19 May 1958 - Press Conference at the Palais d'Orsay
It is almost three years since I have had the pleasure of seeing you. You will remember that, at our last meeting, I told you of my anticipations and anxieties with regard to the probable development of events and also of my determination to remain silent until such time as I could serve the country by speaking.
And indeed, since that time, events have taken a more and more serious turn. What has happened in North Africa during the past four years has been a harsh ordeal. What is now happening in Algeria in relation to Metropolitan France and in metropolitan France in relation to Algeria may lead to a new and extremely grave national crisis.
But this may also be the beginning of a sort of resurrection. That is why it seems to me that the time may have come when it would be possible for me to be directly useful to France once again.
Useful for what reason ? Because some while ago certain things happened, certain things were accomplished, things which the nations associated with ours have not forgotten and which foreign countries have remembered. Perhaps this sort of moral capital, in the face of the difficulties that assail us, the misfortunes that threaten us - perhaps this capital might have a certain weight in political life at a time of serious confusion.
Useful also because it is a fact of which we must all take note - whoever we may be - it is a fact that the exclusive party system has not solved, is not solving and will not solve the mighty problems which confront us, especially that of the association of France with the peoples of Africa, and also that of the coexistence of the various communities living in Algeria, and even that of internal harmony within each of these communities.
The fact is there. I repeat that everyone must recognize it. The battles that are taking place in Algeria and the fever raging there are but the consequences of this lack.
And if things continue in the way they have started, we all know perfectly well that the system of government, as it now exists, will be unable to find a solution. It may make plans, it may express intentions, it may even take action and make efforts in various directions. I repeat that it will not reach a solution, and consequently we run the risk that one day these solutions will be imposed from without, which undoubtedly would be the most disastrous outcome possible.
Useful, finally, because I stand alone, because I associate myself with no party or organization whatsoever, because for the last six years I have not been politically active and for the last three years I have not issued any statement ; in short, because I am a man who belongs to no one and who belongs to everyone.
How can I be useful ? Well - if the people wish it - just as I was in the previous great national crisis : at the head of the Government of the French Republic. Having said this, I am now prepared, gentlemen, to answer the questions you wish to ask.
Question : General, you said that you were prepared to assume the powers of the Republic. What exactly do you mean by that ?
Answer : When you assume the powers of the Republic, this can only mean those powers that the Republic itself has delegated to you. That seems to me like a perfectly clear statement. Now about the man who made that statement.
The Republic ! There was a time when it was denied, betrayed by the parties themselves. And it was I who rebuilt its armies, its laws, its name. I fought the war in order to obtain victory for France, but I did it in such a way that it also was a victory for the Republic. I did this along with all those who, without a single exception, wanted to join me, and as their leader I re-established the Republic at home. In its name, on its behalf, in accordance with its guiding spirit, my Government accomplished a tremendous task of regeneration. Political regeneration : the vote granted to women, citizenship given to the Moslems of Algeria, the beginning of associating within the French Union peoples who formerly were dependent on us. Economic and social regeneration : the nationalization of the mines, of the gas industry, of the electric industry, of the Bank of France, of the principal credit establishments, of the Renault works ; the establishment of labor-management committees, organization of social security on such a scale and in such a manner that the workers would be protected from centuries- old scourges, family allowances granted in such a way that families would be helped and also that the birth rate would rise... Which it did ; the establishment of certain organs for the development, the modernization and the prosperity of the country ; for instance, the investment plan which would draw from the resources of the present the means of ensuring the wealth of the future ; the Petroleum Bureau, so that exploration could be carried on in Metropolitan France and in the Overseas Territories for this source of energy which we absolutely must have ; a start in the development of atomic energy through the establishment of the commission for that purpose.
When all this was done, I gave the people the chance to speak as I had promised to do. And when it had elected its representatives, I passed on to them - without any reservation, without any condition - the powers I was charged with. When I saw that the parties had reacted like the émigrés of old, that is to say that they had forgotten nothing and learned nothing, and that consequently, for me as for the others, any genuine Government was impossible, I withdrew. I did not try to force their hand. Subsequently they drew up a poor constitution. They did this in spite of me, against me. I did not attempt to violate it in any way.
Then, in order to try to put an end to the confusion and to create a just and strong state, I instituted the Rally of the French People, inviting everybody to join it, regardless of origin, ideas or sentiments, or even of party labels ; I did this only to obtain, through legal means, the institutions that seemed necessary to me. It so happened that the old system succeeded in leading astray, little by little, the elected representatives of the R.P.F., so that I no longer had any means of action within the law. So I went back home.
Now when there are - and it is not the first time that it has happened in 18 years - when there are professional saviors of the Republic, who furthermore would not have restored the Republic if they had been alone ; when there are professional saviors of the Republic, who impute evil purposes to me, such as violating public liberties, destroying republican institutions, uprooting the rights of the labor unions, I let it go... And pass on ; which does not prevent me, as well as many others, from asking them what they are doing, these professional saviors, with liberated France and the restored Republic.
Question : How do you judge the current events in Algeria, the revolt of the population, the attitude of the Army ?
Answer : In Algeria there is a population of French extraction, as well as Moslem, which for years has been living in the midst of war, murders and violence. And this population has realized, ever since this situation has been going on, that the present system established in Paris cannot solve its problems. Even more important, it has seen this system recently turn toward [good] offices from abroad. This population has heard a man - a man who, by the way, is my friend and who was at the time the Minister for Algeria - declare publicly, on the spot, "We are headed for a diplomatic Dienbienphu." How could this population, being in such a fever, not revolt in the long run ? They see, in Paris, one crisis succeed another indefinitely, and the same representatives of the same parties distribute amongst themselves the same ministerial posts and mingle together, without anything either definite or effective coming out of it. Once more, how could such a population fail to revolt in the long run - Then, this population has sought, it is now seeking a remedy for its misfortunes outside parliamentary coalitions. It is absolutely normal and natural ; and, then, it cries "Vive de Gaulle," as all Frenchmen do, in anguish and in hope.
And besides, this population now offers the magnificent spectacle of an immense fraternization which may afford a psychological and moral foundation for tomorrow's agreements and arrangements - which is infinitely better, of course, than combats and ambushes. Moreover, the best proof that the French of Algeria do not want at any price to break away from Metropolitan France is precisely the fact that they say "Vive de Gaulle." One does not shout "Vive de Gaulle" when one is not on the side of the nation.
The behavior of the Army - in these circumstances, the Army noted this tremendous popular emotion. The Army considered it its duty to prevent this emotion from turning into disorder. This it did and it was right to do so. Furthermore, the Army, as you well know, is also profoundly affected by the tragedy through which the country is passing - that country which it serves very well and often at great sacrifice, sometimes despite a good deal of misunderstanding. The Army, I say, feels in the depth of its being all the disadvantages and the mediocrity which are characteristic of the deficiency [in the system of Government] that I stressed earlier. And then, finally, this Army in Algeria is in close contact with the population and consequently cannot escape or prevent itself from experiencing the same feelings as these people, and the same overwhelming desire as they to see Paris at last solving its problems.
I understand full well the attitude and the action of the military command in Algeria and, in my opinion, it would be absurd and deplorable just because there was no authority left in Algeria except a de facto authority - it would be absurd, under this pretext, to cut all forms of communication between Metropolitan France and Algeria. It would be absurd because it would be to the detriment of the Frenchmen who are there, whether they are of French extraction or Moslem, civilians or soldiers, and even to the detriment of many Frenchmen on this side of the sea. It would seriously compromise France's position and it would create a state of affairs, the outcome of which cannot be known. Therefore, I believe that the best thing to do - and even the only thing to do - would be to prevent Algeria from drawing away from France ; Algeria must remain with us. As for the Army, it is normally an instrument of the state, providing, of course, that there is a state.
I need not stress the urgency of finding a solution ; a decision must be made quickly because events and people's thinking are moving fast.
Question : M. Guy Mollet, after his recent speech in the National Assembly, listed certain questions concerning the procedure for your eventual return to power. Would you like to comment on them ?
Answer : I have the highest regard for Guy Mollet. I don't hesitate to say so. During the war he fought for France and for liberty, risking everything. He was one of my companions and I recall that after the Liberation I went to Arras on my way back from visiting our mines which were in a pitiful state. After greeting and expressing our confidence in the miners whom the country so sorely needed, I spoke to the people of Arras from the balcony of the Town Hall on the main square, and I shall always remember that Guy Mollet was there at my side. Those are things that one never forgets. Afterwards, I did not see him again. Why ? I do not know. But I have followed his political career from a distance. I will not say that I have always agreed with what he has said and done or tried to do. Moreover, in the regime in its present form, no man of merit can succeed, but what he has done has never altered my esteem for him.
So much for my feelings. And now there are Guy Mollet's questions... I have been told and I have read in the newspapers that he raised a certain number of questions : first, second, third, fourth...
My answer is that if de Gaulle were led to assume - or if he should have delegated to him - exceptional powers for an exceptional task, in an exceptional time, it is obvious that this could not be done according to the rites and procedure that are so habitual that everyone is tired of them... And a procedure would have to be adopted - also an exceptional one - for investiture from the National Assembly, for example.
You know that events speak very strongly for themselves, and when there is basic agreement procedures can have considerable flexibility. All my public actions are there to prove this.
Should the occasion arise, I would undoubtedly make it known to an authorized person what sort of procedure seemed adequate to me.
In case I should be asked by the French people to arbitrate, that would be all the more reason for me not to specify at the present time what the conclusions of my arbitration would be : indeed, the parties concerned must be heard, a decision must be rendered and we must be in a position to carry it out - all these are factors that do not at present exist. I know of no judge who hands down his decision before hearing the case.
Question : Don't you think that the statement you made on May 15 had the effect of reviving the movement in Algiers which was on the point of dying out ?
Answer : I wish to give courage and strength to those French people who want to remake the national unity, whether they are on one side of the Mediterranean or the other. There is no other question. The rest is so much talk - talk from a world that is not mine. Later on we will understand the attitude of those responsible ; there is another fact, moreover, and it is that at present generals are being treated as seditious persons, while up to now, as far as I know, no penalty has been inflicted on them by the public authorities, which have even delegated more authority to them. In that case, I who have no public authority - why do you want me to treat them as seditious persons ?
You see, in this tragedy, one has to be calm and collected. One has to be serious. It is absolutely necessary. I am endeavoring to be so.
Question : What would be your policy regarding relations with Morocco and Tunisia ?
Answer : I have just said that the great problem to be solved is the very question of the association of France with the peoples of Africa, and especialIy with those whom you have just mentioned. Everybody knows my feelings and purposes in this respect.
Question : What would your attitude be toward basic public liberties ?
Answer : Did I ever make any attempt on basic public liberties ? On the contrary, I restored them... Why should I, at 67, begin a career as a dictator ?...
It is not possible to solve the serious national crisis of the present time within the limits of everyday routine. As a matter of fact, one of the politicians recently charged with untangling the famous crisis, which has really been going on for twelve years, this politician himself admitted that it was necessary to form a government but a government which would be different from the others.
I find that our country has been extremely weakened and that it is struggling against great difficulties, and even great threats, in a disturbed world. I find that France holds some good cards for the future : the birth rate ; an economy that has gone beyond the stage of routine ; French technology, which is constantly developing ; the oil which has been discovered in large quantities, and so on.
These cards which we hold may lead, in the near future, to the resurgence of France, to great prosperity in which all Frenchmen must share and in which the people who need and ask for our assistance may also be associated. But it is true that, for the moment, we are in a sad plight, and that is why my last word wiIl be : "I thought it would be useful for the country to say what I have said. Now I shall return to my village and I shall remain there at the disposal of the country."