A man of inspiration: France honours Charles de Gaulle 50 years after death

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French President Emmanuel Macron has attended a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of General Charles de Gaulle. The traditional speech and mass were cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown, but the date remains full of symbolism for Macron, who sees in de Gaulle a model of inspiration for a nation in crisis.

Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte on Monday visited Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, a small village 270 km east of Paris, to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of General de Gaulle on 9 November 1970.

It is here, at a property known as la Boisserie, that de Gaulle spent his holidays and where he spent the last months of his life after he retired from the Elysée Palace in 1969. It has now become a museum.

Accompanied by three of de Gaulle's grandchildren, Macron paid homage to the former leader at his tomb, where he lies next to his wife Yvonne and their daughter Anne.

The president then to take part in a military ceremony in front of the Croix de Lorraine, as fighter jets flew over the giant stone cross which stands out in the surrounding forest.

Scaled-back ceremony

Due to the Covid-19 epidemic, the ceremony has been scaled back, with only 30 guests, no speech and no mass at the church.

It is no secret that Macron has chosen on several occasions to pay tribute to the former leader of France, the "father" of the Resistance movement in June 1940, which went on to free the country from Nazism.

"50 years ago today, de Gaulle left us. His destiny will forever be linked to France and the French," the Elysée Palace wrote on Twitter.

This is Macron's second visit to Colombey-les-Deux-Églises since he came to power in 2017.

The first time was on 4 October 2018, to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Fifth Republic by de Gaulle, the formation of modern government in France.

In a ceremony marking de Gaulle's call to fight on 18 June this year, Macron reiterated the need to "celebrate the French spirit of resistance" and called on citizens to stand together in the face of crisis.

Inspiration to youth

"The example of the general must inspire young generations: do not give in to chaos and doubt," Macron said in his speech.

Whether posing with a volume of War Memoirs for his official portrait, or adding the Lorraine Cross to the Elysée shield, Macron has taken every opportunity to show his respect for a leader he feels is the incarnation of Republican values.

De Gaulle is revered by politicians on the left and the right, but they argue over which aspects of the leader's legacy belongs to them.

Some twenty books referring to de Gaulle have been published just in the last year, as well as a film and a television series.

"The sway that he holds over France today is undeniable, you only have to look at the polls," says Eric Roussel, author of the historic work De Gaulle.

"His popularity as the man behind 18 June, is uncontested in history," de Gaulle's 98 year-old son Philippe told Paris Match magazine. "Everyone has adopted part of his story, even the communists, all those who make reference to the constitution, and the 5th Republic."

As for the official Elysée position, Charles de Gaulle "represents the spirit of the nation with force and vigour: he knew how to bring French people together, proving their resilience and desire to face challenges".

Strong untied France

This message has become even more relevant as Macron's government seeks to present a strong, united front against the crises which have accumulated during his years in office, from Covid-19 to terror attacks in recent weeks.

Despite the pandemic, Macron insisted the national ceremonies go ahead.

Later this week, he will preside over the 11 November armistice celebrations and the 100th year since the burial of the unknown solider under the Arc de Triomphe.

There is also a ceremony at the Panthéon, paying tribute to Maurice Genevoix, author of The Men of 14, referring to the soldiers of World War I.