Dany Cohn-Bendit is not a-marchin' anymore. Former `60s radical now runs magazine, involved in conventional politics
In May 1968, he led the student demonstrations in Paris which almost brought down the French government. Now Dany ``the Red'' Cohn-Bendit has revisited his old comrades -- and discovered that they no longer believe in revolution. At 41, Mr. Cohn-Bendit remains boyish-looking with his shaggy red mane. But along with his informal T-shirt, he sports chic designer leather pants. A politician in the West German Greens party, the editor of a counterculture magazine, and a documentary filmaker, Cohn-Bendit has become almost respectable. He just has completed a four-part television series called ``Revolution Revisited,'' which is being shown this fall throughout most of Western Europe and soon may appear in the United States on public television.
``I'm multi-media,'' a proud Cohn-Bendit said in an interview. ``I still believe in a freer society, but to achieve that, you must participate.''
Like the 1960s student revolution, his film extends far beyond France. In the United States, he talked with yippie-turned-yuppie Jerry Rubin, who has cut his long hair, given up his jeans and T-shirts for three-piece suits and lives in a luxuriously furnished 23rd-floor apartment in Manhatten. After a career on Wall Street, Mr. Rubin organizes Perrier parties for aspiring entrepreneurs.
``I don't fight against the state any more,'' Rubin said. ``I've become the state.''
Almost every former revolutionary, it seems in ``Revolution Revisited'', dreams of wielding power and earning money.
In France, Cohn-Bendit met ex-Maoist Serge July who now is editor of Paris's fastest growing newspaper, Liberation; in the Netherlands, he visited Rob Stolk, former leader of the Amsterdam sit-in movement, who now runs a print shop. And back in the United States, he watched former Black Panther Bobby Seale barbecue ribs. Mr. Seale hopes to sell thousands of cookbooks exalting recipes for his ``hickory barbecue sauces.''
``People want success,'' Cohn-Bendit said. ``It's a normal desire, and I can't fault them.''
The most dramatic metamorphoses took place with revolutionaries who once espoused violence. Despite the present wave of Middle-Eastern inspired terrorism, Cohn-Bendit said, fewer Europeans and Latin Americans are attracted to terrorism.
In Brazil, Fernando Gabiero told how he kidnapped the American ambassador; now he hosts a popular weekly television show preaching the virtues of Brazilian democracy. And from an Italian jail, Red Brigade leader Adriana Farrandal calls her murder in 1978 of politician Aldo Moro ``foolish.''
Why the dramatic change? For Americans, Cohn-Bendit points to the end of the Vietnam war. Once it was over, he asserted, young Americans ``became depoliticized.''
For Europeans and Latin Americans, he sees a disillusion with communism. ``We used to believe in Cuba or China,'' he said. But in his view, Cuba tramples on human rights and China is turning capitalist.
``It's difficult to see where a revolutionary experience has produced a positive experience,'' he says.
Cohn-Bendit's personal experiences illustrate this transformation. Born the son of a German-Jewish lawyer who fled the Third Reich in 1933 for France, Dany went to university in Paris where he became the leader of a student anarchist group. In May 1968, he turned into a legend by standing in front of the television cameras and denouncing the police.
Communist leader Georges Marchais, unhappy with the disorder caused by the students, taunted Cohn-Bendit as a ``German Jew.'' The next day, the students were back in the streets proclaiming, ``We are all German Jews.'' But pressure against him was growing. Later that year, he was expelled from France for ``troubling public order.''
He moved back to West Germany, settling in Frankfurt and learning to play politics by the rules. He founded a Village Voice-style magazine called PflasterStrand (Pavement/Beach) and became active in the Greens party, a partisan of its so-called Realo, or pragmatic, wing which calls for an alignment with the Social Democratic Party. He often offers advice to his longtime buddy Joschka Fischer, who last year became the environment minister in the state of Hesse.
This past summer, Cohn-Bendit himself entered the fray, running for mayor of Frankfurt. Although his defeat was a foregone conclusion, he said he succeeded in using democracy to promote his pacifist and ecologist ideas.
``Its a remarkable transition,'' said Steve de Winter, the Dutch director of ``Revolution Revisited.'' ``Dany used to be so anti-parliament, deriding democracy as `bourgeois politics.' And now he runs for mayor of Frankfurt.''
In 1978, Cohn-Bendit was authorized to return to France, and he now regularly visits Paris, straddling two intellectual worlds. While many of his former May '68 colleagues in France worry about what they perceive as a drift to neutralism in West Germany, his German friends consider the French too militaristic and anti-Soviet. Cohn-Bendit traces the split to World War II.
``Germans of my generation must live with the shock that Germany was responsible for the war, so they become pacifists,'' he said. ``My French friends live in the shadow of France's defeat so they want to defend themselves against the Russians.''
Despite this divisive debate, Cohn-Bendit argues that the '60s radicals bettered the status quo. In America, he praises the emergence of a more moral and tolerant society.
``Without the experience of the sixties, you can't understand why an American government would be ready to dump Somozo in Nicaragua and Marcos in the Philippines,'' he said.
In Europe, too, he sees more open-minded attitudes. As an example, he points to the millions of working women.
``We succeeded,'' he concluded. ``Thanks to us, people now have more control over their own lives.''