Childhood & Early Life
François Mitterrand was born on October 26, 1916 in Jarnac, Charente, in a conservative Catholic family of Gilbert Felix Joseph and Marie Gabrielle Yvonne Lorrain.
He was baptized as François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand.
His father started as an agent of a railroad company , also worked as an engineer for la Compagnie Paris Orléans and went on to become the President of the trade unions of the vinegar manufacturers.
His education lasted for almost a decade from 1925 to 1934 in Saint-Paul College, Angouleme; during which he obtained membership of the student organization of Action Catholique called Jeunesse Etudiante Chrétienne (JEC).
In 1934, he shifted base to Paris for further education in law and politics from the University of Paris.
During his stay in Paris, his involvement in the right wing politics was very evident after joining the League of National Volunteers which was a group known for paramilitary activities.
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During 1937 to 1939, he was recruited in the colonial troops. Post his education he became the Sergeant-chief (infantry sergeant) in the Maginot line near Montmedy in September 1939.
Mitterrand served in the French Army during the World War II where he was also injured and taken in the German custody in the war camp in Kassel in June 1940.
While a prisoner, he became closely acquainted with a number of prisoners of wars coming from various social backgrounds.
After several efforts, he managed to escape from the war camp and landed in the region of the fascist French collaborationist Vichy government in December 1941 where he worked as an official with the Marshall Philippe Petain-run Vichy government to aid war prisoners.
He kept his association with the Nazi regime hidden from the public to avoid being seen as a collaborator.
Mitterrand also got involved in the French Resistance in 1943 and helped organize war prisoners for France’s freedom, during which he got introduced to General Charles de Gaulle.
Although the two did not get along well initially on issues regarding the merging of their groups but the three resistance groups namely the communists, Gaullists and the RNPGs were finally merged as the Deportees National Movement of which Mitterrand became the leader.
Post war, Mitterrand got actively involved in politics in 1946 when he won the election to the National Assembly. In 1947, he joined a centrist group called the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance.
Mitterrand was later elected for various posts in the Fourth Republic such as a Deputy and as a Minister (for different portfolios such as minister for war veterans, interior, justice and many more).
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His political career started taking a downturn with his opposition to Gaulle’s Fifth Republic in 1950s when he lost his Assembly Seat in 1958. He contested for Presidency against Gaulle in 1965 but lost again.
His career began to improve few years down the line when he changed his political philosophy.
Diverting his efforts for the unification of the French Left in 1971 he became the secretary of the Socialist Party.
Mitterrand contested for Presidency in 1974 too but lost the post to Giscard d’ Estaing by a very close margin but seven years after the defeat, he managed to defeat him for France’s political position of highest acclaim.
Coming to power from 1981, he channelized his efforts towards various social and political reforms such as fighting unemployment, improvisation of worker’s pay, abolition of death penalty, nationalization of banks and other businesses and many more.
In 1986 Mitterrand was forced to work with the political right by seeking ways for co-operation with the then Prime Minister, Jacques Chirac.
In 1988, he managed to be win presidency again thereby becoming the first French politician in the country’s history to win election twice.
The jitters in the French economy coupled with Mitterrand’s health issues resulted in the turn down during the last years of his presidency.
In 1995, he resigned after the completion of his second term and was succeeded by his long time rival, Jacques Chirac.
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His first term (1981-88) was marked by an economic policy that aimed to enhance economic activities such as nationalization, improved wages, hike in social benefits etc. Efforts were streamlined to improve housing and health care facilities and improved employment opportunities for women. The first decentralization law, the Defferre Act was passed by Mitterrand.
Social policies during his term aimed at the pensioners who obtained a right to full pension at the age of 60. Efforts were made for the elderly to ensure their stay at home instead of residential care houses.
The health care sector was also revamped through decentralization of hospital administration, improvement of research facilities and strengthening of worker’s right in the health sector.
Efforts to strengthen the education system were evident by the increase in the education budget. Various disciplines were made mandatory such as civics, French history, technical education etc.
Death penalty was abolished via the Badinter Act. Strict rules for legal and police investigations were introduced.
With respect to cultural policies, media was made liberal, the CSA media regulation agency was formed and a private broadcasting sector was introduced. Music was encouraged by setting-up music schools.
Mitterrand was not far behind on the foreign policy front too. He continued the testing of nuclear weapons and stayed away from NATO but kept active involvement with African affairs.
Making considerable efforts for building a consolidated European unanimity was proposed by his Treaty on European Union in 1991 during his second term. This treaty focused on a central banking system, common currency and an integrated foreign policy.
He also appointed Edith Cresson as the first woman Prime Minister in the French history.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Danielle Mitterrand in 1944 with whom he had three sons - Pascal, Jean-Christophe and Gilbert.
His daughter Mazarine Pingeot and a son Hravn Forsne were born from an extra marital affair he had with Anne Pingeot (his mistress) and Christina Forsne (Swedish Journalist) respectively.
During his retirement phase, he was defamed for his connections with Vichy collaborators, political vices and extra marital link ups.
Mitterrand passed away at the age of 79 on January 8, 1996 in Paris due to prostate cancer, a medical ailment that was kept hidden by him as well as his doctors for his career sake.