Daniel Cohn Bendit
- Category : Political
- Type : ME
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Endeavor 1
Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit (born Montauban, France, April 4, 1945) is a European politician and was a leader of the student protesters during the May 1968 riots in France. He was also known during that time as "Danny the Red" (because of both his politics and the color of his hair). He is currently co-president of the group European Greens–European Free Alliance in the European Parliament.
Cohn-Bendit was born in France to German-Jewish parents who had fled Nazism in 1933. He spent his childhood in Paris. He moved to Germany in 1958, where his father had been a lawyer since the end of the war. He attended the Odenwaldschule in Heppenheim near Frankfurt, a secondary school for children of the enlightened upper middle class. Being officially stateless at birth, when he reached the age of 18 he was entitled to German and French citizenships, but he renounced the latter in order to avoid conscription.
He returned to France in 1966 to study sociology at the University of Nanterre (located in a northwestern suburb of Paris), under the supervision of the network society's theorist Manuel Castells. He soon joined the larger and classic national anarchist federation Fédération anarchiste, which he left in 1967 in favour of the smaller and local Groupe anarchiste de Nanterre and the Noir et rouge magazine. Although residing in Paris, he was frequently able to travel back to Germany, where he was notably influenced by the death of Benno Ohnesorg in 1967, and the assault on Rudi Dutschke in April 1968. In this tense context, he invited Karl Dietrich Wolff, leader of the student organization of the SPD, for a lecture in Paris, which had an influence on the later May events.
In Nanterre, Cohn-Bendit was a leader in claims for more sexual freedom, with actions such as participating in the occupation of the girls' premises, interrupting the speech of a minister who was inaugurating a swimming pool in order to demand free access to the girls' dormitory, which contributed in attracting to him a lot of student supporters later to be called the March 22nd Movement, a group characterized by a mixture of Marxist, sexual and anarchist semantics. In the fall of 1967, rumours of his upcoming expulsion from the university led to a local students strike, and his expulsion was cancelled. On March 22, 1968, students occupied the administrative offices, and the closing of the university on May 2 helped move the protests to downtown Paris.
From May 3, 1968 onwards, massive student riots erupted in Paris against Charles de Gaulle's government, led mainly by non-communist leftwing youth. The already media-savvy Cohn-Bendit quickly emerged as a public face of the student protests, along with Jacques Sauvageot, Alain Geismar and Alain Krivine. His "foreign" origins were highlighted by opponents of the student movement, leading to students taking up the chant, "Nous sommes tous les juifs allemands" ("We are all German Jews").
The French Communist Party leader Georges Marchais described Cohn-Bendit as the "German anarchist Cohn-Bendit" and denounced student protesters as "sons of the upper bourgeoisie"... "who will quickly forget their revolutionary flame in order to manage daddy's firm and exploit workers there." Continued police violence, however, prompted trade unions (and eventually the Communist Party) to support the students, and from May 13 on, France was struck by a general strike.
However Cohn-Bendit had already retreated on May 10 with a few friends in the Atlantic coast city of Saint-Nazaire, seeing that his Nanterre group had become a minority without political influence in the larger Paris students' movement. Cohn-Bendit's political opponents took advantage of his German passport and had him expelled from Saint-Nazaire to Germany on May 22 as a "seditious alien." On May 27, the Communist-led workers signed the Accords de Grenelle with the government; on May 30, supporters of the president organized a successful demonstration; new elections were called and at the end of June 1968 the Gaullists were back in power, now occupying three-quarters of the French National Assembly.
On the whole, Cohn-Bendit had participated little in the May 1968 Paris events, which continued without him, but he had become a legend, which was to be used later in the 1990s on his return to France.
The Leaden Years
Back in Frankfurt in the family house, Cohn-Bendit became one of co-founders of the autonomist group Revolutionärer Kampf (Revolutionary Struggle) in Rüsselsheim. From then on his fate was linked to Joschka Fischer, another leader in the group. Both were later to become leaders of the Realo wing of the German Green Party, alongside many former communist and non-communist libertarian leftists.
Some have suggested that the group participated in violent action, which was common in the German extreme left of the early Seventies. But testimony from witnesses appears contradictory, sometimes unreliable. Communal apartments were common on the Left, and peaceful political activists could easily have shared living quarters with terrorists, without further collaboration. In 2003, a request was presented by Frankfurt prosecutors to the European Parliament, requesting they waive the immunity of MEP Cohn-Bendit, in the context of a criminal investigation against
Hans-Joachim Klein, but the request was rejected by the assembly. Cohn-Bendit admitted having helped Klein on several instances, notably when Klein surrendered to the police.
While Fischer was more concerned with demonstrations, Cohn-Bendit worked in the Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung bookshop and ran a kindergarten, with the stated ambition of radically transforming German mentalities. Later in 2001, he was accused of pedophilia in the context of a political campaign against Joschka Fischer as German minister of foreign affairs, and in the wider context of conservative movements seeking to undermine the cultural legacy of May 1968. The ground of the accusation was the following quote from his book Le grand bazar, published in 1976: "It happened to me several times that certain kids opened my fly and began to tickle me. I reacted differently according to circumstances, but their desire posed a problem for me. I asked them: ‘Why don't you play together? Why have you chosen me, and not the other kids?' But if they insisted, I caressed them even so." Cohn-Bendit acknowledged that the passage had been carelessly written and recognized it as inappropriate. He asked for the text to be understood in the context of the sexual revolution of the 1970s and the provocations of the time. No former parent or child from Frankfurt Kindergarten expressed any complaint, and a group was even formed in his defence.
Joining the Grünen
In the late 1970s, as many revolutionary movements were petering out, he became editor of the Pflasterstrand, the alternative magazine which served as house organ to the anarchist-oriented Sponti-Szene in Frankfurt. There, he began taking part in eco-struggles against nuclear energy and the expansion of the Frankfurt airport. When the Sponti movement officially accepted parliamentary democracy in 1984, he joined the German Green Party.
In 1988, he published, in French, "Nous l'avons tant aimée, la révolution" (In English: "we loved it so much, the revolution"), a book full of nostalgia for the 1968 counter-culture, and where he announced his shift toward more centrist policies.
In 1989, he became deputy mayor of Frankfurt, in charge of multicultural affairs. Immigrants made up some 30% of the city at that time. He also developed a more tolerant policy towards drug addicts.
In 1994, he was elected to the European parliament, although he had been placed only eighth on the electoral list because of his support of military intervention in Bosnia, German Greens at the time not supporting the resuming of German military intervention abroad.
At the next European elections, in 1999, he re-entered French politics as the leader of the French Green Party (Les Verts) list. He found considerable support in the French media, who often feature him, even when he does not represent or is at odds with the French Green party. He reached percentage of 9.72 of votes, a score since then unequalled by French Greens.
In 2002, he became president of the Green parliamentary group, together with the Italian MEP Monica Frassoni.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Cohn-Bendit attracted controversy for his independent views: from the Right, for being a strong proponent of freer immigration, the legalization of soft drugs, and the abandonment of nuclear power; from the Left, for his pro-free market policies, supporting military interventions in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and frequent collaboration with centrist personalities (Bernard Kouchner, François Bayrou for instance).
His disregard for conventional European politics of Left and Right has made him more unpopular in France than in Germany. The French Green Party and the French Left in general remain more attached to these distinctions, whereas in the German Green Party, the moderate Realo wing had already won over the hard-line Fundi wing, possible alliances with the Conservatives were no longer taboo, and third way policies under the center-left Schröder government, such as Agenda 2010 and the Hartz I - IV laws, found considerable support. He was also accused of not giving to the French party the percentage of income that all MEPs and other elected members are supposed to give to their party, although the party had officially agreed to exempt him before his first election in France. This, alongside his pro-European attitudes, led him to participate to the 2004 European elections on the German side, where he became the highest male candidate on the list and was elected again.
The European constitution
In 2003, during the Convention that prepared the text of the European constitution, Cohn-Bendit singled himself out by stating that the countries who would vote No should be compelled to hold a second referendum, and in case of a second No, should be expelled from the European Union.
In February 2004, in the context of the preparation of his electoral campaign and in the wider context of the final governmental drafting of the text, he led the foundation of the European Green Party in Rome. Fischer had directly participated to the drafting as German minister of foreign affairs, he was considered one of the candidates for the new role of "European minister of foreign affairs" evoked in the text, and his speech was the keynote of the event. Cohn- Bendit described the European Green Party as the first stone of European citizenship, but other commentators described this new structure as a mere adaptation of the former Federation of European Green Parties. Just like in the former structure, only delegates from national parties were allowed to vote, individual supporters were only entitled to receive information, and all other federations of European parties had to adapt their statuses later in 2004 to the new regulations from the European Commission about European political parties, in order to continue receive public funding. However Cohn-Bendit as usual was early and energetic in presenting this innovation to the media.
During this congress in Rome, he also confirmed his involvement in favour of free software. He publicly confessed not understanding much about computer terms, but supporting license-free software as part of a stronger market economy.
In 2005, he took an active part in the campaign in favour of the European constitution during the French referendum. The treaty was considered by a large part of the Left as the European version of globalization, and Cohn-Bendit became loathed by the campaigners against the treaty as one of the symbols of Center-Left leaders collaborating with neo-liberalism through international institutions, along with Pascal Lamy from the Socialist Party. He also singled himself out by appearing publicly with right-wing leaders, contrarily to the tactics adopted by the French Green party and the Center-Left during that campaign.