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Green MEP Daniel Cohn Bendit © Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

It’s an old but well-known maxim of the fashion industry in Britain: “red and green should never be seen”, suggesting that – as colours for clothes – they don’t go well together at all. There are alternative versions of the saying, such as “red and green should never be seen without a colour in between”. Or you could say: “red and green should only be seen upon an Irish queen.” It prompts the question: “why?” What has the Irish Queen done to deserve such opprobrium? Well, there are various explanations. The most likely, perhaps, is that the colours would clash in a fashion sense, especially back in the days when available dyes weren’t really “fast”, hence the saying’s common use in clothing design circles, albeit rather less so in these modern days, when such a clash could be seen as merely a “bold statement”, perhaps “startlingly chic” (or just startling, I suppose). Although there is a suggestion that the saying could be a reference to the running lights on ships, too. If seen together they could confuse the person steering another vessel sailing nearby and thereby cause an accident. A green light could suggest safety when things are by no means safe and the offending vessel should be showing red lights. From a political point of view, another saying: “Red and blue will never do” perhaps makes more sense: a relationship between a Conservative and a Marxist would seem unlikely to flourish. How can anyone shout “Up and Down with the Workers”? German politician Danny Cohn-Bendit, however, is the very embodiment of both red AND green, and he’s certainly no Irish queen. Nor is he remembered with much affection in many circles. It’s strange: once upon a time Green politics were all the rage in Italy, for instance. The person who changed all of that was the Green group’s most famous “star”, the mercurial, capricious, lubricious and unreliable Daniel Cohn-Bendit. He was so certain he was always right that he acted on impulse and very unreliable impulse at that.

“Danny the Red” © Nrf

Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit, born in Montauban, Occitania, in France’s mid-Pyrénées, lived in Germany and was deeply involved with the French student unrest of 1968. With his vivid red hair and his Marxist political leanings, the nickname ‘Danny the Red’ (Dany le Rouge) was, perhaps, inevitable. He still campaigns for a federalist Europe, for which a very convincing argument could be made, were it not for the violent nationalism that still infests so much of the continent and the doubts over his moral standpoint. He was very critical of Stalin and of Stalinism in his book, “Linksradikalismus: Gewaltkur gegen die Alterskrankheit des Kommunismus” (“Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative”) and, however controversial, he was usually worth listening to (except on the issue of paedophilia, but more about that in a moment or two). For a time, he served as a member of the European Parliament, even leading the political group of the European Greens/European Free Alliance. He liked to shock, and I cannot claim to have ever become close to him during my many years as a journalist there, nor even to have liked him much, despite his undoubted intellectualism and his sometimes-original approach to politics. According to one man who knew him well he was an arrogant show-off who liked to shock. And his manners were awful, by all accounts: rude and without any consideration for others, whom he appeared to see as ‘beneath him’ in some way. The European Parliament’s chauffeurs hated him for his rudeness. One of them (now retired) told me: “Cohn-Bendit was the one MEP who never said ‘good morning’, ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’. A mere chauffeur wasn’t important enough to merit a greeting.”

Green MEP Daniel Cohn Bendit in 2018 © Stephan Roehl

My chauffeur friend used one word to describe him, and it wasn’t flattering (nor repeatable here). He was the same with Parliament staff, who intensely disliked having to take messages to him. It was standard practice at the time, in the event of a pre-planned visit by constituency figures, that if the requested MEP wasn’t available after all in the end, that another MEP from the same group would take their place. Cohn-Bendit refused to participate, meaning that groups were sometimes left with no-one to address them at all. He explained, when asked why that was, that if they’d come to hear him, no-one else could possibly take his place. He believed deeply in his own uniqueness! His self-importance and arrogance were legendary, and very unpopular.

The so-called “5-Star Movement”, founded by a comedian, Beppe Grillo, and a digital marketing expert called Gianroberto Casaleggio, was determined to be ‘anti-establishment’ in any way it could, so initially it refused to join an alliance with any other party. It was also ‘environmentalist’ (sort of) and ‘populist’ (very). It looked like a sensible decision for Italy’s Green MEPs at the time to join the movement because in the March 2018 elections, 5-Star became the largest party, but that seems to have been because it was “all things to all men (and women)”; whatever sort of future you wanted you could hope that the 5-Star Movement would create it, or at least campaign for it. Grillo himself described it as “populist”, although his supporters didn’t like that. The Greens had been big in Italy. One Italian MEP, Monica Frassoni, co-chaired the Greens Group in the European Parliament alongside Danny Cohn-Bendit for ten years. She was said to be in his “half-shadow”, but apparently didn’t mind. His quixotic response to political issues that arose drove Italy’s Green MEPs to seek the reassurance of being inside a large (but now shrinking) group and they chose the only one in which political leanings didn’t appear to matter. One on-line contributor rather cleverly likened the 5-star movement to a watermelon: green on the outside, red on the inside.

MISCHIEF IN THE PLAYGROUND?

Cohn-Bendit’s admission that he had engaged in sexual activities with minors who were under his care at a kindergarten in Frankfurt didn’t do much to improve his public profile. It didn’t help the Greens, either. Years later, he said that his descriptions of such events at the time (the mid-1970s) were not actually true but had instead been what he called “an obnoxious provocation”. It was certainly obnoxious. It still haunts him, however, and always will, although I’m not sure he cares. It gave a massive supply of ammunition to his political rivals. I think he might have agreed with the ultra-patriotic nationalist British writer, Rudyard Kipling, who wrote in his short story collection, ‘Limits and Renewals’: “A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition.”

I certainly agree with the first two suggestions. With the paedophilia scandal, Cohn-Bendit’s name was forever tarnished, probably beyond repair, in too many cases taking the Green movement with it. To most normal people, the very notion of paedophilia is too loathsome to contemplate, and any reputation thus destroyed can never be seen as wholly clean ever again; suspicion will always hang over it. If he wrote about it as “an obnoxious provocation”, as he has claimed, it shows he lacks sound political (and moral) judgement at the very least and it irretrievably discredits all his other beliefs. It’s a great shame, because this particular scandal aside, he had many useful viewpoints to contribute to popular debate, as well as being a natural-born short-term leader and intellectual. ‘Short term’ because he upset too many people to last for long.

Cohn-Bendit is the only MEP to have represented two countries, elected on the German list in 1994 and the French list in 1999. He also wants to see Strasbourg – arguably Europe’s most cosmopolitan European city – dropped as a seat for European Parliament sessions. It’s not the only controversy in a long and strange career. German authorities had asked for Cohn-Bendit’s immunity from prosecution (all sitting representatives who have been elected enjoy such immunity) to be waived so that he could face charges over his alleged links to German terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein, who was jailed for nine years in 2001 for murder, attempted murder and kidnapping. The European Parliament voted not to comply. As a long-tern left-winger (theoretically) one might expect Cohn-Bendit to favour the working classes, but he’s actually (deliberately) hard to read. He has condemned the ‘Mouvement des gilets jaune’ (the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement) and has denounced their opposition to tax cuts for the rich. He’s also against those who describe the rich as ‘fascists.

The World Socialist Website denounces Cohn-Bendit, for his “boundless political corruption” which, it says: “exemplifies the drastic rightward evolution of an entire layer of 1960s middle class youth that still play an outsized role in official ‘left’ politics.” We have them in every EU country and even in Britain. On-line, one unnamed contributor suggested that: “M5S is not a Green Party at all, they dip their foot in literally every issue, trying to be as many-faced as possible to get votes from everyone (right now their prominent figures are a centrist leader, a populist “president”, a leftish leader of parliament and a rightwing dude in South America that’s about to come back. This is all controlled by a company that tells them what to do, when to do it and how to say it”. You could mistake M5S for literally anything if you cherry-pick some of their statements. Cohn-Bendit seems to be ‘cherry-picker-in-chief’. Many link the Movement with the Mafia, too, although that could be an exageration..

It was nationalism, of course, that strange unreasoned conviction that one’s own country is superior in every way to anyone else’s, that fuelled Britain’s departure from the EU. I recently heard from an old friend and former British member of the European Parliament who wanted to talk about a Pakistani couple who had settled with their children in the northern British industrial town of Blackburn. On their first nights there, their windows were smashed by stone-throwing racist bullies. The father is a self-employed taxi driver but all three of his children have qualified as doctors, making a much more useful contribution to British life than those stone-throwing bullies ever will, although that’s presumably not how the racists themselves see things. Racism is, of course, rooted in nationalism and a belief that one’s own home country should attempt to suppress anyone else’s. Even today, you can see television “vox-pop” interviews (interviews conducted in the street. You should never trust them. It’s the journalist who gets to choose the parts that get used and anyone putting forward a moderate, reasonable viewpoint will get cut out) with those who clearly still view Britain’s departure as some sort of ‘heroic achievement’, as if the UK had been locked in and only managed to escape through acts of patriotic heroism and tunnelling under the Channel. All it had really taken was for the British voters to have believed the anti-European nonsense trotted out by a third-rate (but expensively-educated) journalist and printed eagerly by third-rate, flag-waving newspapers. They said such articles were “popular” with their more nationalist readership, an attitude they applauded. They still do it because although they know it’s mostly untrue, it sells papers and gives racist thugs something to shout on the football terraces.

Cohn Bendit’s May 1968 poster “We are all German Jews” © Nrf

Cohn-Bendit is certainly no racist, as far as I’ve been able to find out. He doesn’t look down on people because of their country of origin, their religious observance, their mother-tongue or the colour of their skin. No; he looks down on them because they’re not him. He simply sees himself as superior to anyone else. He is both a writer and an actor, (among other things), his writing credits including “Le Vent d’est” ( “The Wind From the East”), which is described in the inevitable blurb as “a filmic essay on class struggle which draws on images from westerns but has no plot and is both an experiment in making a revolutionary film and an interrogation of how successfully such a film can be revolutionary”. Yes, it does sound counter-intuitive (and possibly somewhat deep, to the point of being boring, even ‘sleep-inducing) but it’s what Cohn-Bendid said and presumably believed in at the time, and that has followed him around ever since. That was back in 1970. Despite such an ambivalent write-up, the film was released and, presumably, watched, although I have no idea by whom. Cohn-Bendit went quiet for a spell then (cinematically, if not politically), with his next movie credit being in 1991 for a film called “C’est la Vie” (“That’s Life”), which he co-wrote and co-directed. In 2015, he wrote and directed a documentary called ‘On the Road with Sócrates’, which was released in both French and Portuguese. He also appeared in “Un Amour à Paris”, a somewhat bizarre love story about two immigrants with unlikely ambitions. In 2021 he penned the screenplay for “Nous Sommes Tous Juifs Allemands” – “We are all German Jews”. Written by Cohn-Bendit himself, the film was directed by Niko Apel, who also directed the German movie “From Muslim to Muslim” in 2018, which shows how moderate Muslims are still trying to protect their faith from bloody-minded extremists and from those who are simply dismissive of their beliefs. “Muslims don’t do anything against the progressing radicalisation of their faith brothers?” runs the blurb. “- but they do. Day by day Ron W. from Berlin and Mustapha L. from Frankfurt am Main face the radicalisation process in schools and mosques.”

Daniel Cohn Bendit and former Green MEP Rebecca Harms in 2004 © Wikicommons

POINTS OF VIEW AND MYSTICISM

The movie looks at how their faith is being misinterpreted, mis-quoted and misused to help extremists who don’t want to see Islam prevail but rather to see themselves uplifted into positions of power, Islam itself becoming no more than a vehicle for their self-conviction. In that sense, it rather follows the line of Danny Cohn-Bendit in supporting the moderate with reasonable, non-extreme views, an admirable viewpoint. The plain fact is that most of those who favour extremist viewpoints have never read the works upon which their faith is supposedly based. It’s impossible to fight against a belief you don’t understand, let alone support. How many Islamic extremists have ever read the Qur’an in its entirety? Nowhere near enough, it would appear. I’ve tried – honest! – but rather like the books of other faiths, such as the Christian Bible, or the Hindu faith’s Bhagavad Gita or even the same faith’s Rig Veda, Yajour Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda, these are not works to calm your spirit before trying to get off to sleep. Or how about the Upanishads of Hinduism. Millions of people, millions of interpretations. There must be a reason to explain why religious works are so impenetrable, but I have no idea what it is. Perhaps prophets (or those who would like to be seen as “prophets”) like to be viewed as mystical beings who understand more than we can even imagine, when in reality they don’t. I remember reading a comment about how different followers of the same faith within a large monastery differ on points of detail. The quote (and no, I don’t remember where I saw it) is something like: “a thousand monks, a thousand different faiths”. But I have wandered off my main path here: the real question is: who (and what) is Daniel Cohn-Bendit?

He’s a winner, for one thing, or he can be. He has won elections in both France and Germany and has been described as a “bridge-builder between nations”, for which he was awarded the Theodor Heuss Prize.

Rudie Dutschke and Daniel Cohn Bendit © Facebook

Cohn-Bendit has long courted a controversial life-style and became a mouthpiece for a generation of the free-thinking young. Many a college room was adorned with his picture, even if a few were taken down and binned over his controversial attitude to paedophilia. “I kept in touch with left-wing friends in the Federal Republic of Germany,” he told the German media, “and declared on 13 June 1967, almost three weeks after the shooting of the student Benno Ohnesorg in Berlin: ‘After this first death in Germany, one should not believe that the potential for violence in other countries is smaller.’” He was never one to turn his back on an opportunity to vent his views for a mainly (but not exclusively) young audience, preferably among those whose views already inclined towards the left. “In February 1968 I met Rudi Dutschke at the Vietnam Congress in Berlin,” Cohn-Bendit said. Dutschke was a German sociologist and political activist who, until he was severely injured in an assassination attempt in 1968, was a leading figure in the West German Socialist Students Union and also the Federal Republic’s broader ‘extra-parliamentary opposition’. “After the assassination attempt on Rudi Dutschke,” Cohn-Bendit went on, “SDS chairman Karl Dietrich Wolff spoke at my invitation in Nanterre. (SDS is the Sustainable Design School of Bircham International University, part of the Université Côte d’Azur). This was the prelude to the Paris riots in May 1968. The French government expelled me after the country’s unrest. After 1968 I became involved in the children’s shop movement in Frankfurt. I worked in a bookstore, participated in the founding of a group “Revolutionärer Kampf” and, together with Joschka Fischer, belonged to the Frankfurt Sponti (it means ‘leftist’) scene, which tested the social revolution with squats, street fights and agitation in large manufacturing companies (Opel and Hoechst).”

Green MEPs Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joschka Fischer at the European Parliament in 2011 © Europa.eu

Fischer, now retired, was a member of Alliance 90/The Greens and served as Foreign Minister and also as Vice-Chancellor of Germany in the government of Gerhard Schröder. During Schröder’s administration, opinion polls suggested that Fischer was the most popular politician in Germany and was active in the formation of the Spinelli Group, a serious attempt to convert the European Union away from an assemblage of individual nations pooling their abilities within separate voting regimes into a fully federal system. Fischer remains a popular figure, unlike Cohn-Bendit and his former assistants, one of whom declined to respond to a greeting inside the European Parliament and when asked why explained that she was an assistant to Cohn-Bendit and could therefore ignore everyone else .

Danny Cohn-Bendit was to become the Spinelli group’s leader, in theory. Many keen Europeans are saddened that the Spinelli Group failed to develop into a fully-functioning Europe-wide campaign with a large following. It had some top-ranking politicians among its followers (Cohn-Bendit aside), such as Jacques Delors, Mario Monti, Joschka Fischer and Pat Cox. It’s a long list in reality, all of them major and all but one beneficial figures in European history. Sadly, the nationalists blocked their path and tripped them up at every turn. It’s fairly certain that the presence of Cohn-Bendit in their ranks did them no favours, either.

MILD UNDERSTATEMENT?

Daniel Cohn-Bendit on French TV programme, ‘Apostrophes’ in 1982 when he declared : “It’s fantastic when a 5 year-old girl begins undressing you” © INA

For the Greens, paedophilia came to dominate much of the discussions, with talk of “paedophile rights”, although it’s still somewhat unclear as to whether that means children being able to ‘enjoy sexual acts’ with each other or with adults, or adults being able to participate in sexual acts with children for their personal pleasure. In fact, it seems to me that it’s the second version that is more likely to happen, whatever the intention, good, bad or innocent. Cohn-Bendit spoke about the issue on French television in 1982; this is the translation of what he said: “The sexuality of a child is something marvelous. You have to be sincere, serious, it’s something else with the little ones, but when a 5-year-old girl starts to undress you, it’s amazing, because it’s a game. An incredibly erotic-manic game.” It’s not a game I would ever want to try and I’m positive I would not find it in the least bit “erotic” (or manic, for that matter). Cohn-Bendit’s claim that the original story was faked begins to look less convincing, I fear, given his fairly obvious enthusiasm. To call it “an obnoxious provocation” would be putting it mildly, I think.

Cohn-Bendit is still active politically, even if he is less frequently in the news these days. In the UK, of course, which seems to be pretending it’s no longer in Europe, even in a geographical sense, it means British people are denied access to information about what’s going on in Europe, apart from occasional snide anti-European propaganda from the very right-leaning press from time to time. What’s more, many of today’s most prominent Greens started out as reds and rather extremely so. In the eyes of the world, the party is forever inextricably linked with the Greens apparent agenda: pro-war when it comes to unseating right wingers for the sake of protecting human rights, but also upholding “gender justice” and fair play.

Monica Frassoni © Wikicommons/Monica Frassoni

Joe Biden’s Democrats like them, especially when it comes to a commitment to environmentalism, the fight against racism and xenophobia as well as fighting for fairness. From 2002 to 2009, Monica Frassoni served as co-chair (alongside Cohn-Bendit of the Greens/European Free Alliance group, by then the fourth largest group in the European Parliament). In the previous Parliament, the Greens had been lost inside Italy’s 5-Star movement, into which they had been lured to campaign alongside such people at Nigel Farage and his Brexit party, a position about which they were not at all happy: very bright reds and stunningly green greens really do clash. The four Italian Greens who crossed the floor to today’s Greens group seem much more relaxed, while Farage, his ‘mission’ accomplished and the UK weakening by the day, fades ever more into history and irrelevance.

Most of the Greens’ more prominent founder members – people like Joschka Fischer, Jürgen Trittin and, of course, Danny Cohn-Bendit, started out as left-wing militants. Fischer worked at Frankfurt’s Karl Marx book shop and took part in civil unrest in Stuttgart, while Cohn-Bendit was busy earning himself the nickname “Danny the Red”. Trittin was a member of a Stalinist group that called itself ‘the Communist League’. Political scientist Horst Mewes described the Greens’ first ‘Programme of Action’ in 1980 as “a pacifist, environmentally compatible welfare state, with totally emancipated self-governing Green republics, existing autonomously in a pacified world of international mutual assistance and political harmony.” It was, perhaps, simply too utopian to exist in the real world, although it sounds like a perfect place in which to travel on broomsticks and breed unicorns. For the movement’s individual members, how to proceed was the big question.

Jürgen Trittin © Wikicommons/Leonhard Lenz

Which, strangely, brings us back to Rudyard Kipling: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe” Kipling wrote. “To be your own man (or woman, one assumes) is a hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

Sadly, for the keen Green supporters of the 1970s, that also means espousing ‘paedophile rights’. Somehow, a sort of logic evolved that linked any opposition to paedophilia to the works of an Austrian Communist and disciple of Freud, Wilhelm Reich, who had written that there is a link between authoritarianism in general and society’s oppression of sexuality in its various forms, including amongst children.

Wilhelm Reich © Wikipedia

Reich produced pamphlets under the title “Massenpsychologie des Faschismus” (Mass Psychology of Fascism), which circulated widely in student dormitories. Words from it were even daubed on the walls of the Sorbonne as graffiti. Reich had succeeded in linking in people’s minds the suppression of children’s sexuality with fascism. He wrote: “Suppression of the natural sexuality in the child…makes the child apprehensive, shy, obedient, afraid of authority, ‘good’ and ‘adjusted’ in the authoritarian sense; it paralyzes the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden with anxiety; it produces, by inhibiting sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and of critical faculties. In brief, the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all the misery and degradation.” I feel compelled to ask: “whose misery” and “whose degradation.”

A funny lot, these psychologists! At the Greens’ first Convention, held in the German city of Karlsruhe, participants discussed paedophilia as a human right and in 1980 they advocated removing two sections of Germany’s penal code, which made sex between adults and children illegal.

COUNTING THE DAYS

It all descended into murky, dirty little stories of adult males and very young girls engaging in acts I won’t try to describe here, although I suspect you can guess. One leading Green, Volker Beck, who had written an article in 1988 on how to modify the legal framework, advocated “Amending Criminal Law: An Appeal for a Realistic New Orientation of Sexuality Politics”, in which he called for paedophilia to be decriminalised, which sounds to me rather like decriminalising child rape. In 2015, the Greens commissioned a report into underage sexual activities and were shocked to discover that the activity was too commonplace to sweep under the carpet. Some Green candidates had already been convicted of sexually abusing children while one candidate for state parliament, Dieter Ullman, saw nothing wrong with what he’d been doing and who therefore ran his election campaign from his prison cell, where he was serving time for sexually abusing children. It was all a bit too far for many supporters of the Greens and may ultimately have cost them votes. In fact, it’s thought that the “paedo-sexuals”, as they were called, retained a strong influence in Green Party circles until the mid-1990s, which they only lost because of the growing influence of feminists and of some gay men. By that time, there was a new taboo to smash; as Yugoslavia started to break up, the Greens were advocating getting ready for war, which was still considered a step too far, just three decades or so after the end of World War II.

Cohn-Bendit wasn’t surprised when President Macron lost his absolute parliamentary majority back in June. Indeed, he told Der Spiegel that such a majority would be unnatural for France.

Daniel Cohn Bendit and Emmanuel Macron © Nrf

“The French Revolution is still constitutive for the political thinking of the French,” Cohn-Bendit said. “There is one ruler, that is the king; the only difference is that now he is now sitting in the Élysée.” Even so, Cohn-Bendit reminds voters, the power of the public doesn’t end there. “But you still want to reserve the right to trim him, maybe even decapitate him. Madame Guillotine still haunts the public mind. The French are a rebellious people. There is little room for the boring compromise search of a German system. In France, to compromise means to compromise oneself. On the other hand, those who are straightforward and stick to their goals do not betray their ideals. This radicalism is seen as being of higher value, even if it no longer suits a society that has become more diverse.” Cohn-Bendit has a way of projecting an outcome – any outcome – as one of his own brilliant predictions coming true, whether or not it is.

Der Spiegel pointed out that the conservative Xavier Bertrand had said that entering into an alliance with Macron would be like checking in on the Titanic shortly before it sinks, to which Cohn-Bendit had replied: “All of these politicians don’t understand that they themselves are sitting on the Titanic. You are part of a political system that has just been voted out and has no future. But they still believe that President Charles de Gaulle’s world is still alive,” he reminds listeners. “That’s over, France is divided into many different camps, there are no longer any clear majorities. Only a parliamentary debate with different majorities can do justice to this new diversity”. This radicalism is seen as the higher value, even if it no longer suits a society that has become more diverse. “That’s the madness of this system,” according to Cohn-Bendit. “There is a republican king sitting in the Élysée Palace, and this king says: La République, c’est moi. I think Macron was convinced that when you are elected president you are automatically confirmed by a parliamentary majority. That’s why he didn’t campaign. Now he is faced with the shambles of his own hubris.”

The 5-Star movement saw itself as ‘balancing’ other mainstream parties in Italy and seemed happy to share power with the far-right Lega Nord and others from that side of Parliament, such as Britain’s Brexit group, as well as left-wing Socialists. In policy terms, it advocates free water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, free internet access and environmentalism. Not all of its followers share all of those aims. After all, no party can be both far-right and far-left, while few politicians would find such a group easy to represent and few voters would find such a group easy to support (or even understand). So, Italy had no MEPs actually elected as Greens. It has now, because 4 of them have left 5-Star and reformed the Green group, in the hope that all that silliness will fade into the past. Some of his former followers think it would help if Danny Cohn-Bendit faded into the past, too. When real leadership was needed for Italy’s Greens, Cohn-Bendit and Frassoni let them down, doing nothing to prop up the party, when they could have done easily, according to colleagues at the time. However, they were more obsessed with drinking champagne in Brussels than solving constituency issues in, say, Pallermo.

Jean-Luc Melenchon during the May 2022 Convention of his electoral coalition « La Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale (NUPES) » © Wikicommons/Hugo Rota

Politically, Italy is in a mess, too, with the prime minister , Mario Draghi, losing the backing of the right-wing parties in his coalition, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League his resignation will almost certainly lead to an early election this autumn, likely to plunge Italy into months of upheaval. Draghi had said he would stay on as Prime Minister for the time being, at least, because most Italians want him to, but if he does, it will remain a precarious position. By the time you read this, anything could have happened, of course. Politics is an unstable business. Perhaps we’ll be taken over by Martians. Unlike some of Europe’s political leaders (and very unlike Cohn-Bendit) Draghi seems to be an honest man trying to walk a tightrope that is not of his making. If anyone can reach the other side unharmed, it’`zs Draghi, but the present prospects are not good. It might be a good idea to bring a safety net, just in case.

ONE ROUTE AMONG MANY

According to the article in Der Spiegel this puts Cohn-Bendit in something of a dilemma with regard to other rival political groups. He told the paper: “Among other things, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen want to leave NATO and also not comply with EU agreements.” But if that’s the case and if, as Cohn-Bendit says he believes, this runs against the tide of French politics. Why do the French vote for such politicians? What does that say about French society? According to Cohn-Bendit, “The boys who voted for Mélenchon are not necessarily anti-European. And they just don’t care about NATO. They wanted to vote left again,” (he hopes) “and after years of humiliation they wanted to be able to say: We are on the left, while there is also a right-wing France that openly votes for the national right.” Very far right indeed, as far as I can see. The Der Spiegel journalist `continues: “This right-wing France has helped Marine le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) party to 89 MPs in parliament, up from just eight. Aren’t they all that serious after all?”

It’s a fair question, to which Cohn-Bendit responds: “A part of French society is totally unsettled to the point of being racist, it is much harder and more divided than in Germany. This also has something to do with the terrorist attacks in France, whose psychological impact should not be underestimated.” Spiegel quotes him as saying: “That’s hard for a society to digest.

Marine le Pen at the European Parliament © Wikicommons/Claude Truong-Ngoc

The RN MPs will continue to fuel this division, but many of their projects will not stand a chance.” Cohn-Bendit has also said that France’s middle-of-the-road right is not as far to the right as many people (including its leaders) think. He said that if Marine le Pen proposed a law against Islam that began with a ban on wearing headsquares in public places, virtually everyone in the Parliament would vote against it, including Mélenchon. Many of his opponents have accused Macron of deliberately stirring up dissent, promoting extremists of both left and right.

Meanwhile, Cohn-Bendit still has the paedophile allegations to deal with. According to research by Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, a German weekly, the allegations about Cohn-Bendit’s behaviour haven’t gone away. One mother who attested that Cohn-Bendit ‘never behaved improperly’ with her son later admitted that the boy in question had never been in the group for which Cohn-Bendit was responsible. Hessian Green Marcus Bocklet described Cohn-Bendidt’s remarks about an “erotic” game with a 5-year-old girl as “unbelievable crap”, with no proof to set against his own claims. The current leader of the Greens, Claudia Roth, told Spiegel Online that any charges of paedophilia against party members from the early years should be pursued vigorously. “If the party were pro-paedophilia,” she told the website, “It wouldn’t be winning votes.

Claudia Roth © Foto-AG Gymnasium Melle

There were groups, such as the so-called ‘Urban Indians’ group and the ‘Working Group on Gays and Pederasts’ which were openly seeking to liberalize and decriminalize sex with children.”

But political scientist Gero Neugebauer, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, said such groups never had much influence within the Greens. He dismissed the claims about paedophilia, likening them to Germany’s new “Pirate Party”, championing the cause of freedom of the internet and civil rights in telephony, while opposing European data retention policies, such as its Internet Censorship law, called Zugangserschwerungsggesetz, which is an attempt to curb access to child pornography.

It’s a tough call if you’re not a psychologist (I’m not) but I think a majority would not favour open access to child pornography in case it encourages the consumers of such material to think it’s normal or to try it out for themselves. I’m inclined to think that the majority would be simply disgusted and feel soiled just for looking at it.

Gero Neugebauer © Wikidata.org

Strangely (or perhaps not) one of the emblems for the Pirate Party, used on political posters and in promotional leaflets, is a marijuana leaf.

As for claims that today’s Greens still flirt with the idea of underage sex, Neugebauer suggests that this is still talked about largely because some of today’s more vocal politicians simply don’t like the Greens or their policies. As Neugebauer says, “it’s a publicity problem”, rather than one rooted in a different set of genuine and rather distasteful political (or moral) beliefs. Well, that’s a relief, although I don’t suppose it encourages those with long memories and a strict set of views on what’s right and what’s wrong to vote Green. On the other hand, if you want to vote for a party that claims on its website to defend “social and environmental justice”, that believes that Earth’s resources are finite and must be protected and preserved, then the Greens would seem to be a fair bet. I don’t suppose any party goes out on the campaign trail promising to chop down forests, concrete over all the natural landscapes, scatter poisonous garbage in children’s play areas and over-use chemical fertilizers to poison the world, all in the name of making fast (and vast) profits. It may be what they intend, but it’s not what they say. Obviously, it’s true that different parties have different policies, some of which express greater concern with protecting our environment, our natural wildlife and our future generations than others, but people don’t vote for their own destruction, nor for the poisoning of their children and grandchildren for the sake of a few more bucks in the bank.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit at the Sorbonne, Paris 1968 © Gilles Caron/Fondation Gilles Caron (Contact)

Getting back to Danny Cohn-Bendit, he is clearly an extremely intelligent and highly creative man, an avid self-publicist and a talented actor, politician and writer, even if his judgement can be suspect at times. The shadow overhanging his reputation is of his own creation. He believes the current French political system needs an overhaul. As he has said in the media, the days of such presidents as Charles de Gaulle are behind us. Other contemporaries of his have gone, too: people like Konrad Adenauer or Harold Macmillan. There is a wider range of political views today; it’s not just restricted to a conservative (please note the lower-case ‘c’) versus a Socialist, whose views could range from ‘just-left-of-center’ and a mild trade union member, to hard-line Maoism. We’re getting back to our “thousand monks” analogy, with people less willing to compromise these days. Is there a perfect way to do politics? If there is, nobody has found it yet. But I can also predict that if such an idealistic system exists, it’s likely to be Danny Cohn-Bendit who discovers it, if only anyone will listen to him. And if they do, will he say anything interesting or encourage them to listen with a quick, polite “hello” by way of encouragement ? Probably not.

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