Pierre Laval


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(b. 26 June 1883, d. 15 Oct. 1945).

Prime Minister of France 1931–2, 1935–6; French dictator 1940, 1942–5 A student of law, he became an advocate of the working classes and joined the Socialist Party in 1903. He became a parliamentary Deputy in 1914, but was increasingly at odds with his party owing to his opposition to the war. He was defeated at the polls in 1919, left the Socialists in 1920, but returned to the Chamber of Deputies as an independent in 1924, again representing the Parisian working-class district of Aubervilliers. After entering the Senate in 1927 he continued gradually to shift to the right, so that in his first period as Prime Minister he tried unsuccessfully to cope with an economic crisis through a rigid policy of deflation. In his second period in office, the Saarland voted to return to Germany. He responded to national security concerns by concluding the French–Soviet Pact of 1935. Laval had to resign over his apparent condonation of Mussolini's conquests in the Abyssinian War.

 Following the German invasion of France in 1940, Laval was instrumental in convincing the National Assembly to give Marshal Pétain full powers to revise the constitution of the Third Republic. He fully supported Pétain's desire to collaborate with Germany, and on 22 June 1942 announced his hope that Germany would win the war. He hoped to turn France into Germany's ‘favourite province’, and thus to avoid direct German rule as had happened in Poland, though this hope was betrayed in late 1942 when Vichy France was occupied by German troops. Laval had been dismissed as Pétain's Chief Minister in December 1940 owing to personality clashes with the marshal, but he had to be reinstated at German insistence in 1942. In 1945 he fled to Spain, but was handed over to Austria. The American occupying forces turned him over to France, where he was executed after a short trial.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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