Home News Gaullist knives out for vain Giscard

Gaullist knives out for vain Giscard

Published on 10/12/2003

PARIS, Dec 10 (AFP) - In France political memories are long, and now a bid by former president Valery Giscard D'Estaing to be admitted to the country's most exclusive cultural club - the 40-member Academie Francaise - is at risk because of a bitter grudge going back more than 30 years.

On Thursday the 77-year-old former leader will learn whether he has been blackballed from the elite institution on the Quai de Conti, whose sole task for the last three and a half centuries has to been to produce – very slowly – the definitive version of the French dictionary.

If he is, it will be largely as a result of an old and unsettled score within the French right.

In 1969 Giscard D’Estaing – a former finance minister under president Charles de Gaulle – called for a no vote in a referendum on regionalisation. A day after the measure was defeated, de Gaulle resigned from office. True Gaullists have never forgiven him.

“There is a lot of anti-Giscardism in the Academy. The die-hards believe he betrayed de Gaulle at the referendum,” said Jean-Francois Revel, a 79-year-old historian who has been an “immortal” – as members are known – since 1997.

The rankling burst to the surface four weeks ago after Giscard D’Estaing revealed his candidature for one of the three unfilled seats in the Academy, whose members – average age 77 – wear an elaborate green braided uniform and meet every Thursday to add a few more words to the oeuvre.

Within days, one of the Academy’s most senior figures, the 85-year-old novelist and former resistance fighter Maurice Druon, launched a scathing attack in Le Figaro newspaper, giving vent to the visceral hatred of Giscard – or VGE as he is known – that still pervades a section of the French right.

“What unexpected attack of humility has persuaded Valery Giscard D’Estaing to present his candidacy to the Academie Francaise.” he wrote.

“Here is a former president, who when he gave lunches at the Elysee did not allow anyone to sit in front of him and ate his meal starting at an empty place, like the king at Versailles.

“And we all remember the not-so-charming off-handedness with which he spoke to new academicians when they came for his approval.”

Giscard D’Estaing’s hauteur when in office from 1974 to 1981 has long been the stuff of legend, but Druon also questioned whether the former president’s literary achievement was sufficient to earn him a seat. Being a recognised writer is not essential for Academy membership, but it certainly helps.

As Druon pointed out, VGE’s only output so far has been four political books, some memoirs and a romantic novel called Le Passage that was panned by Le Monde in 1994 for its “total absence of originality.” Plus of course the blueprint for the European constitution that has been his latest task.

According to Druon, who joined de Gaulle in London during the war and wrote the words of the resistance anthem the Song of the Partisans, VGE’s “literary distinctions are as paltry as his aristocratic ones” – another dig at his alleged social pretensions.

The Academy Francaise was created by Louis XIII’s powerful minister Cardinal de Richelieu in 1635, and it is now at the letter “R” in its ninth edition of the dictionary which will be out in 2015. In addition it hands out various prizes, including an award for mothers of large families.

The vote on Giscard D’Estaing’s application takes place behind closed doors on Thursday afternoon, and he needs at least 19 votes to get through. If he fails, then the seat belonging to the late poet-president of Senegal Leopold-Sedar Senghor will remain vacant.

But if VGE wins his seat, he will have another awkward moment when his election is confirmed in a compulsory interview with President Jacques Chirac.

The two have cordially loathed each other since the Gaullist Chirac helped scupper VGE’s re-election bid in 1981.

 © AFP

                                                                Subject: France news