France's Former First Lady Dies

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Today, France lost a former first lady. Danielle Mitterrand died in a Paris hospital at the age of 87. She was the wife of the late Francois Mitterand, French president between 1981 and 1995. During WWII the future Mrs. Mitterrand was a member of the French Resistance. Later, she became a champion of human rights causes. Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is a political journalist and social commentator based in Paris. Anne-Elisabeth, I know you met Mrs. Mitterrand, how would you describe her?

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet: She was at the same time unassuming, direct and somewhat of an ideologue. She was somebody whose convictions were very left-wing and unwavering, and in many ways she was the left-wing conscious of her husband, whose political attitudes were much more ambiguous.

Werman: How much did her brave actions as a resistance fighter in WWII affect her later life?

Moutet: Well, she was a very young woman at the beginning of the war, but her family were schoolteachers who were resistant absolutely from the day go. Her father would not give up the names of his Jewish pupils, and again, that was in sharp opposition to someone like Francois Mitterrand, who was a war prisoner in Germany, but then managed to escape and get back to France, and had some responsibilities in the Vichy government. So again, when he married her in 1944 it was very useful for him to have this wife who came from the so obviously right family.

Werman: Now, Francois Mitterrand had a child out of wedlock and he kept that secret for many years, but when he died in 1996 his illegitimate child joined the funeral ceremony. Describe how Mrs. Mitterrand took this in at the funeral.

Moutet: Well, I mean as she did throughout her life, because of course, she knew about that daughter. There was a boy that she didn't know about with a Swedish journalist, but she knew about the daughter. And she wasn't very happy about it. There were many reasons where she wasn't the [unintelligible 1:55], but also the fact that she had two sons who quite frankly, were not terribly bright. And Francois Mitterrand was much more sort of fond of his young daughter, who is an extremely bright young woman and in many ways has inherited her father's intelligence. And so Mitterrand organized in the last few years of his life the publicization of his second family, and he made it clear in his testament that he wanted his companion and his daughter to be there at the funeral. So you had these strange sort of images of these women standing by the grave in black, two women, one daughter, two sons…everybody ignoring everybody else.

Werman: Finally, Mrs. Mitterrand was quoted as urging people anywhere to fight economic and financial dictatorship. I'm wondering if she commented on the Occupy Wall Street movement in her final days and if not, is it something she would've supported?

Moutet: I don't know, but certainly she had been on the record many times as being against capitalism in a much more radical way than her husband was. She certainly would've supported Occupy Wall Street, I have absolutely no doubt about that.

Werman: Journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet in Paris, thanks so much.

Moutet: Thank you!