Mitterrand's Mazarine exposes covert childhood

25th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 25 (AFP) - The late French President Francois Mitterrand lived for much of his 14 years in power not at the Elysee palace but at the home of his mistress and their illegitimate daughter Mazarine, according to her new book of memoirs.

PARIS, Feb 25 (AFP) - The late French President Francois Mitterrand lived for much of his 14 years in power not at the Elysee palace but at the home of his mistress and their illegitimate daughter Mazarine, according to her new book of memoirs.

In "Bouche Cousue" (Sealed Lips) - to be published on Monday - Mazarine Pingeot speaks for the first time of the 19 years she spent as a state secret, unable to acknowledge her father in public but greeting him every evening at their flat in central Paris.

Now a 30 year-old novelist and lecturer, Pingeot paints a picture of an attentive father who spent more time and affection on his hidden second family than on his wife Danielle and their two sons - Pingeot's half-brothers.

But she also writes with anguish of her relationship with a man she could never openly call "Papa."

"Officially I did not have a father. My classmates knew nothing of my home, of my evenings and weekends and holidays .... The pact of silence was more than a family affair. Apparently everyone was signed up to it," she writes in extracts published in Le Nouvel Observateur magazine.

The world only became aware of Mazarine in 1994 when Paris-Match magazine published a now famous photograph of her emerging with her father from a Paris restaurant. The first time the French got a full view of her was at her father's televised funeral two years later.

Until her existence was revealed, Pingeot describes a strange life that combined enforced anonymity with moments of deep filial intimacy.

Her first realisation that she was not to have a conventional childhood came in 1981 - after Mitterrand's first election victory - when at the age of 6 she saw how her father's appearance on television "provoked bizarre, contradictory emotions" from those around her.

Writing of herself in the third person, she remembers: "There was this man on television - a man she knew so well of course, but a man that at the same time she did not know. This man that she would soon learn not to call by name."

While the French believed Mitterrand was living with Danielle, he was in fact spending most nights with Anne Pingeot, an art curator, at her flat on the Quai Branly. "After breakfast, Maman left by bicycle for the museum, Papa by car for the Elysee or the end of the world, and me to lycee," Pingeot writes.

Sometimes she would visit her father in the Elysee - crouching on the floor of an official car in order not to be recognised. But she says she felt happier mixing with the behind-the-scenes staff - gardeners, cooks and off-duty guards - than sitting in Mitterrand's office.

Throughout this time, it is now known that Mitterrand was going to extraordinary lengths to keep his daughter's existence hidden from the public - even though among the Paris in-crowd it was an open secret.

Over the last two months details of these efforts have merged in the trial of 12 former police officers and senior aides, who are accused of the illegal surveillance of citizens in the Mitterrand era.

The head of Mitterrand's phone-tap unit, Christian Prouteau, has told the court that his primary mission was to protect Mazarine from the journalists and opposition figures who wanted to reveal her name. A verdict is expected next month.

In her memoirs, Pingeot writes how Mitterrand's death allowed her for the first time to form a relationship with her step-brothers Jean-Christophe and Gilbert.

Describing how they flew in a military plane with Mitterrand's body for the burial in his home town of Jarnac, she writes: "For the first time we were together around the person who was our link. In this timeless moment, in a clear and glacial sky, we formed a kind of hesitant, clumsy bond.

"When we emerged from the plane we knew we would go back to our respective mothers, but there - in that strange place - we were forced to acknowledge that we all came from the same man."

The book seems likely to perpetuate the national obsession with the late president - a man variously worshipped and reviled - just two weeks after the release of a ground-breaking film depicting the last months of his life.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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