😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
That Chirac was admired by Margaret Thatcher and reviled by George Dubya gives an indication of the contradictions inherent in the man. Nicknamed ‘Le Bulldozer’, Chirac emerges from this sometimes frank, sometimes evasive memoir as a blunt, determined man with a fixed and overriding idea of the historical contribution of France and of the importance of maintaining a leading role for her in the world. As Ricardo Lagos said of him in his memoirs, Southern Tiger, ‘The French always did like to remind their allies that they were the true founders of democracy.’ Or as Chirac himself puts it ‘But is Gaullism anything other, in fact, than a demand for truth in the service of the only worthy cause: that of France, its grandeur, its unity, and the example of humanism that it has the duty to set for the rest of the world?’ Gosh!
The book is very readable and well translated, meaning that the reader gets a real feeling for the personality of the man – proud, forceful, supremely self-confident, verging on the bombastic. (‘It would be improper of me to dwell on my war record…I will just mention the episode which won me the military valour cross…’) Although there are chapter headings that suggest the book is split into themes, in fact Chirac has a tendency to jump from subject to subject and time-period to time-period within a chapter. This, combined with his not unreasonable assumption that his readers would know the background to some of the events and people he mentions, left this insular Brit a little bemused at times, especially when he was discussing domestic policy. A right-wing Gaullist, he displays a strange mix of almost Thatcherite thinking towards the economy mixed with an outlook on social issues that in this country would be seen as fairly left-wing.
On foreign affairs, as well as discussing Europe and Africa, Chirac naturally gives us his version of the events leading up to the war in Iraq and it’s interesting to get his account of why France took an opposing stance to the US on this. However, he also talks interestingly and informatively of France’s relationships with other players in the middle-east, particularly Syria and Lebanon.
Overall, I found this both informative and enjoyable and, despite his sometimes jaw-dropping boastfulness and sense of self-importance, I warmed to the man as I read. Given his outspoken pride in his country, its history and its people, a pride that he carried with him when engaging with the rest of the world, I began to understand why, despite having failed to achieve a good deal of what he set out to do and even having been convicted of embezzlement of public funds, he apparently remains one of the most admired politicians in France. Highly recommended.