Anna Karina in Pierre le Fou


Journalist Ulrike Meinhof: From Theory to Practice

Veteran Swedish journalist Steve Sem-Sandberg takes issue with Uli Edel's film The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany 2008)
based on Stefan Aust's novel. He believes there is insufficient background provided for how Ulrike Meinhof turned from political analysis to political activism and violence.
Sem-Sandberg's study of Meinhof - Theres (1996) discusses in depth how Ulrike Meinhof was working on a screenplay about young women in the
Eichenhof correctional institution called Bambule, a film that was silenced when Meinhof became identified as a member of the 1970's terrorist group RAF - Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction). Bambule is briefly mentioned in Edel's film. Sem-Sandberg argues that for Meinhof this institution where women were repressed and silenced at an early age was a microcosm of the new Germany, a politically repressive machinery built out of the wreckage of Nazi Germany, transformed into a modern police state which violated civil liberties. Meinhof not only had an intellectual understanding of the fascist nature of Germany, claims Sem-Sandberg, she had witnessed it first hand at Eichenhof and in the gender hierachy of society. Bambule allowed her to engage in political action and stop writing for the cultural political journal konkret where her estranged husband Klaus Rainer Röhl served as editor. It is not easy to understand how Ulrike Meinhof became one of the most wanted criminals in modern German history but Sem-Sandberg claims its out there waiting to be re-discovered.

The Baader Meinhof Complex suggests the genesis of Meinhof's activism came from the public attention she garnished covering the pompous state visit of the Shah of Iran and his wife on June 2 1967, representing a country of vast illiteracy and poverty (the film's introduction). Though Iran was far away from Eichenhof, she witnessed the protests of young Germans against this visit who were beaten and shot. Here it is implied that Meinhof is only a step away from acting on her ideals.
Two years later Meinhof is interviewed (above), a single mother of two young girls. She discusses oppression in the home where women are caregivers who serve their husbands and children. She is aware that a major source of conflict for women is how to combine their political life with a personal life. She also stressed how important it was to maintain a power balance at home - something she had a hard time experiencing in her marriage
. On a small scale beginning in the home, she provides an astute and insightful analysis on the politics of repression based on personal experience as a young woman.

In The Baader Meinhof Complex,
Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) has a privileged position as a journalist, a position that she uses to later help free Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) from prison in 1970. She has him transfered to a building with minimum security under the pretext of conducting an interview. The rescue plan includes having young women from Eichenhof gain access to the building and later let Gudrun Esslin (Johanna Wokalek) and Holger Meins (Stip Erceg) into the building. When the situation becomes violent and guards are shot, Ulrike Meinhof decides to escape through the window with the rest of the group - a pivotal move into a world of armed violence and political analysis and the beginning of the Baader Meinhof group. Sem-Sandberg claims that this event is shown without context and trivialized in Edel's film just as Bambule.

The violent story of the Baader Meinhof group weighs heavily in the film. Through a montage of historical footage and re-enacted events such as the shooting of civilians in Vietnam, Uli Edel shows the power imbalance and oppression in society that creates terrorism. Horst Herold (Bruno Ganz), the head of the Bundeskriminalamt (German bureau of investigation) tries to piece together why young people are becoming terrorists in Germany, naïvely intellectualizing the violence - a phenomena that Meinhof had spent years studying before becoming an activist. It is Herold who lights up like a Christmas tree when he connects the protests over US military imperialism in Vietnam, the generous supply o f US weapons to Israel, and the search for oil in the Middle East - to the bombings and gun power of the RAF. As military police he knows that terrorism is a reflection of power imbalance and his strategy is to make it larger and crank up the volume full blast to squash any resistance, thereby creating an über police state with tacit support of the German population. In response Ulrike Meinhof quotes Mao who states that a clear line of distinction is created when the enemy tries to squelch the truth by blacklisting the protest(ers). When she is incarcerated and isolated at Köln-Ossendorf she is aware of the effect this has on the psyche. When she later interacts with Gudrun Esslin at Stammheim to get their case prepared for trial they turn on each other. But although Esslin was considered the leader of the RAF it is actually Meinhof's analysis of repressive political systems that sets them apart from senseless young hooligans, and which motivates their cause and conviction. Esslin no longer can make sense of Meinhof's analyses that have served the RAP before their incarceration. She insists that RAF take full responsibility for their actions - and that a rescue mission be set into operation to get them out.

The Baader Meinhof Complex is Germany's contribution to the Best Foreign Language film category for this year's Academy Awards. It is a riveting chronicle of events from June 2 1976 to several bank robberies and bombings and the incarceration of several members of the RAF. Events leading up to the trial of astonishing legal impropriety and the presumed execution of Meinhof, Esslin and Baader reveals a bungling intelligence apparatus gone haywire that just wants to make it go away, anyway. There has been a distinct glamourization of violence and sexuality up until this point. The Baader Meinhof Complex is after all aimed at young people who weren't born at the time, and older people who were young at the time. At Stammheim it stops. Gone are the devil may care rides on the freeway at top speed, the spirit of collective action and the intoxicating suspense and high of several planned attacks that consume the film almost until the end. Yet the incarceration of the RAF leaders encouraged more young people to continue their cause. The execution of members of the Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972 is linked to the RAF, further evidence of the proverb that if you cut off the head of a dragon more will grow in its place. Bob Dylan's song at the end that "the answer is blowing in the wind" describes how little Germany understood its youth and their rebellion. The Baader Meinhof Complex articulates the mind and muscle behind political violence and it resonates deeply for those trying to make sense of terrorism today.


Lesbos Remains Lesbos

The transliteration of the name of the Greek island Lesbos (Λέσβος) in the northeastern Aegean is Lesvos. The classic Greek letter [β -beta] is pronounced [v-vita] in modern Greek. The inhabitants of Lesvos are Lesvians and it is not really accurate to refer to them as Lesbians because of a Beta/Vita confusion. To get around this some islanders call the island Mytilini, the name of the capital city, and are sensitive about being associated with Lesbians who are gay women. In fact Dimitris Lambrou, the Greek editor of the right wing journal Davlos brought the issue to court in Athens to forbid the use of the name Lesbian by gay women claiming that Lesvians have the exclusive right to it. The Athens court ruled against the measure on July 18th and fined Lambrou $366 dollars, a token sum considering the ridulous fuss. For it is not only the use of the word lesbian that Lambrou wants to limit to the residents of Lesbos but even who is or isn't a lesbian - such as the poet Sappho who was born on the island.

The island of Lesbos was named in antiquity after the Thessalian hero Lesbos, husband of Methymne, daughter of Makar. The name Lesbos is thought to come from the poet Sappho who was born on the island in 7 BC and who wrote romantic poetry to women. Some islanders strongly disagree that she was a lesbian and there are rumors that lesbians who visit the island to honor Sappho scare away tourists. But it seems to be the consensus of most islanders that tourism is on the increase because of international lesbians.

Don't these people have something better to do with their time? Whether Sappho was a Lesbian or just a Lesvian? Whether its Lesbos or Lesvos ? For example helping the wildlife (Lesbian spelled with a B) - or birdwatching on Lesvos spelled with a V when the birds first land after winter migration.

Note: I have regularly visited Lesb/vos for the past 12 years and have made films on the island which have been shown in Sweden, Greece and France.


"No Tears, No Applause, No Ontoward Outburst..."?

There was only one clear issue in the "debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin that both Democratic Republican VP candidates agreed on - according to moderator Gwen Ifil. But having done that, why did it prompt hearty laughter from the conservative Washington University student body in Missouri? Was it comic relief, or was it such a clear cut choice that it was non-polemical? The entire round of exchange took probably tops 3 minutes - and we're on to "foreign policy".

"IFILL: The next round of -- pardon me, the next round of questions starts with you, Sen. Biden. Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?

BIDEN: Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That's only fair.

It's what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do.

IFILL: Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?

PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead.

But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

But I will tell Americans straight up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means.

But I'm being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non- support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.

IFILL: Let's try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

The bottom line though is, and I'm glad to hear the governor, I take her at her word, obviously, that she think there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever, between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple. If that's the case, we really don't have a difference.

IFILL: Is that what you said?

PALIN: Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.

IFILL: Wonderful. You agree. On that note, let's move to foreign policy." (Laughter from audience).

Palin and Biden are consistent in one respect: "infantalizing" same sex partners via limited civil rights. The Alaska Governor is known for "Palinisms" (not unlike Bush Juniorisms) - circuitous often indirect and nonsensical mumbo jumbo. Let's look at it Sarah: Gwen's question to you was whether you supported gay marriage and "your answer is not the same as Joe's and it is that you do not". You explained that some of your "friends" would not be happy that you are "tolerant" of everyone's right to choose a partner. You admitted you have a "diverse" group of friends ( gay?). But that you are skeptical of same sex partners having hospital visitation and contractual rights. That in approving this you are concerned that we would be moving closer to the definition of marriage that is operationally "defined" as a union "between a man and a woman". BTW your colorful "folksy " superlatives: "bless their hearts, " the Feds" , "I betcha"," heck of a lot", and " darn" - and your Joe Six Pack and Hockey Mom analogies and beliefs on Russian foreign policy and climate change - will go down in history.

Joe, your "diplomatic " sanction of gay "civil rights" may appear more liberal. Maybe that is because you didn't have to imply "some of my best friends are gay" or "my other friends would not be happy about my position". But leaving the responsibility of same sex marriage up to "faiths" and "people who practice faiths" in a nation with a clear legislative separation of church and state is not far from cornball. Amen.


Tieing the Knot in San Francisco after 55 years, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

"On June 16, 2008 lesbian rights pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were married in the first same-sex marriage ceremony since the California Supreme Court ruled in May that it was unconstitutional for the state to deny the right to marry to gay or lesbian couples".

This video of the wedding by Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker Debra Chasnoff shows the ceremony officiating by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Phyllis Lyon died only months after the wedding.
“Registered partnership” - not marriage - has been legal in Sweden since 1995 and exists in several countries today. The clinical phrasing makes it easy to create and dissolve partnerships, like registering a business. The first partnerships were often created as expressions of political victory – a milestone for so-called “equal protection under the law”, but which does not come close to the meaning of honor and commitment in marriage. This was a hard earned victory in California shot down in 2004 and which still risks extinction on the ballot in November 2008. Massachusetts paved the way in the USA to make it happen. Hopefully one day it will become Federal law and we can sponsor our partners wherever they reside. There are seven “nations” in the world today that acknowledge marriage including Massachusetts and California. The right to marry should be a fundamental right and certainly is embodied in what is meant by “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Neither of the Presidential candidates sanction marriage. Nor did Hillary (or Bill) Clinton. Certainly Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon showed the world love and endurance for 55 years. And as more “nations” legalize marriage let these two women’s love be a shining beacon. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is one of the most courageous and forward thinking politicians we have today. The words he read for Del and Phyllis about marriage express that it is something that should be carefully considered. For sure this is what these two lesbian pioneers did and they waited over two generations for the right to legally marry.