Godard, Cohn-Bendit & The Disappearing Cigar
Former anarchist agitator Danny Cohn-Bendit, left and Agit-Prop Marxist film maker Jean- Luc Godard on the cover of Télérama, May, 2010. These days Godard has swapped his proletarian Gauloises for the plutocrat cigar. Now let’s see that again:
Whoops, something’s not quite right. So back to the magazine:
and now the advertisement for the magazine in the Anver Metro station, Paris, May, 2010:
Où est Le Cigare?
The anarchist of the 1960s, Danny Cohn-Bendit is a child of upper class parents.
The Marxist film maker, and Maoist (1968 – 1980) Jean-Luc Godard is also a child of upper class parents – very wealthy parents at that. His grandfather on his mother’s side was the founder of the Banque Paribas, now BNP Parabis that almost went under in 2015 and was restructured. The group describe themselves as “Global Corporate and Institutional Banking and Retail Banking and Services”.
Le Patron would not normally draw attention to their background were it not for the contempt that Cohn-Bendit and Godard have shown for their own class. In Soviet propaganda terms, or in a Moscow Pravda editorial they would themselves be described as classic “spawn of the bourgeoisie.”
For a while “Red Danny” (Cohn-Bendit) was almost as much a pin-up as Che Guevera. A recent news item (December 2015) that claimed Cohn-Bendit had, at age 70, got married, prompted broken hearted responses from would be suitors. They can recover their composure: it seems the story is untrue.
Cohn-Bendit became one of the photographic images of the May Days in Paris, and his fame was cemented as much by government supporting opponents highlighting the German origin of his family, and his Jewish background. The May, 1968 students took up the chant Nous sommes tous des Juifs allemande – ‘We are all German Jews’. The chanting didn’t prevent him being expelled from France as a “seditious alien” on 22 May, 1968.
During the 70s, initially living in the family home in Germany, he continued to be involved in the ‘movement’: working in the Karl Marx Buchandlung bookshop in Frankfurt. As most anarchists regard Karl Marx in the same way a Primitive Methodist would regard the Pope, it seems his theoretical ‘position’ was in flux.
He also worked as a member of a ‘radical’ nursery. He got a lot of erotic pleasure being with five and six year olds and wrote about it in Le Grande Bazar (1975), talking about engaging in sexual activities with the young children. The German Green Party into the 1980s had a tolerant attitude to paedophilia. Since then Cohn-Bendit has unconvincingly excused himself by saying he was being ‘deliberately provocative’ in La Grand Bazar. If so – to what end? To upset the ‘bourgeoisie’? To stay in the spotlight?
Staying in the spotlight seems to be his emotional need. It’s a Lights, Camera, Action scenario, whether on the Paris boulevards, or on a confrontation with a Czech president. And where ever he is, he is sure to make sure the media knows where he is, and are briefed to what he is going to say and do. His greatest love is himself. His website features the toddler Danny, Danny the boy, Danny the teenager, Danny the young activist. If he was in the nursery, instead of an adult having erotic feelings about a five year old, and was a child, a five year old, he’d be the one elbowing the other kids out of the way pushing himself to the front if the local media were visiting, or on a daily basis creating an upset to get attention.
In the late 1970s Federal German melting pot of opposition to nuclear power stations and other ‘green issues’ Cohn-Bendit was drawn into the movement that would eventually result in the emergence of the Green Party in Germany.
The film maker Jean Luc Godard who had had a left sentiment prior to 1968 went the whole horrible hog and stuck his colours to Chairman Mao, at a time of appalling repression in the People’s Democratic Republic of China. This grotesque manifestation at this time effected some others in the ‘Arts’ in the West, particularly the performing arts.
If Godard had been in China in 1969 given his class background he would have found himself being ‘re-educated’: forcibly sent to work on the land. He would be getting off lightly. Other perceived enemies of the People’s Democratic Republic got shot.
During the period of his support of Chairman Mao he denounced his former cameraman Raoul Coutard for being the cinematographer on a film that had American company backing. Raoul Coutard was one of the best things about watching Godard’s films in the early to mid sixties, for instance Pierrot Le Fou (1965). This was gesture, megaphone politics at its worst. (Is there any other kind?)
In August 1968 when Soviet Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia, Cohn-Bendit was selling Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder in the Frankfurt bookshop, and Jean-Luc Godard was reading the Maoist People’s Cause in Paris.
An estimated 200,000 troops and 2,000 tanks (a higher figure of 5,000 tanks is sometimes quoted) invaded Czechoslovakia on the night of 20 August, 1968. It was the largest use of military force against a European country since the end of the Second World War, even exceeding the Soviet military force that invaded Hungary in 1956. The crime that Czechoslovakia had committed? To have a little bit of what citizens (including Cohn-Bendit and Godard) in Western Europe took for granted: the freedom to travel, freedom to express oneself, without being imprisoned, or having your passport taken away, or your children being prohibited from going to college. (Or in Mao’s China, being shot.)
The loosening of the Marxist straight jacket had started under Alexander Dubček when he was elected First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. Although he wanted the Czech Communist Party to be firmly in control of the State and the reforms – the economy was in a mess – the enthusiasm in the country for the change of direction was endangering the rule of the Communist Party. Dubček was reluctant to use force to reinforce the central role of the Communist Party. It was this that alarmed Moscow. The period was known as the Prague Spring. The winter came early, in August.
At Radio Prague, journalists refused to give up the station and twenty people were killed before it was captured by the occupying force. It is estimated that a further 100 protesting Czechoslovakians were killed by the occupying forces, upholding the power of Marxist-Leninists to continue the building of the Workers Utopia, not just in Czechoslavakia, but in the rest of central and eastern Europe and the Baltic. As late as 1980 the Central Committee of the German Democratic Republic (East German) were urging fellow Warsaw pact members to use military force to invade Poland and put down the Solidarity movement.
Whilst Jean-Luc Godard remained committed to the Mao-ist version of Marxist Leninism, and Cohn-Bendit worked in the Karl Marx Buchandlung, the negatives of the photographs that Czech photographer Josef Koudelka took of the Soviet invasion were smuggled out of the country, and published anonymously in the British Sunday Times.
Unaware that Josef Koudelka was the photographer who took the invasion photos, the Czechoslovakian authorities allowed him to travel to England on a 3 month working visa issued by the British government. Once there he applied for and was granted political asylum.
Czechoslovakian New Wave film directors and scriptwriters, such as Milos Forman (Loves of a Blonde, and The Firemens Ball) and Ivan Passer (Intimate Lighting) managed to escape to the West. (Foreman happened to be in Paris when the Soviets invaded.) The director of the Academy Award winning Closely Observed Trains, Jiri Menzel, was not so lucky. During 1968 and early 1969 he was shooting Larks on a String, set in a Stalin era industrial scrapyard where the male and female civil and political prisoners were forced to work, and lived in overcrowded, barbed wire surrounded huts. This was no political allegory. This was the reality of 1950s Czechoslovakia.
Once the film was completed it was immediately banned, and was not seen until 1990, following the collapse of the Communist regime. In an interview recorded for the DVD release of Larks on a String Jiri Menzel said he was not able to leave the country – his passport had been taken away from him.
It was five years before he made another film, and seven years before he made Seclusion Near a Wood (1976). In 1985 My Sweet Little Village was released. These post Prague Spring years were the years of “Normalisation” as the Communist Central Committee, with First Secretary Gustáv Husák at the helm, called it.
The Czech photographer Viktor Kolár covertly photographed the years of “Normalisation” in the industrial city of Ostrava, and the surrounding area, whilst earning a living, at one point, working as a labourer in the Nová Hut’ steelworks.
Jeri Menzil’s My Sweet Little Village still remains one of the Czech and Slovak Republic’s favourite films. Menzil had the ability, almost in a Good Soldier Švejk way in the period of “Normalisation” to get one past the authorities, by re-affirming what is best about being human. Both My Sweet Little Village and Seclusion Near a Wood are loving, and sometimes rye observations of human inter-action, irrespective of the political background of the time, typical of all his films from Closely Observed Trains onwards. It is an approach that Jean-Luc Godard would, at best, not understand, and at worst would dismiss as either ‘bourgeois’ sentimentality or of ‘not facing reality’.
The writer on Film, Ray Durgnat, said about Godard in 1967: “Godard keeps babbling on about the world being absurd because he can’t keep an intellectual hard on long enough to probe for any responsive warmth”.
Durgnat said a lot of pungent and insightful things about Godard in the essay the quote comes from Asides on Godard, in The Films of Jean-Luc Godard, Studio Vista 1967. As much as Le Patron likes Ray Durgnat’s writing, in this instance it isn’t intellect you need for responsive warmth, but an open heart. Godard’s shrivelled damaged little heart naturally leapt, a year later, into the sloganising Marxist-Leninist-Maoist rhetoric, where he found a sense of purpose, and with equally sloganising people, a sense of belonging. Despite supporting a Maoist paper called The People’s Cause, he (and the paper) had no understanding of ‘The People’ and loathed and rejected just about everything they, the people, enjoyed.
Theses days Godard is no longer a Maoist, but still identifies himself as a Marxist.
These days Danny Cohn-Bendit has travelled a long way from being a part player in Parisian street theatre. In the journey the anarchist ideal of a bottom up democracy has been replaced by a top down authoritarianism. Benito Mussolini took a similar journey, from Italian anarcho-syndicalism to the fascist corporate state. The journey that Cohn-Bendit embarked on in 1968 led to a grotesque position – equal to Godard becoming a Maoist – when, with other European MEPs he travelled in December, 2008 to Prague to meet and berate the Czech President Václav Klaus. More of this in a moment, but first some details to where he had arrived at in the 1990s and beyond.
In 1994 he became a Green MEP in the European Parliament, and has remained one since. He is a significant politician within the French and German Green movements, and his belief in the necessity of the European Union to force policies – environmental policies, for instance – on member states is authoritarian. In 2003 during the Convention that was preparing the text of the European constitution – which was to become known as the Lisbon Treaty – he demanded that EU member countries who voted No in referendums to the conditions of the constitution should be forced to hold a second referendum. If the result was still No, then those countries should be expelled from the E.U. The planned constitution (The Lisbon Treaty) was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. Irish voters rejected it in June 2008, but accepted it in a second referendum in October 2009.
There are some significant differences between the Green Parties in Europe. The German Green Party, for instance, approved the rejection of Scottish Independence by voters in the 2014 Scottish Referendum on the question, at odds with the pro-independence position of the Green Party in Scotland. And although the Czech writer, dissident, thinker, and Czech President (1993 – 2003) Václav Havel supported the Czech Green Party from 2004, he remained committed to Direct Democracy, even though some Green Parties stance on environmental matters is authoritarian. A clash in democratic approaches resulted in Cohn-Bendit resigning from the French Greens. More of that in a moment.
At the invitation of the then Czech President Váklav Klaus a group of MEPs who were members of the “Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament” flew to Prague on 5 December, 2008. To put what happened when they got there in a context, imagine any other President of an autonomous European nation – say Mary Robinson, President of the Republic of Ireland between 1990 and 1997 – getting this kind of drubbing from visiting politicians from Brussels.
Christopher Booker wrote about the extraordinary meeting for the British Daily Telegraph on 14 December, 2008.
“There was…… a remarkable recent meeting between the heads of the groups in the European Parliament and Václav Klaus, the Czech head of state, in his palace in Hradcany Castle, on a hill overlooking Prague. The aim was to discuss how the Czechs should handle the EU’s rotating six-monthly presidency when they take over from France on January 1.
The EU’s ruling elite view President Klaus…. with a mixture of bewilderment, hatred and contempt. As his country’s prime minister, he applied to join the EU in the days after the fall of Communism in the 1990s. But now Klaus is alone among European leaders in expressing openly Eurosceptic views, not least about the Lisbon Treaty, which the Czech parliament has yet to ratify.
Klaus was an outspoken dissident under the Communist regime, and he has come to regard the EU as dangerously anti-democratic. But he compounds this sin with highly sceptical views on global warming, on which he recently published a book, Blue Planet in Green Shackles…….
So when Klaus was due to meet the MEPs, one of them decided this was a moment to display the Euro-elite’s hostility to him. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who is German born but lives in France, first came to prominence in Paris in 1968 as a student agitator. He is now leader of the Green MEPs. Talking loudly in the plane to Prague, he made no secret of his intentions, and briefed French journalists on how to get maximum publicity for his planned insults.
As Cohn-Bendit was aware, the only flag that flies over the castle is the presidential standard (though the “ring of stars” is much in evidence elsewhere in Prague, flown outside every government ministry).
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. (Communautaire: supporter of the principles of the European Community.)
Cohn-Bendit then staged his ambush. Brusquely plonking down his EU flag, which he observed sarcastically was so much in evidence around the palace. (Le Patron: News reports from many sources said that Cohn-Bendit went on to say that the European Flag should have been flying from the Presidential palace.)
(Cohn-Bendit) 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” (i.e when Communism fell). When Klaus suggested to Hans-Gert Pöttering, the president of the EU Parliament, who was present, that perhaps it was time for someone else to take the floor, Pöttering replied that “anyone from the members of the Parliament can ask you what he likes”, and invited Cohn-Bendit to continue.
“This is incredible, said Klaus. “I have never experienced anything like this before.”
After a further exchange, in which Cohn-Bendit compared Klaus unfavourably with his predecessor, President Hável, he gave way to an Irish MEP, Brian Crowley, who began by saying “all his life my father fought against the British domination [of Ireland]… That is why I dare to say that the Irish wish for the Lisbon Treaty. It was an insult, Mr President, to me and the Irish people what you said during your state visit to Ireland.” Klaus repeated that he had not experienced anything like this for 19 years and that it seemed we were no longer living in a democracy, but that it was “post-democracy which rules the EU”.
On the EU constitution, Klaus recalled that three countries had voted against it, and that if Mr Crowley wanted to talk about insults to the Irish people, “the biggest insult to the Irish people is not to accept the result of the Irish referendum”…..
Everntually Pöttering closed the meeting by saying that he wanted to leave the room “in good terms”, but it was quite unacceptable to compare himself and his colleagues with the Soviet Union. Klaus replied that he had not mentioned the Soviet Union: “I only said that I had not experienced such an atmosphere, such a style of debate, in the Czech Republic in the last 19 years.”
The hectoring nature of the meeting was reported in Czech media, and was a news item throughout the former Communist Eastern Bloc countries. It is reported that across all political sentiments in the Czech republic the reaction was similar: that the comments of Cohn-Bendit and the other MEPs was an “undue interference in Czech affairs”. The MEP and the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage went further and compared Cohn-Bendit’s actions to a “German official from seventy years ago or a Soviet official from twenty years ago.”
Cohn-Bendit’s contempt for democratic processes continues.
French Greens’ Cohn-Bendit quits party in fiscal Pact row.
European lawmaker Daniel Cohn-Bendit revoked his membership of the French Greens on Sunday (23 September) in protest at the party’s decision to oppose the ratification of the European Union’s budget discipline pact.
The move threatens to rob the Europe-Écologie Party of one of its most recognisable deputies – known for his rabble-rousing during 1968 student riots in Paris – and may exacerbate tensions within the group, which supports France’s Socialist-led government and has two ministerial posts.
The French Greens voted overwhelmingly against the terms of the pact at a grassroots assembly on Saturday, concluding that it would not provide long-term answers to the EU crisis nor help foster environmentally friendly policies.
France is expected to ratify the pact early next month, though a major revolt within the coalition could force the Socialists into an embarrassing reliance on the conservative opposition.
“Yesterday’s federal council was dramatic. Dramatically pathetic,” Cohn-Bendit told French television station i-Tele.
“I’ve decided to suspend my participation in this movement. It’s clear to me that deep down, things are finished between me and Europe-Ecologie.”
Cohn-Bendit said the French Green party’s position on the fiscal treaty was “completely inconsistent” arguing that the party should pull out of the French government and vote against the budget.
“I don’t want to endorse this leftist policy drift,” the Franco-German MEP further went on.
Cohn-Bendit, nicknamed “Danny the Red” for his student activism, has served as deputy for French Green parties since 1999 and is co-president of the European Parliament’s Greens group.
– Reuters, 24 September, 2012.
Just in case you missed it: it was a collective decision taken by a meeting of grassroots members. Paris, ’68 anyone?
And, oh yes, that Disappearing Cigar.
It’s marvellous what you can do with Photoshop. Not only remove the cigar, but reposition the fingers. In France 2010 it was not permitted for advertising posters in public places to even inadvertently include cigarettes, cigars – (and goodness knows what has happened to Maigret’s pipe). Cohn-Bendit the Green politician would not have a problem with the Photoshopping out of his pal’s cigar. And Godard, like Cohn-Bendit is happy to comply with the distortion. He is, after all, promoting the product: himself. Anyway, as a Marxist who probably knows his Russian Revolution history, he will know that anything that offends the ruling elite gets removed. Long live the Revolution, Comrades.
Sources and Notes
All photographs used in this Post: Copyright the respective owners.
- Li Zhansheng is a photojournalist. He was a photographer with the Heilonjiang Newspaper, and photographed the Mao Cultural Revolution as part of his work with the newspaper. However, besides allowed ‘positive’ images of peasant meetings, etc, he managed to secretly take photographs of the realities behind the Cultural revolution, including those forcibly sent to the countryside to help the ‘revolution’ (hard labour camps), and executions without trial. These latter negatives he hid underneath the floorboards in his family one room flat in Harbin. He and his wife, Yingxia, were themselves sent to a hard labour camp for two years, in 1969.
The photographs he took during the Cultural revolution are published as Red-Colour News Soldier by Phaidon, 2003. It is still in print.
2. The photographs that Josef Koudelka took during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia are published as Invasion 68: Prague, Aperture, 2008. It is still in print.
3. Jiri Menzell’s Larks on a String and Closely Observed Trains are currently available DVDs, with English sub-titles, and an English Menu. Vesničko Má Stredisková (My Sweet Little Village) and Na Samoteu Lesa (Seclusion Near a Wood) are Czech DVDs, with English sub-titles and a Czech Menu. It is not too difficult to figure out from the Menu how to switch on the English sub-titles. subtitlescafedalston.co.uk sell by post or in person Na Samote u Lesa (Seclusion Near a Wood) which is how Le Patron got his copy. They also sell online a small selection of other Czech films, film posters and items. All the DVDs are otherwise available from amazon.co.uk
4 The photographs taken by Victor Kolár in Ostrava, during the period of Czech ‘Normalisation’ are in Viktor Kolár, Torst, Prague, 2002.
Unfortunately only very expensive second hand copies of this soft back are presently available, although a search through ebay might yield copies cheaper than the current asking price on abebooks, which varies between £111 to £207, at the time of writing (January, 2016). Fortunately Viktor Kolár does have a website where some of his work can be seen. victorkolar.com