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122 Introduction Thedeterminingroleofpersonalities,andmostcentrally thatof Mikhail Gorbachev, was of course a factor in the way the Cold War ended and German reunification came about. From the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was deep uncertainty as to how the Russians would handle the situation, particularly regarding East Germany. As Pierre Haski has observed, “Let us not forget that [at the time] there were still nearly 400,000 Soviet soldiers on [East German] soil . . . and there was no certainty as to the manner in which the Communist Bloc leaders would conduct themselves in the face of popular unrest in the East, particularly in East Germany.”1 For example, what if German demonstrators attacked Russian troops in their bases? As Robert M. Gates, the former director of U.S. Central Intelligence, stated in a talk at Harvard University in 1992, “Whatever one may think of Gorbachev—and I have criticized him strongly in the past—without his sense of humanity, the end of the Cold War would not have come about in this way.”2 In this study, the focus is on François Mitterrand during the critical period from the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 through German reunification in October 1990 to the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991: his words, how they changed, how others interpreted them, and how they differed in interpreting them—in short, how Mitterrand handled matters of state in this crucial transition . Mitterand’s role was not comparable in importance to that of George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, or Helmut Kohl, but it was a role nevertheless, and one that, with typical French insistence, Mitterrand was constantly seeking to enhance. This period, Mitterrand’s second term of office (1988–95), was not as dynamic 8 The Florentine in Winter François Mitterrand and the Ending of the Cold War, 1989–1991 Charles Cogan mitterrand and the ending of the cold war 123 as his first, in part because he was in the process of dying before one’s eyes. He nevertheless retained the sobriquet, in the Paris microcosm, of “le Florentin,” for his sybilline ways, his sense of intrigue, his political sophistication, and his occasionally opaque way of presenting his thoughts. Quite the opposite of Charles de Gaulle, who was clear to the point of brutality, who considered Mitterrand incoherent, and whose nickname for him was “l’arsouille,” roughly translated as “the crafty one.” There are almost as many studies of Mitterrand as there are contradictory stories about how he handled the ending of the Cold War.3 Despite his later disclaimers,4 Mitterrand clearly sought to slow down or otherwise control the process of German reunification, but before long he was compelled to accept it. Are we to believe Hubert Védrine’s formulation that Mitterrand’s words varied but not his acts?5 Or are we to figure otherwise—namely, that Mitterrand maneuvered himself out of a difficult situation after having initially sought to block or at least put off for long German reunification? The accounts of two of Mitterrand’s aides, Védrine and Jacques Attali, are different in tone and in substance, with Védrine retaining a respect for the former president and Attali repeating the wildest of Mitterrand’s divagations, which probably caused the latter to disown Attali’s third volume (Verbatim III), covering the period 1988–91. What we can state with certainty is that Mitterrand was far more prudent in his public statements than he appears to have been in private. At one point, when Mitterrand stated on television that there was a “threshold of tolerance” concerning the presence of foreigners in France, Attali noted, “It was one of the rare occasions, in the space of 15 years, when I saw François Mitterrand not express himself with mastery.”6 It has become a commonplace to criticize Mitterrand, at the fading point of his life, for shortsightedness in being unable to comprehend in a timely fashion the irresistible dynamic of German reunification in 1989–90. Overall, it seems to me that Mitterrand’s actions in this transition period were more successful than is generally assumed. Moreover, his handling of the Gulf War during this critical period (1990–91) did nothing to discredit France, though it set in motion a long crisis of confidence for the French military that was to continue through the rest of the decade, in the Bosnia and especially the Kosovo conflicts. Above all, Mitterrand managed to keep France’s relationship with...


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