Adieu, M. Mitterrand

Posted: January 10, 1996

Tomorrow, Francois Mitterrand, the son of a railroad stationmaster and France's longest-serving modern president, will be buried in a family tomb in Jarnac, the town in southwestern France where he was born. His nation will put to rest one of its most complex and accomplished politicians; Europe and the West will bid adieu to one of the 20th century's last great leaders.

Mr. Mitterrand, who died Monday after a long bout with cancer, leaves a complicated legacy. He brought the socialist left into mainstream politics, but was unable to make its economic theories stick. (France's long-term unemployment rate is one of the worst in Europe.) He ruled more than governed, taking advantage of France's strong presidency to build vast monuments to his rule in Paris. He also used that power to forge a lasting bond with Germany, and to align France with the West during the gulf war.

Mr. Mitterrand's belief in a united Europe may well be his most important contribution to Western democracy. He stood with some formidable leaders - Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl - but always on his own terms. He outlasted many in office; not, sadly, in life.

``Europe has lost a great statesman,'' said Mr. Kohl. D'accord.

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