PARIS: Asked at 19 what he would like to be, Francois Mitterrand answered "all, or nothing". Through his life he kept to these words. Upon escaping from a WWII prison camp, he started to climb, first in Vichy, then in the Resistance, the ladder which was to bring him in 1981, and for fourteen years, to the head of the State.
Since the beginning of the 5th Republic, the Right took it for granted that it would stay long in power for the simple reason that the division of the Left between the communists and socialists was too deep to be overcome. But Mitterrand managed to convince the leadership of the two parties that, since it was the only way to win, their alliance was not only necessary but feasible. George Marchais, boss of the powerful communist party at the time, assumed the communists would play a predominant role in a victory of the Left. Almost everybody in the conservative ranks shared that view, but Moscow, always distrustful of the social-democrats, made it clear that it didn't approve of the rapprochement.
Finally the balance turned in Mitterrand's favor. The communists lost much ground to their partners and rivals in the 1981 elections and had to satisfy themselves with four minor portfolios in the new cabinet. A few days later, Mitterrand was telling George Bush, then vice-president, that he asked the communists to join his government essentially to prevent them from opposing necessary unpopular measures he would take. And, he correctly predicted that in less than three years they would understand that participation in the government was ruining their image and would withdraw their ministers.
The Right, which despised him, predicted that Mitterrand would be booed out of office. Alain Juppe, at the time, commented that Mitterrand would leave public life in rags and tatters. The courage and dignity the late President consistently showed during his long fight with cancer helped to change the climate. The Prime Minister was not the only politician of the Right to pay his tribute to Mitterrand. The most significant gesture was Chirac's recent TV speech, in which he choose to inscribe his old rival in the continuity of the Nation's history. None of his public statements, it is certain, since his election last June had such an impact in France.