Daniel Cohn-Bendit in March 2010
|Born||4 April 1945
|Political party||Alliance '90/The Greens (Germany)
The Greens (France)
|Residence||Frankfurt am Main|
Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit (born 4 April 1945) is a German politician, active in France and Germany, and was a student leader during the unrest of May 1968 in France. He was also known during that time as Dany le Rouge (French for "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, becoming "Dany le Vert" (French for "Danny the Green", because of his new fight for ecology).
Cohn-Bendit was born in Montauban, France, to German-Jewish parents who had fled Nazism in 1933. He spent his childhood in Montauban. 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 upper middle class. Being officially stateless at birth, when he reached the age of 14 he chose German citizenship, in order to avoid conscription.
Cohn-Bendit was present in Sofia, Bulgaria during the 1961 Summer Universiade. According to Bulgarian journalist and documentalist Dimitry Ivanov, Cohn-Bendit and his fellow activists tried to organise a street action in front of the US embassy. Instead, they did it on the back side of the Bulgarian National Bank, misinterpreting its barred windows. As a result, Cohn-Bendit and his friends were unsuccessful in gaining media attention despite trying hard to do so.
He returned to France in 1966 to study sociology at the University of Nanterre under the supervision of the network society's theorist Manuel Castells. He soon joined the larger and classic nationwide anarchist federation Fdration 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 Socialist German Student Union, for a lecture in Paris, which would prove influential to 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. This contributed to attracting to him a lot of student supporters later to be called the '22 March Movement', a group characterised by a mixture of Marxist, sexual and anarchist semantics. In the autumn of 1967 rumours of his upcoming expulsion from the university led to a local students' strike, and his expulsion was cancelled. On 22 March 1968 students occupied the administrative offices, and the closing of the university on 2 May helped move the protests to downtown Paris.
From 3 May 1968 onwards, massive student and workers riots erupted in Paris against Charles de Gaulle's government. 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 des 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 some 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 13 May onwards, France was struck by a general strike.
However Cohn-Bendit had already retreated on 10 May with a few friends to 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 22 May as a "seditious alien". On 27 May the Communist-led workers signed the Grenelle agreements with the government; on 30 May supporters of the president organised 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 upon his return to France.
Back in Frankfurt in the family house, Cohn-Bendit became one of co-founders of the autonomist group Revolutionrer Kampf (Revolutionary Struggle) in Rsselsheim. From this point his fate was linked with 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 the terrorist, 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 (of children between five and eight years' old). Later in 2001 he was accused of paedophilia. This accusation was grounded on the following citation from his 1975 book Le Grand Bazar,: "On several occasions certain kids would open my fly and start to stroke 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 still."
On the 31 January 2001 in the Berlin newspaper  published open letter to Cohn-Bendit from the former German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, demanding Cohn-Bendit clarify whether there was actual physical contact with the children. The Berliner Zeitung published Cohn-Bendit's response. He said that he was "not aware of the problem" (–das Problem nicht bewusst–). "We tried," ..."a collective discourse of a new sexual morality yet to be defined"( –in einem kollektiven Diskurs eine neue Sexualmoral zu definieren–). The reported sex scenes, were a "me-oriented self-reflection" (–ich-bezogene Selbstreflexion–). Cohn-Bendit, did not say there was no sexual contact with children. When interviewed on the 28 January 2001 by The Observer Cohn-Bendit told the journalist, –I admit that what I wrote is unacceptable nowadays–.
In the late 1970s, as many 'rebel' 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 the environmental movement's civil agitation 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 aime, la rvolution (In English: We Loved It So Much, the Revolution), a book full of nostalgia for the 1968 counter-culture, and 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, though he had been placed only eighth on the electoral list because of his support of military intervention in Bosnia, as German Greens at the time did not support the resumption of German military intervention abroad.
At the 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 9.72% of votes, a score since then unequalled by the 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. He was criticised from the political right for being a strong proponent of freer immigration, the legalisation of soft drugs, and the abandonment of nuclear power and from the left for his pro-free market policies, his support for military interventions in Bosnia and Afghanistan and frequent collaboration with centrist personalities (Bernard Kouchner and Franois Bayrou for instance).
Cohn-Bendit's 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 Gerhard Schrder 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 attitude, led him to participate in the 2004 European elections on the German side, where he became the highest male candidate on the list and was elected again.
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 as 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 supported 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 a European version of globalisation, and Cohn-Bendit became loathed by treaty opponents as one of the symbols of centre-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 Green Party and the centre-left during that campaign.
In December, 2008 it was reported that Cohn-Bendit had an impolite discussion with V¡clav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, in a meeting held prior to the Czech presidency of the European Union.    Cohn-Bendit reportedly told the Czechs not to interfere with passage of the EU's climate change package.
On 7 June 2009, the European Parliament elections gave Cohn-Bendit a major breakthrough in France. In spite of a conservative victory by Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP Party with 27,9% of the votes and an overall conservative victory all over Europe, Europe cologie, the coalition founded by Cohn-Bendit, won over 16,28% of the votes, following by less than 0,2% the French Socialist Party led by Martine Aubry (16,48%). According to official French results, Cohn-Bendit's list thus became the third political force in France, even overtaking the Socialist Party in the Paris region, and, furthermore by adding the votes of an alternative ecologist party also present in the election, giving ecologists a never yet experienced weight in French politics. His list featured Franco-Norwegian Magistrate Eva Joly, a specialist of anti-corruption struggles, and Jos Bov, a controversial unionist.
He said that he regrets the victory of the New Flemish Alliance and that it represents a vote for conservatism and identitary thinking. When a colleague pointed out that the New Flemish Alliance is a member party of his own fraction he reacted very surprised and seemed to be totally unaware of this.
He is the co-author, with his brother Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, of Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative (1968). This book combines an account of the events of May 1968 with a critique of Stalinism, the French Communist Party and the trade union establishment. It remains available today and has had some lasting influence on anarchist and socialist thought.
|This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. Please improve this article by introducing more precise citations where appropriate. (April 2009)|
As described to me by someone present, President Klaus greeted the MEPs with his usual genial courtesy. Whatever his own views, he assured them, his countrymen would conduct their presidency in fully "communautaire" fashion. Cohn-Bendit then staged his ambush. Brusquely plonking down his EU flag, which he observed sarcastically was so much in evidence around the palace, he warned that the Czechs would be expected to put through the EU's "climate change package" without interference. "You can believe what you want," he scornfully told the president, "but I don't believe, I know that global warming is a reality." He added, "my view is based on scientific views and the majority approval of the EU Parliament". He then moved on to the Lisbon Treaty. "I don't care about your opinions on it," he said. If the Czech Parliament approves the treaty in February, he demanded, "Will you respect the will of the representatives of the people?" He then reprimanded the president for his recent meeting in Ireland with Declan Ganley, the millionaire leader of the "No" campaign in the Irish referendum, claiming that it was improper for Klaus to have talked to someone whose "finances come from problematic sources". Visibly taken aback by this onslaught, Klaus observed: "I must say that no one has talked to me in such a style and tone in the past six years. You are not on the barricades in Paris here. I thought that such manners ended for us 19 years ago" (ie when Communism fell).
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