Book of interviews sets scene for Chirac exit

13th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 13, 2007 (AFP), From recognising the crimes of France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime to defying Washington over the Iraq war, a new book of interviews with Jacques Chirac offers a rare insight into his 12-year presidency and the legacy he hopes to leave behind.

PARIS, Feb 13, 2007 (AFP)

From recognising the crimes of France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime to defying Washington over the Iraq war, a new book of interviews with Jacques Chirac offers a rare insight into his 12-year presidency and the legacy he hopes to leave behind.

 Following a weekend interview in which Chirac gave the clearest signal yet that he will not seek a third mandate in the April-May presidential election, the book further sets the scene for his departure from politics.

"What people will remember, I have no idea. I'm not really a vain person," Chirac tells journalist Pierre Pean in "The Stranger in the Elysee", long extracts of which appeared in this week's edition of the magazine Marianne.

"What I would like them to remember is that... France is, or tries to be, a country of tolerance."

Chirac says this is what was in his mind in 1995 when he acknowledged its complicity in the deportation of Jews to Nazi Germany, and later recognising slavery as a crime against humanity.

"What we did during the war towards the Jews... is something I cannot imagine as emanating from the human spirit.... Whether you like it or not, slavery was a tragic moment in the world's history, and we took part in it."

Chirac -- who hosts a France-Africa summit in southern France from Wednesday -- speaks at length of his respect for non-Western cultures, criticising the colonial-era "looting" of the African continent.

"We stole everything they had, and then told them they were no good. Now we are using grants to poach their brightest people and keep on telling those that remain: 'These negroes are really good for nothing.'"

From the 1960s, he says he secretly raised funds for Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) -- priding himself on his public refusal to visit South Africa under Apartheid.

He describes his aversion for racism as "something almost physical," saying he always resisted pressure to strike an alliance with Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigration National Front.

"A deal with the National Front was the line I always refused to cross... There is a profound danger there, because you are playing with the lowest of human instincts."

Asked about the decision to go head-to-head with US President George W. Bush over the invasion of Iraq, Chirac stands by his guns.

"I told Bush over and over that he was making a colossal mistake... The Americans refused to believe me."

"The war in Iraq gave us ample proof that any solution founded on unilateralism, force, or the illusion that the Western model can be exported off-the-shelf, is doomed to failure."

Chirac also admits he has always been "uncomfortable with the hegemony of companies like Coca-Cola ... I am constantly running into problems with the Americans, always trying to impose their point of view."

He describes the delicate task of preserving France's welfare state in a time of globalisation: "I am convinced that economic liberalism is destined to the same failure as communism, and that it will lead to the same excesses."

Long chapters delve into Chirac's personal life, where he speaks candidly of his daughter Laurence's life-long battle with anorexia.

"I have no reason to deny it. It has been the tragedy of my life," he says, making even the worst "political backstabbing" pale into insignificance.

Chirac confesses that he had not been "averse to women", but "never overdid it either", laughing off his wife's Bernadette's comments about his alleged appetites as "exaggerated".

He half-admits rumours of a passionate relationship with a French journalist in the 1970s -- "Perhaps... I don't deny it" -- but turns serious when asked if his marriage was ever at risk: "It is absolutely clear that I never thought of leaving my wife. Absolutely clear.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Jacques Chirac

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