The Gaullist party forced President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to abandon plans to speak today, the 40th anniversary of Gen. Charles de Gaulle's call from London for Frenchmen to continue their resistance to the German invaders despite the French surrender.
Giscard was to have spoken at the site of the hilltop prison overlooking Paris where the occupiers executed members of the resistance.
The unanimous, emotional Gaullist outcry against Giscard's announced intention to speak at the Mont Valerein monument in violation of a tradition of silent commemoration signals the depth of feeling against the president.
Giscard's capitulation is a measure of how fearful he apparently is that the Gaullists may carry out their threat to urge their followers to vote for the Socialist opposition in the runoff round of next spring's presidential election.
The dispute comes in the context of a broad national debate in which Giscard's refusal to apply sanctions against the Kremlin for its invasion of Afghanistan are being freely compared by his opponents to the West's appeasement of Adolf Hilter at Munich in 1938. The debate illustrates France's disinclination to buy the historical quarrels that have torn it apart and the tendency of many French to accuse each other of reincarnating past ignominies and glories.
The french president's rollback today was accompanied by a second surrender to Gaullist demands and sensitivities. Prime Minister Raymond Barre finally agreed to explain the action of a Giscardist junior minister, Jacques Dominati, who represented the government at the dedication of a monument to those who struggled to keep Algeria French, including the military rebels of the Secret Army Organization who tried to assassinate De Gaulle.
Former Gaullist prime minister Pierre Messmer, a normally low-key orator, called what Dominati did a "scandal" and a "provocation."
Dominati, the minister for French refugees from North Africa, sat through a speech by former Gen. Edmond Johaud, a Secret Army chief who was once condemned to death, praising three officers executed for their part in the nearly successful ambush against De Gaulle in 1962.
Dominati's explanation of his participation in the ceremony was scorned by various Gaullists and was followed by a unanimous walkout of all the Gaullist deputies. They pledged not to return until Barre had apologized and some of the most prominent Gaullists said they would not return until Dominati resigns. A former Gaullist, Dominati was expelled for his Secret Army sympathies and became one of the founding members of the original Giscardist party, the Republican Independents.
The Gaullist attacks on Dominati were warmly applauded by the Socialist and Communist opposition deputies.
Former Gaullist prime minister Michel Debre, widely regarded as the most ardent interpreter of the Gaullist heritage, said, "In a period when people see no difference between good and evil, one should be astonished by nothing." It is regarded as increasingly likely that Debre will run against Giscard and try to transfer his votes to the Socialist candidate in the runoff between the top two vote-getters.
Debre's closest allies have been becoming increasingly vocal against Gaullist party leader Jacques Chirac, who has dropped most of his former public hostility to Giscard in an apparent effort to protect a statesman-like image. Debre's entourage, which includes split with Chirac, say they could never support the party leader so long as he presents himself as Giscard's alter ego.
These strategists are understood to be urging Debre to follow his own inclination to counter Giscard's strategy of presenting himself as the preserver of peace and detente in Europe that is threatened by American irresponsibility. Debre would argue that the peace Giscard represents is the peace of surrender to Soviet pressure.
It is a theme with a special resonance at a time of intense national soul-searching over France's reaction to its surrender to Hitler just 40 years ago yesterday. One opinion poll shows that a majority of Frenchmen believe that World War I hero Marshal Henri Philippe Petain was right to surrender to Germany in 1940. Another poll showed that only 34 percent of the population would approve fighting alongside the United States if the Soviet Union tried to cut off the West's oil. Forty-one percent said France should refuse to join the United States in such a war.
Yet, 64 percent said they believed that the United States would defend Europe if the Soviets tried to occupy it. Seventy-two percent said they would oppose Giscard's use of France's nuclear force to counter Soviet aggression, and only 49 percent said they thought he would push the nuclear button.
In a ceremony yesterday on the Breton island where Petain was exiled and is buried, a wreath was placed on his grave in honor "of the Armistice that led to the final victory of the Allies."
In a front-page editorial, the conservative newspaper L'Aurore, owned by Robert Hersant, an active collaborator with the German occupation, asked, "For some to be eternally heroes, must the others be forever traitors? . . . No man, no matter how great, embodied all of the honor and all of the dignity of France."