[OPE-L] Cohn-Bendit rides again... with the Financial Times

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Mar 26 2007 - 10:35:02 EDT

Lunch with the FT: Daniel Cohn-Bendit
By George Parker

Published: March 22 2007 19:49 | Last updated: March 22 2007 19:49

You recognise the smile immediately. Daniel Cohn-Bendit's face may show the
lines of 61 years, his hair is no longer the burning red of 1968, but the
smile facing me across the table is the same elfin grin which confronted the
city's riot police: the iconic picture that defined the Paris student

Dany le Rouge has long since transformed himself into Dany le Vert, the
highest-profile Green politician on a continent that has suddenly embraced
the cause he has proclaimed for most of his adult life. He is a rare example
of a truly European politician; he says he is fulfilled. But talk to the
generation for whom Dany's authority-defying grin symbolised hope of a new
beginning (not to mention free sex) and you'll find a certain melancholy
that he now plies his trade in the European parliament, viewed by some as
one of the most boring institutions on earth.

So how did Cohn-Bendit get from the barricades to the air-conditioned
corridors of the European parliament, and why is he enjoying it so much?
Tony Blair seemed to be asking himself the same question in 2005 when he
faced Cohn-Bendit in Brussels. After listening to a good-natured harangue of
his European policies, the UK prime minister turned to his Franco-German
tormentor and joked: "I used to read his speeches; now he has to listen to
mine. History will judge whether that is progress."

Such is Cohn-Bendit's love of the European parliament it proves fiendishly
difficult to get him out of the building. After much negotiation, the FT's
lunch guest agrees to swap the parliament's sedate members' restaurant for
the Quartier Leopold, a sleek and suity establishment nearby.

It is a faintly soulless place, as befits its name. The quartier Leopold
used to be one of Brussels' most opulent art nouveau neighbourhoods, until
the EU moved in, when its maisons de maitre were demolished and replaced by
faceless office blocks.

Cohn-Bendit admits he prefers the restaurant in the evening, when the Place
du Luxembourg heaves with politicians, journalists, lawyers and interns in a
heady, international mix of politics and sexual frisson. Was it a bit like
that on the streets of Paris in May 1968, I wonder? "It was absolutely fun,"
says Cohn-Bendit, whose efforts to gain male student access to the girls'
dormitories was one of the sparks for the revolt. "You felt for the first
time you were turning the screw, you were not being turned by the
screwdriver. It gave you a feeling of omnipotence."

How much of it was about sex? Cohn-Bendit says this was a fixation of "sex-alienated
people" at the time. "The truth was, we were arranging our lives and bodies,
and developing how we wanted to live." I ask him to elaborate. "It was a
very emotional situation. A lot of people discovered themselves and had new
relationships. The mythology of the sex was because it was a completely
closed society."

By now the stylish waitress is hovering. Cohn-Bendit peruses the simple menu
and opts for spring rolls and a scampi brochette. I go for gravadlax of
salmon followed by red tuna. Disappointingly, he wants to drink nothing
stronger than water, but as I discover, Cohn-Bendit does not need alcohol to
hit his stride. Dressed in his trademark "university lecturer" look of white
T-shirt, open-necked blue shirt, mauve sweater and blue jacket, there is no
holding him back. "I was a symbol of the beginning," he says, returning to
the gas-filled streets of Nanterre in 1968. "I was the sunshine. For a lot
of people I was the perfect projection of the good part of the revolt." He
pulls his phone from his pocket, and shows me the iconic "grin" picture. "My
son found it on the internet and sent it to me," he says. "For many people I
was the smile of the time."

For Cohn-Bendit, it was the liberation of the individual that was the most
important legacy of the "evenements" that rocked France and captivated the
world. But what did he mean when he said the students had "won socially and
lost politically"? He explains: "We thought we could invent a more radical,
better structure than parliamentary democracy. Today I think this is wrong.
But we opened the door. Our modern society recognised that individual
freedom was something which has to be strengthened. It was a great time and
now life goes on."

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