an unprecedented crisis in a presidential campaign

It is almost 9 p.m. on November 16, 1983. The credits of “The Hour of Truth”, Live and Let Die (live and let die) by Paul McCartney, ends when François-Henri de Virieu announces, with a gloomy air, the very special guest of this evening: François Mitterrand. The situation is serious, so serious that the Head of State, in person, “in the exercise of his supreme function”explains the presenter, is received on the set of Antenne 2’s benchmark political program. ” war “.

“The French are wondering if there will be a third world war and some are also wondering if your intervention this evening, Mr. President, is not aimed at preparing them for the possibility of a war in Europe. The question is very clearly posed, constantly”relates the journalist to the switchboard, addressing the Head of State.

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Martial, didactic and protective, François Mitterrand tells the story of the acute geopolitical tension of the moment linked to the “euromissiles”, a crisis that has been stretching since the end of the 1970s. Then he soberly recalls the extent of his function: “The centerpiece of the deterrence strategy in France is the head of state, that’s me; it all depends on his determination. The rest are inert materials, finally up to the decision which must consist precisely in not using them. » The French then measure the burden incumbent on the president they elected two years earlier to bring the left to power.

Forty years later, the same vertigo grips the French, the same fear. That of a “war coming back to Europe”, repeated Saturday morning the Head of State. The invasion of Ukraine launched by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in the early morning of Thursday, February 24, is however hardly comparable to the rise in fever caused by the Euromissiles, one of the last episodes of the Cold War. “It was a threat then. Not a passage to the act »emphasizes Hubert Védrine, former diplomatic adviser to François Mitterrand.

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But, from one crisis to another, an identical line emerges. Anxious, the population “tighten around the flag”, as political scientist Gilles Finchelstein, president of the Jean Jaurès Foundation, explains. And if today Emmanuel Macron cannot guarantee a peace essentially conditioned by the attitude of the head of the Kremlin, he has, like the former socialist head of state, reminded the French of his “determination to [les] protect, relentlessly”.

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