François Mitterand (1916)
It was on this date, October 26, 1916, that French President François Mitterand was born in Jarnac, Charente. Born into a conservative, a Roman Catholic family, Mitterrand first entered politics by way of the ultranationalist Croix de Feu organization, choosing it over the Vatican-opposed Action Française. Mitterand served as a junior minister in the Nazi-collaborating Vichy government, but later worked with the Resistance.
After the war, Mitterand continued his pursuit of political office. He held various offices in the Fourth Republic. In the Fifth Republic he ran against Charles de Gaulle in the 1965 Presidential elections, but was defeated. He joined the French Socialist Party and became its leader by 1971.
In 1974 he opposed Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and was again defeated. But in 1981 Mitterand was elected French president. He was re-elected in 1988 and held the office until 1995. Six months after he left office, on 8 January 1996, François Mitterrand died in Paris of the terminal cancer he had hidden from the public for years.
It was also in 1996 that Franz-Olivier Giesbert observed, in his book of conversations with the intellectually adept politician, Dying Without God: François Mitterand’s Meditations on Living and Dying, that Mitterand had become a confirmed agnostic, unable to sustain his earlier Catholic faith, or a belief in immortality. Mitterand faced his death without fear and without faith.
Originally published October 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.