“ALL the people in France and even in the world had been Gaullists, are Gaullists or will become Gaullists one day.”
I was a bit shaken, not fully knowing what my interviewee implied. I looked up from my notebook. Jacques Godfrain grinned at me, as if sensing my curiosity. “Gaullism is like the metro, it is for everyone,” he said.
Godfrain is the president of the Paris-based Charles de Gaulle foundation, a nonprofit organization charged with promoting the legacy and thought of the late French president and statesman Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), both at home and abroad.
Sitting at a coffee table in DPark, the first economic and cultural hub for foreign-owned small and medium enterprises, approved by the Yangpu District government, the ex-French Minister for Cooperation under Jacques Chirac explained why he thought Gaullism is “timeless” and “universal.”
The DPark, founded by French entrepreneur Antonio Duarte, also houses the China liaison office of the Charles de Gaulle Foundation. According to Godfrain, it was de Gaulle who wanted to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1964, despite strong hostility in the capitalist West towards the communist country. In fact, France was the first major Western country to establish ties with China during the Cold War. The resolution, vision and ability to “see higher” best illustrates what Gaullism stands for: independent thinking and decision-making, said Godfrain.
As heir to that legacy, he expressed the hope that it can transcend borders and be understood by more people abroad, especially young students. It is with this purpose that a delegation led by Godfrain recently visited a handful of Chinese academic institutions, including Shanghai-based Fudan University and Beijing-based China Foreign Affairs University, where they discussed ways of cooperation with local faculty.
Track two diplomacy
One important aspect of collaboration, in the words of Godfrain, is “track two diplomacy,” meaning the non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts and activities between private citizens or groups. They can be scholars, retired politicians and entrepreneurs.
In terms of its exercise in “track two diplomacy,” the foundation plans to organize exchange programs for students from both countries, so as to enhance their knowledge of each other. These programs, mainly catered for those students of social sciences and the humanities, will likely begin in October or November. Exchange programs of this kind proliferate. In fact, there already are quite a number of foreign foundations with a long history of engagement in China.
Asked if his foundation is a latecomer to China, Godfrain shook his head and replied, “is it relevant for us to be part of this dialogue that already exists? Our answer is yes.”
He is confident that the spirit of de Gaulle is still alive and well and many of France’s current problems can be understood through the prism of Gaullism. Besides, the mission of the foundation, founded one year after de Gaulle’s death, is not to “compete with other institutions, but to add to this ongoing dialogue with China.”
And it is the intention of de Gaulle, and the foundation, to bring together people from every background to be part of a force for greater good, Godfrain noted. To accentuate this Gaullist message about non-partisan politics, Godfrain remarked that even the last French president, François Hollande, who is a Socialist Party member, once paid homage to de Gaulle by invoking the line that Gaullism is universal.
One ingenuous way of promoting the Gaullist legacy abroad, in China in particular, where de Gaulle is affectionately remembered for his affinity toward the country, is to encourage Chinese tourists in France to “stray off the beaten track.”
It is strongly advised, suggested Godfrain, to explore the life of the great French visionary by visiting his childhood residence in Lille, the foundation in Paris and the memorial in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, where the general spent his final days with his family and where his remains were interred. Work has already begun on promotion of the de Gaulle heritage tourism.
“We hope Chinese tourists will not only visit Paris, the Côte d’Azur or Versaille. France is about a lot more than that. A journey to the de Gaulle memorial, for example, will help you know how France has arrived at where it stands now,” said Godfrain.
Convinced that all Frenchmen are deeply indebted to de Gaulle, he sang praises of de Gaulle’s foresight in “putting the French economy back on the world map by signing, among others, the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community in 1957, the precursor to the European Union.