De Gaulle: 40 Years On, France still Widowed

Stunned crowds on the streets of Paris that cold November day 40 years ago, watched in dismay and disbelief while TV screens in local cafes relayed the sombre words: “General De Gaulle is dead, France is a widow”.

The National Assembly pays homage to one of the country’s greatest statesmen.

The words as spoken by his successor Georges Pompidou, in a voice heavy with grief, were: “Le général de Gaulle est mort. La France est veuve” (You can hear them yourself on the YouTube video clip below).

Pompidou went on to render due homage: “In 1940 de Gaulle saved our honour, in 1944 he led us to liberation and victory. In 1958, he saved us from civil war. He gave this France its institutions, its independence, its place in the world.”

His feelings were clearly shared by others as then-world leaders and monarchs, including Richard Nixon, the Shah of Iran, Haile Selassie, and Queen Juliana, gathered to join the nation in mourning ahead of the statesman’s private funeral in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises (Haute-Marne), an acknowledgement that the world had lost one of its post-war giants, the leader of the Free French.

Today, Gaullism is enjoying a resurgence, gaining new ground and fresh followers – not to mention much bickering over rival claims by French politicians on both the left and the right scrabbling to wear the tall man’s mantle.

A poll released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of his death, claims that De Gaulle was by far “the greatest French leader of modern times” …. Would that, by any chance, be France having a go at some of the pygmies that have run the show since then? Well, that would appear to depend on the pollster. For, according to an AFP report, a poll in June this year, at the height of the L’Appel du 18 Juin celebrations showed nearly three out of four French responding, agreed with the statement: “Gaullism is a stream of outdated ideas”. Only 27% considered Gaullism remained “important” and “still valid”.

Yet Gaullism is definitely not fading, a Google search alone, turned up more than 200,000 references to the 40th anniversary of his death as marked around France on November 7.

As Sudhir Hazareesingh, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, notes: “Certainly, France is experiencing a surge of interest in its former president: The country has just lavishly celebrated the 70th anniversary of de Gaulle’s launch of the French Resistance on the BBC airwaves, and the public has been bombarded with conferences, exhibitions, radio and television programs, and publications of all kinds, from hagiographic works to novels (Benoît Duteurtre’s Return of the General, in which de Gaulle comes back from the dead to save France once again) to comic-strip adaptations (Jean-Yves Ferri’s De Gaulle at the Beach). The third volume of de Gaulle’s War Memoirs has even been put on the standard high school curriculum”

But its not just France. Around the world there is a flourishing of fervent and ideologically divided admirers, from monarchists and conservatives to Arab nationalists and even, reportedly, Fidel Castro. But then De Gaulle is of course, the symbol for all who oppose Anglo-Saxon hegemony, and at a time when the financial whizzkids of that hegemony have delivered the global economy into a doom spiral, perhaps its not that hard to explain why his lean and austere figure is again striding the stage.

To commemorate this anniversary, France’s National Assembly, in collaboration with the AFP (the national news agency) , has dressed the gates of the Palais Bourbon, ( Pont de la Concorde), with eleven photographs marking the important moments of De Gaulle’s life. They will be on display between November 2 and 19, 2010.

The audio clip, in French, below is an extract from Radio France International. The broadcast by Yvan Amar on his Danse des Mots programme, is entitled “The language of De Gaulle”: “De Gaulle was a forum of rhetoric informed by the great classics: Corneille, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Virgil, Horace and others. De Gaulle loved triple rhythm in his writings and in his speeches (for example:“C’est beau, c’est grand, c’est généreux, la France !”). The accuracy, precision of language, was drawn with a stylus embodied by contour, intonation…” he tells us:

40ème anniversaire de la mort du général de Gaulle


Mon General, was how the French – civilian and military and from all walks of life referred to him.

Story: Ken Pottinger


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