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The Long March of François Mitterrand

Richard Vinen reveiws the early career of the former French President.

François Mitterrand has had an astonishing career. As a Resistance fighter, he had already met both Petain and de Gaulle when he was in his late twenties. But while his Resistance contemporaries wrote their memoirs in hitter retirement, Mitterrand went on to enjoy a political career that made his early exploits look tame. He was a cabinet minister at the age of thirty, played a key role in the reconstruction of the French Left and became President of the Republic in 1981.

Recently, Mitterrand's early career has been an object of much discussion because of Pierre Pean's study of his life, Une Jeunesse Francaise, François Mitterrand l934-1947; (Fayard, 1994). This is a well-documented and subtle book. Its most striking passages reveal the extent to which Mitterrand was implicated in the extreme Right during the 1930s. However, the general thrust of Pean's argument is not new. He could have saved himself the trouble of the elaborate researches by which he 'reveals' that Mitterrand was helped to find a constituency by the right-wing deputy Edmond Barrachin. This incident was described in detail in the memoirs of Georges Riond (published in 1979) and was even alluded to in a book by Mitterrand's own brother.

Fifteen years ago an Italian biographer wrote that Mitterrand had been 'born on the Right, grown up in the Centre, and grown old on the Left'.

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