France: Then and now

What was France like in 1981? Francois Hollande is the first Socialist president of France since another Francois, Mitterrand, swept to power in 1981, where he remained for 14...

What was France like in 1981?

Francois Mitterand in 1981 and Francois Hollande in 2012
Francois Hollande is the first Socialist president of France since another Francois, Mitterrand, swept to power in 1981, where he remained for 14 years. They are the only presidents from the left in the short history of the Fifth Republic. So what was France like 31 years ago?

Then and now

1981 2012
The new president
Francois Mitterrand, 64, had a long political career behind him. A civil servant in the Vichy regime who later joined the Resistance. Long-standing opponent of Charles de Gaulle.
Francois Hollande, 57, was an adviser to the Mitterrand presidency and has been an MP since 1988. Succeeded Lionel Jospin as Socialist party leader in 1997.
His “110 propositions for France” included 150,000 more public sector jobs, a nationalisation programme and a call for withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
A 75% top rate of tax for the super-rich, lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some, creating 60,000 teaching jobs and renegotiating the eurozone’s fiscal pact.

Mood on the streets
“There was hope that Mitterrand’s election would change things. His slogan was ‘changing life’. People thought that things were going to be different – from darkness to light, a new and better life. There was dancing in the streets. There is nothing of the sort now. Everyone knows there’s a world crisis and it’s going to be tough.” Political commentator Claude Askolovitch
Departing presidents
Valerie D'Estaing

Valery Giscard d’Estaing left the Elysee Palace after one term. Like Sarkozy, he was elected on a platform of reform but by the end widely seen as reactionary.
Poster of Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy was also a one-term president, described as the most unpopular in history, criticised for an extravagant lifestyle, and perceived to be out of touch.
GDP per head / US$
Unemployment / %
“Unemployment was very high in 1981 and Mitterrand used that but we didn’t know that we would never leave high unemployment for many years. The idea was that Mitterrand would come and we would have a better life but no-one thinks Francois Hollande is going to put France back to normal unemployment.” Claude Askolovitch
In other news
Marc Pajot

French skipper Marc Pajot breaks the trans-Atlantic record, Mitterrand abolishes the death penalty and the high-speed TGV rail service between Paris and Lyon is launched.
Police in Toulouse

Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah shot dead by police after killing seven people, silent film The Artist wins five Oscars and Strauss-Kahn faces allegations involving vice girls.
And sport
Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl

Bjorn Borg beats Ivan Lendl in the French Open final, while Hana Mandlikova also triumphs at Roland Garros.
England beat France in Paris

National team qualifies with ease for the Euro 2012 football tournament, but has a mediocre rugby union Six Nations.
In the music charts
La Danse des Canards (JJ Lionel), Pour le Plaisir (Herbert Leonard) and Chacun Fait ce qui lui Plaît (Chagrin d’Amour).
Somebody that I Used to Know (Gotye), Video Games (Lana Del Rey) and Je l’Aime a Mourir (Shakira).
End of an era
“There was a real sense of elation and a sense that Mitterrand’s win would bring in a different political culture and that France would become a more tolerant place. He abolished the death penalty and there was an anti-racism movement gaining momentum. There was a feeling France was entering the modern age and bringing to an end the era of De Gaulle. More than 30 years later, beyond the euphoria doubtless felt by many at having ejected President Sarkozy after only one term, this was no May 1981. Hollande’s options for ‘change, now’ – his campaign slogan – will be sorely tested by the domestic, European and international challenges defining France in 2012.” Helen Drake, author of Contemporary France

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