From Stationmaster's Son to Master of France

The Independent (London, England), January 9, 1996 | Go to article overview
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From Stationmaster's Son to Master of France


Early years

Francois Maurice Marie Mitterrand is born in 1916 in Jarnac in south-western France, the fifth child of a railway stationmaster. He is sent to Roman Catholic colleges and soon becomes active in a right-wing student fraternity. In 1937, Mitterrand graduates with a degree from the prestigious Institute of Political Sciences.

The Second World War

Mitterrand (in helmet, back row) serves in the French army from 1939-40, and is wounded and taken prisoner after the fall of France in 1940. After he escapes from Germany in 1941 he becomes an official of the collaborationist Vichy government but while in Vichy is active also in the anti-Nazi Resistance. He meets General Charles de Gaulle in Algiers in 1943 and is smuggled back to France to run an intelligence network.

Post-war

Elected a member of parliament in 1946, he later serves as Interior Minister from 1954-57. He takes a hard line on Algeria's War of Independence, saying: 'The only negotiation is war'. He opposes De Gaulle's return to power in 1958 and in 1965 forces him into a run-off in a presidential election. Only in 1971, with the unification of the Socialists, does he build up a real power-base and is narrowly defeated in the presidential election of 1974 by Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

After the Cold War

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marks a watershed.

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