Backstage

Suddenly, everyone’s a ‘Gaullist’

Marci McDonald July 21 1980
Backstage

Suddenly, everyone’s a ‘Gaullist’

Marci McDonald July 21 1980

Suddenly, everyone’s a ‘Gaullist’

Backstage: Paris

Marci McDonald

"You will see,” a beleaguered Charles de Gaulle once intoned to a confidante. “After my death, they will all be Gaullists.” Not quite 10 years after his burial in the tiny Lorraine village of Colombey-les-deux-Eglises that prediction rings with exactly the measures of cynical moxie for which the founder of the French Fifth Republic was noted. Last month, as France celebrated the 40th anniversary of de Gaulle’s first assault on the national conscience—in his ringing June 18, 1940, radio appeal from London calling on Frenchmen to resist the Nazi invaders with whom the Vichy regime had just signed a collaborationist truce—politicians of every persuasion, including those who had bitterly opposed him in his lifetime, were scrambling over one another onto the Gaullist bandwagon to proclaim themselves his true heirs.

Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac, the bristly leader of the revamped Gaullist party, the Rally for the Republic (RPR), led 40,0000 faithful on foot to Colombey, where de Gaulle’s gigantic marble cross towers over the cornfields as imposingly as his long shadow still broods over French politics.

But Chirac’s attempts to tailor the Gaullist mantle to his own ambitions in preparation for next year’s presidential elections were undercut by the absence from his side of most of the general’s old trusted “barons”—alienated by Chirac’s expedient ideological nips and tucks.

In Paris, an orgy of Gaullist nostalgia and sound-andlight homages was capped off with fireworks. But the loudest blast came at the news that President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing planned to make a speech at the résistance shrine of Mont Valérien—one place where de Gaulle had always maintained a respectful silence. To the Gaullists, Giscard’s intention was a patent heresy—yet one more example of how the general’s heritage was being exploited and twisted by the man they regard as his ultimate betrayer. (During France’s 1969 constitutional referendum, Giscard, then an influential member of the National Assembly, broke ranks to urge a non vote which eventually won out, provoking de Gaulle’s downfall.) The Gaullists’ outrage forced Giscard to find a different podium.

Gaullists have never forgiven Giscard’s treason, but it is not by any means the only one of which they accuse him. Indeed, in the wake of the acrid controversy caused by the president’s current foreign-policy quickstep, the furore underlines the difference between what de Gaulle stood for and what Giscard seems to. De Gaulle’s June 18,1940, rallying cry—“France has lost a battle but France has not lost the war”—was the shot that set off the résistance, a stubborn refusal to collaborate and be appeased. He followed

that same course later, as president. But for all his noisy anti-Americanism and haughty international independence, when the Berlin and Cuban missile crises threatened the balance of power there was not the slightest hesitation: he threw in his obstreperous lot with the allies. Giscard’s international fancy footwork ever since the Russian invasion of Afghanistan has been merely Chapter 2 in de Gaulle’s go-it-alone tradition—or so claim Giscard’s supporters. But to more perceptive observers and to the Gaullists themselves, Giscard’s policy is completely the contrary—a diplomatic dance that is taking on all the aspects

of rather too obliging a minuet to the tune of Soviet appeasement. The fact that France raised only a mild and belated protest as Russian tanks rolled into Kabul, that the French Olympic team is being dispatched to Moscow with the blessing of government funding and that the French ambassador was the only Western front man not to boycott the May Day festivities on Moscow’s Red Square is to them a betrayal of all that de Gaulle z fought for. The general would 2 have thundered his indignation, they Cry, not flown off to Warsaw to hobnob with Brezhnev at the risk of showing a g split Allied front; or not aril gued in Venice for conciliation ° with the Kremlin.

An increasing number of French critics are drubbing Giscard’s soft-shoe with the Soviets as the most blatant form of electioneering—an attempt to buy what LExpress editor Jean-François Revel branded “the discreet neutrality of the French Communist party” in next year’s presidential race. As long as the Communists don’t swing their 20 per cent of the popular vote behind a Socialist candidate, the president can be assured of stepping into another seven-year term. It is precisely to shake up the numbers game that former prime minister Michel Debré last month threw his lot into the presidential sweepstakes. His candidacy weakens the Gaullist RPR party, once France’s largest, and it threatens in the end only to benefit Giscard.

In an open letter to his fellow Gaullists, Pierre Juillet, former counsellor to the late Georges Pompidou, invoked the general’s historic appeal for an “immense army” to rise up in protest—this time in protest against Giscard. But he ended by musing pessimistically that perhaps a new calamity would first have to occur. As the Gaullists know only too well, the phenomenon inspired by the general was born out of the humiliation of Vichy. And the same poll that indicated France’s growing attachment to de Gaulle’s legend revealed two pieces of bad news for the Gaullists: Frenchmen generally applaud Giscard’s policies and, in retrospect, think that Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, head of the Vichy regime, was right to sign an armistice with Hitler.

Marci McDonald is Maclean's correspondent in Paris.