The summer of 1969 Battle of Bogside had many causal factors, but one important factor – least remembered – was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, better known in 1968 as “Danny The Red”, a red-haired radical French-German [dual nationality] socialist student who rose to fame as a leader of the student protest part of The Paris Riots of May 1968.
The May 1968 Paris Riots formed a perfect template for what occurred around the supposedly non-violent Civil Rights protests in Northern Ireland from October 1968 – but perfected a year later in the 1969 summertime Battle of Bogside.
The world looked on as peaceful student protests at the Sorbonne University in Paris mushroomed into street demonstrations that ignited wider social protests across many aspects of French life – a motley mixture of anti-Vietnam War protesters, anti-Capitalist and anti-Consumerist groupings, Trades Unions demanding higher wages, students protesting against repression (Premier Georges Pompidou had attempted to ban all street demonstrations) and anarchist and socialist groupings opposed to the great lumbering French Communist Party’s own political conservatism.
Societal repression in general became “a thing” that could be protested.
The incredibly sudden nature of the expanding anti-government protests captivated television and press coverage around the world.
The French police could not contain the violence or control the streets of Paris.
The French capital, Paris, was paralysed.
For a time, the French government ceased to govern – the President Charles de Gaulle at one point even left the country for the safety of a French army headquarters in West Germany fearing that radicals – Communists – would seize the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the French President.
Aides in the palace began burning documents lest they might fall into the hands of radicals.
All of this disorder played out in full view of televison cameras and was replayed in homes across the world on the evening television news, as well as copious press and tabloid reportage where a character was needed – a leader – nay, a radical socialist/communist infiltrator – and lo and behold German/French university dropout Danni le Rouge – Danny The Red – stepped forward to play that role.
Born and partially educated in France but then living in Franfurt, Germany, Danny the Red was barred from entering France for a time but entered anyway at one point claiming to lead 1,000 German students to Paris to join the protests.
Within weeks and with constant media coverage of the situation, even in sleepy homes in Derry/Londonderry, conversations suddenly included references to street barricades and Molotov Cocktails (petrol bombs) – the minimum ingredients with which protesting students could ignite long-suppressed social unrest and virtually topple a democratically elected European government – if not the only ingredients.
The death of a student who drowned while trying to escape arrest by police further escalated the violent fighting around the Latin Quarter in Paris into June 1968.
Journalists wondered if the disorder – so easily ignited in a previously ordered society – might transfer to Britain.
Almost as fast as the disorder arose in May and continued into June, it ended just as quickly when the unions accepted offers surrounding wages and conditions.
Commentators – taken aback by the sudden rise of the protests and their equally sudden disappearance in June – described the events as more of a cultural revolution than a political one.
But Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s name had been made and he continued to represent a revolutionary spirit, a revolutionism tinged with Communist symbols and embodied in student activists leading to a period when univeristy students in general were seen as potential threats to order, to the status quo and even to democracy.
Danny the Red came to Britain to participate in a BBC programme and questions were raised in parliament about such a dangerous visitor to ‘our shores’.
Even though Danny the Red had been a university dropout like so many others, he was correctly described as a ‘student leader’.
British students however criticised the personality cult of Danny the Red, preferring an anonymously led movement – a disavowal that did not trouble Cohn-Bendit who went on to be arrested in various countries and later stabbed in Italy, but survived.
I recall at the tender age of 14 years at home watching the television news in black and white and being mesmerised by the idea of becoming a real university student at some future point and joining such important and active world-changing younger people.
By October of 1968 back in Northern Ireland, a proposed Civil Rights march in Derry was banned but went ahead, meeting violent RUC batons that were filmed by an RTE camera crew and flashed around television sets in homes everywhere.
Street rioting began with the sudden appearance of Moltov Cocktails and burned vehicles.
Queen’s University students formed a grouping called People’s Democracy that was to foment unrest by a march in January of 1969 that resulted in the Burntollet Bridge attack by loyalist protestors.
Nine months later and the Battle of Bogside occurred with the now obligatory barricading and petrol bombing along with the student leaders of the People’s Democracy in attendance – Bernadette Devlin most notably of the bunch of Queen’s University activists who had formed PD.
Add Socialist Eamon McCann and a gaggle of other lefties and you had a perfect Reds Under The Beds storm in Northern Ireland – associated with widespread rumours of Communist infiltration at a time of the Cold War in Europe, the Berlin Wall and Soviet Communist domination of Easter European countries not yet enjoying democratic freedoms.
Bernadette Devlin was elected to the Westminster Parliament where her revolutionary fervour diluted and she swore an oath of allegiance to the Queen and gave her maiden speech.
After Bloody Sunday she raced across the House of Commons and scratched the face of the then Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling.
That was about the sum total of Bernadette’s revolution.
Reds Under The Bogside Beds Not Welcome
In the Catholic and conservative Bogside area, the arrival or infiltration of Reds/Communists/Socialists was not welcomed.
Socialist activists complained publicly that they were being threatened in the Bogside.
In “Barricade Bulletin”, a local newsletter produced by Labour Party activists, socialists described the threats made to them in so-called “Free Derry” – complaining that it was not very free to them:
Members of the Labour Party and Young Socialist movement in Londonderry, who admit they “fought” with many others for 50 hours in the recent riots, claim their supporters have been threatened in the Bogside because of their political beliefs.
This is stated in yesterday’s issue of the Barricade Bulletin…
It says the “justification” for the attacks has lain in the allegation that members of the Young Socialists in particular have been disrupting the unity of the area.
The Bulletin details a number of incidents in which people are alleged to have been threatened and intimidated.
It adds: “We call this area ‘Free Derry’. One of the reasons we set it up – one of the reasons for all the troubles in Northern Ireland – was that minorities were not allowed to express themselves freely.”
When people are left in no doubt that they might well be assaulted if they state publicly what they believe, there is cause to stop and consider how free ‘Free Derry’ really is.Belfast Telegraph front page, Sept 9, 1969
Get real, Comrades, Catholic Derry was no hotbed of either revolutionary fervour or even of pacifist Civil Rights theory – it was waiting for the arrival of the IRA’s gunmen and bombers, a gang they would clasp to their hearts.
Who Remembers Klaus Kutowski and Bernard Mouillot?
During the Battle of Bogside amid fears of foreign Communist infiltration and agitation, two teenage students – one French and one German – were arrested on charges of riotous behaviour and throwing petrol bombs.
They were quickly sentenced to 6 months imprisonment in Belfast, and their appeals were heard in September of 1969.
Kutowski fled the country before his appeal was heard – he had gotten bail.
Bernard Mouillot – who had not been bailed – had been seen around the front lines of the riots for some time before his arrest. Although younger than him, I had met him and had a coffee with him and another French student friend of his.
Mouillot served his 6 months in Crumlin Road gaol and was then deported.
Je T’aime – Moi Non Plus
One wonders now why women wept in the courtroom – was there French Kissing also??
Both Kutowski and Mouillot had given credence to the widespread belief at the time that foreign infiltrators [like Danny the Red] were fomenting rioting and disorder.
Danny the Reds German/French dual nationality was perfectly embodied in Kutowski and Mouillot.
What Happened Danny The Red?
Danny the Red went on to have a popular radical political career in Europe, later being elected to the European Parliament for the French Greens.
His star dimmed only a little when an old article [and also a book] resurfaced that he had penned in 1976 in praise of anti-repressive paedophilia.
Danny – while working in a kindergarten in Frankfurt, Germany – had encouraged children to “experiment” with their prepubescent sexuality with his aid, claiming this this revolutionary behaviour did not harm them.
The children were between 2 and 5 years of age.
Cohn-Bendit claimed he was “fairly defenceless” when these children ‘made passes’ at him.
The Guardian reported it in detail here.
Danny the Red survived the paedophilia admissions – later amended to “fantasy only” – because his behaviour was not guided by lust, but by a higher form of revolutionary fervour bent on doing away with convervative repressive norms.
And there you have it – from Danny the Red to The Battle of Bogside and beyond.
But what happened to The Revolution in Derry, Londonderry, Belfast, Dublin and in all of Ireland North and South?
I wrote a small essay on the 1968 unrest in France, emphasising the boredom and decadent element that was undoubtedly a part of it: here’s an excerpt:
“In Europe something similar was happening. A journalist Guy Sorman looking back to when he was a student at the time of the 1968 riots described the prevalent feeling : ‘The ennui was oppressive. The spirit of the times had been grasped with prophetic insight by an editorialist from Le Monde, which was then our Bible. The title was: “France is bored” ‘. For the young students De Gaulle ‘ had established a sense of comfort based on economic prosperity, peaceful borders, and a conformist sensibility.’ In contrast to this comfort and conformity the French students were excited by the protests from elsewhere such as civil rights in the US, protests against the Vietnam war and the attraction of communism in China.
Peter Hitchens recalls his youth in England at the time of 1968 riots in France. He felt seduced by the music, the psychedelic colours, the revolt against the greyness and restraint of English life but notes ‘And we were so safe. These who we blamed for repressing us had brought us up in a world so secure and insulated from sad and violent events, that it never occurred to us that our behaviour would have any worse consequences than a mild bruise, or a headache, or some brief tears, or the occasional broken window.’
Indeed one of the main catalysts of the 1968 student riots in Paris arose from Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a left wing student activist, heckling a Gaullist Minister for Youth because he, Cohn-Bendit, was against sex segregation in the dormitories of the Nanterrre campus in Paris and he wished for easier access. This type of demand seems more the action of an entitled individual rather than a man protesting some serious civil rights issues. Interestingly, Cohn-Bendit would later be credibly accused of defending paedophilia in some of his writings in the 1970s and 1980s.
Post World War 2 it seems that comfort and security were not enough to placate the children of the baby boom era as they grew up. They had almost all their material needs catered for but still felt restless and bored. They were looking for something else, something more to assuage the boredom, and seemed to gravitate towards a sort of utopia where there was no restraint placed upon their pursuit of pleasure and freedom……..