A final difficulty came in December, when Mitterrand, in a change of policy, invited Polish leader Wojciech Jaruzelski to visit him at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Mitterrand justified his act by citing the need for tough realism in foreign affairs, but it was a difficult visit for the Socialist Party, with its long record of bitter opposition to Jaruzelski, enforcer of Polish martial law, to accept.
Fabius did not accept it. He stood before the National Assembly and, in reply to a question, reminded the deputies of his long opposition to the actions of Poland's Communist government.
"And," he added, "why hide it? The visit to France of the Polish chief of state--no matter how short--has troubled me personally."
It is not clear whether Fabius acted out of a deep sense of morality or out a feeling that the time had come to put a gap between himself and the unpopular Mitterrand. Whichever, his public confession was the most open display of conflict between a president and a premier in the 28 years of France's Fifth Republic.
Mitterrand received the news while flying to the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The president and his aides were reportedly furious, and there were rumors that Fabius might be asked to resign. In the end, however, the president made a public statement of confidence in his premier.
A Party Divided
From a political point of view, Fabius did not gain anything from his open defiance of Mitterrand, and he scored few points for sticking fast to his beliefs on a moral issue. Instead, fellow Socialists were angry at him for dividing the party so near election time, and many French found it odd that a premier would have such a difficult time supporting his president.
Mitterrand did not boost Fabius' status with a story he told at a reception in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. Surrounded by journalists asking if he had been bothered by his differences with the premier, Mitterrand replied that the week's events reminded him of an experiment that had been carried out in the United States.
There were two monkeys, Mitterrand recounted--one that received an electric shock at regular intervals, the other that received the same shock, but only irregularly and occasionally. "Guess which one suffered more?" the president asked.
The French journalists who crowded near Mitterrand to catch his words were not sure exactly what he meant. However, most guessed that the tale was intended to picture Fabius as lacking the experience to handle the great pressures of state. It was far from a pat on the back for the troubled premier.