[FOUNTAIN]From France, an example to be admired

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[FOUNTAIN]From France, an example to be admired

When Mazarine Pingeot turned six in 1981, her father, Francois Mitterand, was elected president of France. At school, Mazarine would boast that her father was the president. Her teacher called her mother and warned her that the girl needed counseling because of her continuous lies.
As far as the people of France knew, Mr. Mitterand was not Mazarine’s father. The girl’s mother, a curator at the Orsay Museum, was Mr. Mitterand’s longtime lover. Mr. Mitterand had a wife, Danielle, whom he had known since World War II, with whom he had raised two sons.
Little Mazarine lived a quiet life. Once she was old enough to understand the situation, she stopped telling people about her father. Mr. Mitterand, who was 58 years old when the girl was born, was devoted to her.
Mr. Mitterand had a secret life with Mazarine and her mother, in an apartment along the Seine River where he would secretly visit them after sneaking away from the presidential palace.
Mr. Mitterand’s friends and family all knew Mazarine very well. One of his friends remembered the young girl as the center of his life.
The French media respected the president’s private life, but Mr. Mitterand also used the intelligence service to keep reports about his daughter from coming out. But when a magazine published a photo of father and daughter coming out of a restaurant together in 1994, her existence was confirmed.
The day before publication, Mr. Mitterand telephoned his daughter and warned her to be ready. Ms. Pingeot later remembered that she took a long bath to calm down.
Mr. Mitterand was known in France as “the Sphinx.” A patron of Egyptian culture, he had made the controversial decision to build a glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre museum.
Before he died of cancer in 1996, Mr. Mitterand asked Ms. Pingeot to be his guardian angel. He told his aides that at his funeral, she should be seated nearest his coffin. On the day of funeral, the world cast its gaze upon the daughter of the Sphinx.
Ms. Pingeot is now a philosophy professor, and she is leading a project to commemorate the late French president.
France is a country where the public shows enormous tolerance when it comes to the private lives of public figures. It would have been extremely difficult to live a concealed life as an “illegitimate” daughter of a president in Korea, where the people do not have such tolerance. It would have been even more difficult if her father did not care about her.

by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.
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