As we approach the anniversary of May 1968 the websites are posting more and more articles about the on-going after-shocks of that disastrous decade. The leaders of the student revolt had more or less disappeared from the headlines, or were no longer wielding the influence they once did, but as time went on they returned front and center. Yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy met with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, of all people, at Elysée Palace. Dany the Red, now known as Dany the Green for his interest in ecology (which includes one would presume the greenhouse gases that emanate from his mouth), made it to the big time again.
One of the promises of Sarkozy's presidential campaign had been to eradicate once and for all the effects of those events of 40 years ago. However, as many analysts (including Dany himself) have pointed out, Sarkozy's election to the presidency is in fact the apotheosis of May 68, and the enshrinement of its ideals.
La Croix has a report on the meeting which, despite my acerbic comments, did have an official purpose:
Co-president of the Green Party in the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit's visit was one of several that the French president has been holding with leaders of the various parties in the European Parliament, in anticipation of the French presidency of the European Union that begins July 1.
After the meeting, Daniel Cohn-Bendit in a dark blue shirt over a white tee, without a tie, met with members of the press in the Elysée courtyard and described the encounter as "relaxed."
Cohn-Bendit had brought the president his book on the events of May 68 entitled Forget 68, with this sightly provocative dedication: "For Nicolas. When will imagination be in power? Greetings. Dany". President Sarkozy "laughed and said, 'I will read it'. We made a date to meet later to talk about it," he assured the press.
If you don't know, "Put Imagination in power" was one of the slogans of the revolt.
Cohn-Bendit told the press he had sold Sarkozy on an idea: "Any presidency can only function if there is a basic idea that resonates in France and in Europe." For the ecologist the French presidency of the EU ought to signify that "Europe must now work at regulating globalization socially and ecologically."
The president also spoke of Europe's defense. The ecologists – Cohn-Bendit was accompanied by the other co-president of the Green Party, Monica Frassoni – responded, "Europe's defense and the prevention of conflicts." "He said he agreed. We'll see if he means what he says. He understood that you cannot just talk about the military unless you also talk about measures to prevent conflicts, as the Treaty of Lisbon stipulates."
A journalist asked if the president wanted "to liquidate May 68", an allusion to candidate Sarkozy's statement in April 2007 just before the election. "No", answered Daniel Cohn-Bendit. "But he's going to read my book. He'll call me and say, 'I was wrong. Forgive me... I'm not going to liquidate 68. On the contrary. It was great. It allowed me to become president,'" he joked.
Some joke. It's true. For once I agree with Dany!
Prodded by the press, the European deputy added: "Listen, we're not going to talk about May 68 on the front steps of Elysée," only to proclaim a moment later: "68 was terrific... It began with an awesome transformation of French society. The proof of that is that a twice-divorced man is president of the Republic!" he exclaimed to the delight of the gallery of reporters.
"Go back 40 years to Madame de Gaulle, Aunt Yvonne. She's turning over in her grave!", he concluded before taking off for an interview at Canal Plus.
The reference of course is to the wife of Charles de Gaulle who was known as "Aunt Yvonne." She is known for the quote, "The presidency is temporary – but the family is permanent." She stayed in the background, was a devout Catholic and may well be turning over in her grave.
I should remind readers that for many patriots de Gaulle was no bargain. For some his policy on Algeria marked the beginning of multi-cultural France. His decisions to abandon French citizens in Algeria to their brutal fate after the Evian accords is still regarded as an act of treason. On the other hand others continue to regard him as the last truly pro-France president.
"Neither anxious nor reassured" Daniel Cohn-Bendit left Elysée and its current occupant whom he recently described as an "unrestrained pleasure-seeker". The two agreed to meet again in late June, during the soccer championship finals in Vienna.
More on May 68:
Remembering the Sixties, 13 February 2008
Rivers of Blood and the Mentality of 68, 14 April 2008