An Intruder in the Elysees

The handover ceremonies between the outgoing and incoming French Presidents are rare–only three times such a ceremony had been enacted during the fifth republic, following the one between Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Francois Mitterrand in 1981, and that between Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac in 1995, and the last one between Chirac and the current president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Behind the closed door meetings, the outgoing presidents hand over the secret launch codes to his successor in this most imperial of the republics. Outside, hundreds of invited guests await the ceremonial departure of the outgoing president. Only then, the head of the Constitutional Council proclaimed the official election results and hand over the insignia of the office to the new president, who then make his first speech as head of state. At least, that is the protocol.

It wasn’t to be so in 1995, when the ailing president Franois Mitterrand was eager to step down. France’s longest serving president was by then weakened by his cancer, the scandal about his past in Vichy Régime, the suicide of his friend François de Grossouvre and the divisions between his own socialist party. The handover ceremony was conducted a week early to coincide with ceremonies commemorating the 40th anniversary of the end of World War; the 80 heads of state gathered to attend.

In the confusion, one serious breach of security occurred — as Chirac and Mitterrand stood side by side for the official portrait of the ceremony, a mysterious uninvited man was seen between two presidents. The press dubbed him Monsieur X. His real name was Claude Khazizian, a retired state betting shop employee who regularly gatecrashed these state affairs. (On this occasion, he mingled with the Armenian delegation and walked right in).

From left, first row: Duke of Edinburgh; Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro; Chirac; Mitterrand; French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur; and German President Roman Herzog. From left, second row: Austrlian Prime Minister Paul Keating; President of Senegal Abdou Diouf; Khazizian; President of Iceland Vigdis Finnbogadottir, President of Cameroon Paul Biya, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.


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