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Page history last edited by Agathe Zobenbuller 6 years ago

Daniel Cohn-Bendit


Daniel Cohn-Bendit born 4th April 1945 in France, now a Franco-German publicist and politician of the European Greens, became the icon of May 68. He was a student of the famous Sociology-Professor Alain Touraine in Nanterre, who was renowned for his "left" ideas - for example, in 1948 he worked as a miner for a year to experience the workers' conditions himself. Touraine had a lot of influence on Cohn-Bendit. 

He was called “Dany le rouge” (Dany the red) referring to his hair colour. As he inspired many students around the globe he was invited to various meetings mainly in Europe. However, his travels were considered a threat to governments as they feared Cohn-Bendit’s stay would spark more revolts and increase solidarity among students not only domestically but also internationally. Considered a threat, many governments denied him entry into their countries like the French who claimed Cohn-Bendit was “undesirable in France” after a visit to Germany. The refusal of Cohn-Bendit’s entry was possible as he voluntarily chose the German citizenship over the French one to avoid French military service.

In response to this some students assembled at their (national) borders demanding entry for Cohn-Bendit while others occupied buildings like the one in the University of Amsterdam. Firstly, this is a perfect indication of the governments’ fear becoming reality and secondly, this demonstrates Cohn-Bendit’s strong influence on his fellow students. When asked in an interview with LePoint if he were surprised by the extent of the demonstrations Cohn-Bendit explained that nothing was planned, everything was “spontaneous”; it was only a matter of time until the increasing tensions diffused, something he described as “a hidden violence in society”. A reaction to de Gaulle’s “authoritarian social system”.




As mentioned above Daniel Cohn-Bendit was extremely popular among the students, thus he was strongly supported by them. However, Cohn-Bendit was faced with xenophobia by the press. They constantly emphasized the fact that he was German and Jewish, depicting him as the “outsider”. Georges Marchais, the leader of the communist party PCF referred to him as “German anarchist”. The right wing demanded “Cohn-Bendit à Dachau” (a German town that used to house a concentration camp until 1945) while students claimed “Cohn-Bendit à Paris” when he was denied entry into France. The xenophobia by the press and politicians was met with the students’ solidarity who chanted slogans like “We’re all Jews and Germans”, "We’re all undesirables”, "We’re all aliens”. This shows that the students were a strong unit and a great support system for Cohn-Bendit. Furthermore, he was not disturbed by the fact he was insulted instead he claimed to “not give a damn about his nationality”. In his book “Nous l'avons tant aimée, la révolution” he “proudly talks about his transnationality” and the fact that he’s a “hybrid”, not dwelling on people’s insults. In response to Marchais' accusations Daniel Cohn-Bendit said: "Georges Marchais qui m’avait traité d’anarchiste allemand faisait jouer la phobie antiboche : les étudiants à Nanterre ont crié ce qu’il n’avait pas osé dire : "juif allemand" (Corinne Delvaux, 2015). This further illustrates his attitude towards racists comments which is resistance. Through Bendit's substantial influence the following slogans become famous for the 1968 movement and show solidarity among the students: "Nous sommes tous des immigrés", "Nous sommes tous des étrangers", "Nous sommes tous des sans-papiers". The former leader of the CGT, Georges Séguy, did not like Cohn-Bendit at all and called him "un juif allemand". After this, the demonstrators showed their support by chanting "nous sommes tous des juifs allemands!".




Public image of Daniel Cohn-Bendit 


Daniel Cohn-Bendit first gained notoriety in the press for his remarks against François Missoffe (the minister of youth and sports from January 1966 to May 1968). Missoffe wrote a paper saying that the French youth only wanted a successsful career so that they could buy fancy cars and pay a dowry. The minister visited the University of Nanterre shortly after to inaugurate a swimming pool and Cohn-Bendit used this moment to confront him. Cohn-Bendit criticized the minister on his papers "lack of information on sexuality" and the minister responded that Cohn-Bendit should "jump in the pool" if he had any sexual problems (Seidman, 2004, p. 60). Cohn-Bendit later accused the minister of "acting like a Nazi" (Seidman, 2004, p. 61). This encounter was widely publicised. 


Why did Daniel Cohn-Bendit become such an icon?


Even though other leaders also emerged from the student movement, figures like Alain Geismar and Jacques Sauvegeout, the focus remained on Cohn-Bendit. He was in the “spotlight” because the media perpetually and purposely chose to talk about him. Furthermore, Bendit’s strong media presence was due to his various visits abroad and participation in shows, interviews and his appearance on the news. In his book Chris Reynolds questions if these personalities can be called the leaders of the student movement, when they are “media-chosen” personalities. These figures only emerged as the leaders, especially Cohn-Bendit, because the media had specifically chosen to portray them in the news which was particularly easy with the increase in possession of television and radio (as a result of globalisation and modernisation of France). Cohn-Bendit is not only present in domestic press but also in European ones. A great example is this excerpt of an interview with BBC Radio in which Cohn-Bendit justifies his stay in London (since he is only permitted to stay for 24 hours and after that is obliged to leave the country). In this situation he responds with humour, not quite understanding the reason for his limited/short stay.


https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/009A90CF?bcast=29597942 (only available in the UK)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/11/newsid_3003000/3003831.stm (alternative info here)


Apart from the media, Cohn-Bendit's success is also due to his extraordinary personality and maturity. According to contemporary witnesses, the two other 'leaders', Alain Geismar (UNEF) and Jacques Sauvageot (SNESUP) were less charismatic. 

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