Dozens of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, were expected in Paris on Monday (30 September) to pay their final respects to France’s late president Jacques Chirac as the country holds a national day of mourning for its charismatic former head of state.
Putin and other world leaders were to join President Emmanuel Macron for a church service in the French capital, a day after thousands of people queued to view the coffin.
Chirac’s death on Thursday aged 86 prompted a flood of tributes to a man whose high-profile political career spanned three decades capped by 12 years as president from 1995-2007.
But it also sparked questions about how much this consummate political operator actually achieved during a long spell in office and again threw the spotlight on a 2011 conviction for graft over his time as Paris mayor.
Nevertheless, a poll in Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed that the French consider him their best president of the modern era, alongside Charles de Gaulle, with his finest achievement seen as opposing the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Thousands lined up Sunday in a queue that wound around the Invalides memorial complex, braving rainy weather and the prospect of an hours-long wait, to glimpse Chirac’s coffin draped in a French flag.
The national day of mourning in France Monday will see a minute of silence observed in all public institutions and schools.
‘A true intellectual’
Chirac’s coffin will at 0900 GMT leave the Invalides under a military escort through the streets of Paris, before arriving at the Saint-Sulpice church for the final memorial service.
The Elysee said some 30 heads of state and government are expected to be present, including Putin, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orbán and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Former leaders who worked closely with Chirac, notably including German ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder, will also be there. European Union Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and former US President Bill Clinton will also attend.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent belated condolences to France, in the first statement from the US government since Chirac’s death.
“Having dedicated his life to public service, former President Chirac worked tirelessly to uphold the values and ideals that we share with France,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Left unsaid was Chirac’s opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 — perhaps the former French president’s most significant political action on the international stage.
Putin worked intensely with the conservative politician in the first phase of his own presidency and the pair were notably united in their opposition to the 2003 invasion.
In unusually gushing comments in an interview with the Financial Times in June, Putin said Chirac was the modern world leader who had impressed him the most.
“He is a true intellectual, a real professor, a very level-headed man as well as very interesting,” said Putin.
Much of France’s current political class will also attend but absent will be far-right leader Marine Le Pen who pulled out after reservations expressed by the Chirac family.
In a rare public appearance, also present will be the third president of France’s modern fifth republic Valery Giscard d’Estaing, 93, who has now outlived his successor Francois Mitterrand who died in 1996, and Chirac.
In the final act, Chirac will be buried at the Montparnasse cemetery in southern Paris, next to his daughter Laurence who died in 2016 aged 58 following a battle with anorexia.
As well as opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Chirac also presided over a significant cut in road deaths, acknowledged France’s role in the deportation of Jews in World War II and warned of the risk of climate change before it rose high on the political agenda.
But many tributes focused not on policy achievements but the sheer charisma and genuine love for his country of a man who Macron said Thursday “embodied a certain idea of France.”
One of Chirac’s most concrete legacies is the Quai Branly museum in Paris of indigenous art which he founded and reflects his lifelong passion for Africa and Asia. To remember its founder, the museum is free to the public until 11 October.