Place François Mitterrand, Lille, France
In 1981, François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand was elected President of the French Republic. He held the post until his resignation at the end of his second term in 1995. That’s fourteen years. Longer than any other head of state in France since the Revolution of 1789. And here he stands at the very centre of the square named after him in Lille. Right in front of the drafty Lille Europe train station. And so it is that passengers arriving on the Eurostar from London, or on domestic rail services from other cities, see François Mitterrand before they see much else of Lille. François was born over 400miles from Lille in the small town of Jarnac, south-west France. As a young man, he served with the French forces in World War II. The war saw him be captured as a prisoner of war, escape and join the Resistance party fighting for the freedom of France. He served in General Charles de Gaulle’s interim government once the war was over. And by 1971, he’d become Secretary of the Socialist Party. Ten years on, in 1981, he was elected President. Only to be re-elected seven years later at the end of his first term. (As an aside, the French public voted in a referendum back in 2000 to reduce the length of the president’s term from seven to five years.) During his time as president, François Mitterrand appointed France’s first, and so far only, woman prime minister, Édith Cresson. He nationalized French banks, improved workers’ pay and conditions. And he abolished the death penalty. But by 1995, it was clear that he could not go on. He’d been battling health problems for the years, and had even undergone two operations for prostate cancer while in office. He resigned at the end of his second term in 1995. And less than a year later, in January 1996, his prostate cancer killed him. He was 79. In the years since then, there have been revelations about François Mitterrand’s friendship with wartime Vichy collaborators. As well as revelations about his extra-marital affairs. But this isn’t the only Place François Mitterrand in France. There’s one in Lormes. Another in Montivilliers. And in Roche-sur-Yon, in Sannerville, in Algrange…Which must mean that despite all of those revelations, François Mitterrand remains a very respected man indeed.