Ex-Revolutionary Takes Frankfurt Post

From Reuters

What is a German-Jewish former student revolutionary in France doing heading Frankfurt's Sikh community?

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, known as "Dany the Red" during the 1968 student revolt in France, has been asked to fill in while two rival Sikh groups battle over the position.

It's all part of his job as Frankfurt's councilor for multicultural affairs, the latest phase in Cohn-Bendit's unconventional career.

The office was created at his suggestion after a coalition of the Greens and Social Democratic parties managed to oust the previous conservative Christian Democratic government in March.

"We have become, whether we like it or not, a land of immigrants," Cohn-Bendit, 44, said. "And we have to develop strategies for these different cultures to live together."

The new multicultural office aims to help foreigners--more than 20% of Frankfurt's population--obtain residence permits and find their way in the community.

Since his student days, Cohn-Bendit has become one of the most controversial figures in West German leftist circles.

He has enraged environmentalists in Frankfurt because he does not share their outright opposition to skyscraper construction and because he believes the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party should be not be banned from elections and demonstrations.

"He is a radical democrat who believes that a democracy must be so strong that it can function without prohibition," said one co-worker at "Pflasterstrand (Asphalt Beach)," the alternative Frankfurt magazine Cohn-Bendit publishes.

"Since I've known him, Dany has been a controversial figure because he had the courage to say what other people had not yet dared to think," one fellow member of the Greens Party said.

On the flip side, Cohn-Bendit has angered the mainstream by advocating amnesties for Red Army Faction guerrillas who renounce violence.

"There was some skepticism about having a former revolutionary as a government official, but those reservations are gone now," Jo Meergans, leader of Frankfurt's Social Democrats, said.

Cohn-Bendit was born in France in 1945. His parents had fled from Berlin in 1933 but he returned to West Germany and became a citizen there at the age of 15.

"I applied for citizenship because it was easier to travel with a German passport than if you are stateless," Cohn-Bendit said. "Plus my father had told me German Jews don't have to do military service, so it seemed the best thing to do."

In 1966 the 19-year-old redhead returned to France to study sociology at Nanterre University. Two years later, he led the occupation of university buildings to demand radical change, not just in the education system but in society at large.

The protests sparked student and worker unrest across France and unleashed a political crisis leading to the 1969 downfall of President Charles De Gaulle.

The French government subsequently branded Cohn-Bendit undesirable and banned him from entering the country for 10 years.

Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the revolt in Paris last year, Cohn-Bendit told French students: "We have not turned our backs on our ideals. We still want change but have given up fantasies of a dramatic, radical overhaul."

His work and opinions have made Cohn-Bendit highly popular in West Germany, but he is not interested in joining parliament, even if the Greens succeed in joining a future government coalition.

"Me away from Frankfurt? Nah," he says. "For one, I don't want to go to Bonn. Second, I don't want to end as a career politician. I need a certain amount of freedom.

"Besides, the higher you want to go in the party, the more you have to box yourself in and I don't like that," he adds.

It shows. Cohn-Bendit has worked as a kindergarten helper, a bookseller, a journalist and, of course, a politician.

Next, he says, he'd like to get into television, adding: "I already have a few projects up my sleeve."

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