serving President of the Fifth Republic, said Onfray, gave up following socialist policies after 22 months.

Two gunshots

On March 23, 1983, a radical cut, the so-called “tournant de la rigueur”, led by the responsible minister Jacques Delors to a neoliberal swing in economic policy. For Onfray it was Mitterand's first "fall into man". The second followed on February 7, 1992, when the President signed the Maastricht Treaty, with which, according to Onfray, sovereign France submitted to the dictates of the Brussels bureaucracy: "Mitterrand killed the left with two gunshots."

Onfray's criticism is harsh; it does not do justice to Mitterand's domestic and social policy, the successes of which have included raising the minimum wage and pensions and the abolition of the death penalty.

The supporter of a united Europe in Mitterand's readiness to develop the European Community into the European Union will not see a fall from sin but a stroke of luck.

In any case, the French left, further removed than ever from electoral success, will remember May 10, 1981 as a “journée particulaire”, a special day.

Michel Onfray: “Vies parallèles.

De Gaulle / Mitterand ”, Robert Laffont.

404 pp., € 21.95