Amid Pomp and Splendor, Mitterrand Bids Adieu To World Stage
PARIS (AP) _ Flanked by world leaders and saluted by his troops, Francois Mitterrand bid farewell to the international stage Monday after a 14-year presidency marked by determined, sometimes contentious, efforts to maintain France’s status as a great power.
His France was a champion of European unity and Third World development, vigorously engaged in international peacekeeping and often at odds with Washington.
Ceremonies on Monday commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe marked the last time Mitterrand will host an international event. He appeared stoic during the ceremony, though he chatted occasionally with his newly elected successor, conservative Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac.
At times, it seemed the nearly 80 heads of government had come as much to pay homage to the 78-year-old president, who suffers from prostate cancer, as to commemorate V-E Day.
Mitterrand’s legacy in world affairs is mixed but noteworthy.
He lent stature to former French colonies in Africa, extending aid to their economies and hospitality to their leaders _ as well as sanctuary to corrupt dictators when they were ousted or ill.
He forged close ties with Germany, made a groundbreaking visit to former enemy Vietnam in 1993, irked Washington by inviting Cuban leader Fidel Castro to dinner, and spearheaded the global moratorium on nuclear testing while tenaciously insisting that France keep its nuclear deterrent.
``Mitterrand’s legacy is above all, Europe, absolutely,″ said Franz-Olivier Giesbert, editor-in-chief of the conservative newspaper Le Figaro and author of two books about Mitterrand.
``There were other major actions, but building Europe is what will remain after him,″ Giesbert said. ``The Eurocorps, which brought together the French and German armies, and the Schengen Treaty, which brought down the borders between European countries, have been his big priority, I would even say obsession.″
Mitterrand has left an indelible mark on France as its longest-serving leader since Napoleon III 140 years ago through his ``Grand Projects″ including the Bastille Opera, National Library and $1 billion restoration of the Louvre Museum.
But he will also be remembered as promoting rights of Third World nations, especially in Africa, and defending oppressed peoples such as Kurds and black South Africans.
He brought France to the forefront of international peacekeeping in crisis spots such as Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda. There are more United Nations peacekeepers from France than any other nation.
Mitterrand pursued an independent foreign policy that was sometimes at odds with the United States, including rapprochement with Washington’s arch-nemeses, Iran and Iraq.
France resisted American domination of the Gulf War _ Mitterrand’s defense minister resigned because of it _ and supports easing the embargo against Iraq to allow numerous French businesses to resume lucrative trade.
He remained a master of symbolism to the end: He is skipping a military parade in Moscow on Tuesday, part of continued war commemorations, apparently to protest Russia’s crackdown on the separatist movement in Chechnya.