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Francois MitterRand 1916-1996
Although François Mitterrand was not born in Burgundy, it was his political power base for many years. He was mayor of the town of Château Chinon and Conseiller Général, Senator and Deputy representing the Nièvre department in parliament almost continuously from 1946 until 1981 when he became the fourth President of France in the Fifth Rebublic, the first Socialist to do so.
Burgundy greatly profited from his work, and, during this time, he developed a deep attachment to the rural and wooded landscape and its people. He is the most celebrated politician in the Morvan and Nièvre and for this reason, he ranks as one of our Famous Names. Mitterrand said: ‘I will never stop loving this region and its people, until he day I die.’
Born into a conservative, Catholic family, it was during WWII that Mitterrand moved politically to the left. Captured by the Germans, he escaped from the prisoner of war (POW) camp, and, arriving on foot in unoccupied France, he began working for the collaborationist Vichy regime, looking after the interests of POWs. He then switched allegiances becoming involved with the Resistance Movement which was composed largely of POWs like himself. The Nièvre and the Morvan Forest in particular, were important hubs of the Resistance Movement at this time and strong bonds must have been forged.
When the war ended, Mitterrand moved into politics, being elected deputé of the department in 1946. The Nièvre was a largely agricultural area with little development. Mitterrand and his disciples became champions of state subsidies and the area gained a new, and necessary economic footing.
Mitterrand opened up the road network from Paris to improve communications in the area; he had the motor racing circuit at Magny Cours constructed to bring prosperity and much needed prestige to the region and this became the home of the F1 French Grand Prix until a few years ago. He had a magnificent modern museum, Bibracte, built in the Morvan at Mont Beuvray, the Museum of Celtic Civilization, and fittingly, the Resistance Museum is at St.Brisson in the Morvan. Hospitals and better cultural and educational facilities were created with new colleges and maisons de culture to stop the local youth emigrating to Paris. These are just some of his high profile achievements in the Nièvre.
Indicating the strength of Mitterrand’s love for Burgundy, he made a pilgrimage each year to the rock of Solutré at Whitsun. Word has it though, that he didn’t always make the climb, sometimes he came by helicopter for the photo opportunity.
Today Château Chinon where he first became mayor, is unremarkable, but it is in a beautiful setting surrounded by the forest of the Morvan. At the Vieux Morvan hotel, Mitterrand stayed in room 15 whenever he was in town, over a period of 22 years. There is a museum showing the official gifts received by the President.