Daniel Cohn Bendit is an old style orator who loves to be on stage and debate, from the university back rooms of Nanterre in the mid sixties as a ‘young European anarchist’ and explicit anti-parlementarist, to the the front room of the European parliament in Strasbourg and Bruxelles as an elected deputé of the Green Party. Yesterday I saw on French television TV5 a snippet of his discourse against Viktor Orban, Hungarian President, comparing Orban’s position with that of Chavez and Fidel Castro.
To me his way of arguing on television seemed to be a fallacy, as Orban is a member of a neo-liberal right wing party – Fidesz – that came to the fore because of its fierce anti-communism.
When I tried to find a more complete registration of that yesterday debate, I failed to do so, but I did stumble upon a similar oration of Cohn Bendit versus Orban exactly one year ago on January 19. 2011.
Here Cohn Bendit’s discourse is less crude and more to the point when he attacks the new press laws of Hungary, which lets a (Fidesz) committee decide on the objectivity and balance of news reporting. State censorship in short in the name of “balanced information” (l’information équilibrée). It is the European Parliament meeting where the EEC presidency of Hungary for that year is inaugurated.
“L’information équilibrée n’existe pas” (balanced information does not exist) declaimed the Green tribune, facing and pointing to Hungarian President Orban and sums – apostrophic and repetitive in the form of rhetorical questions – cases from history where state authority has been challenged by news media: from the Watergate scandal of burglary in the offices of the Democratic Party under Nixon to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse under George Bush.
“L’information doit déranger la politique..” (information must derange politics). With a grim face and fierce gestures Cohn Bendit finishes his display of exemplum by adding after a short pause “et ça fait mal quelquefois: (sometimes that hurts).
Cohn Bendit is fully equipped to propose this dictum, as he has been fiercely attacked personally several times in his life – often unjustly – by news media that had to fear no state control in his favour. From the right wing news papers in 1968 calling him “un juif allemand” (a German Jew) (*) to the more recent attacks on him linking his sexual mores of the sixties and seventies to pedophilia (**).
When one sees this Youtube version of the Cohn Bendit debate in the European Parliament not embedded here but on the Youtube page, scandalous racist hate viewer comments are on public display, as well as the moderate and supportive ones. All this seems ‘unmoderated’. This is not “information équilibré” and one must have a harnessed soul to read many of the comments. The relative anonymity of the internet produces such reactions and its is up to any internet community to keep excesses under control.
We remain with the question whether the dictum ‘information must derange politics’ should also be applied to the public realm of digital social media.
(*) 2 mai 1968 extreme right wing journal Minute writes: “Ce Cohn-Bendit, parce qu’il est juif et allemand, se prend pour un nouveau Karl Marx.” (this Cohn benit, because he is a jew and a German, takes himself for a new Karl Marx)
(**) “German MEP open about his paedophilia” is just one of the many descriptions (British Democracy Forum) of the belated reactions to a passage in his book “Le Grand Bazar” published in the year 1975 in which sexual tinted activities between him and some children are described. It took 26 years before a political opponent (German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel of the FDP/Free Democratic Party) grabbed the opportunity to confront Cohn Bendit with his escapades in the early seventies of last century. In January 2001 Cohn Bendit answered by way of an interview in The Observer: “I admit that what I wrote is unacceptable nowadays.”