Monday, 27 February 2012

The Baader Meinhof Complex

BFTF was utterly transfixed by a true-life film drama called "The Baader Meinhof Complex" that was aired on the always excellent BBC4 TV station a few days ago. The film, in German with subtitles, described the early years of the 1970s West-German left wing terrorist organisation The Red Army Faction (sometimes called the Baader Meinhof gang after its original leaders) and was based on the book of the same name by Stefan Aust.

Pulling no punches, the drama dramatically showed the brutality of the bank raids, bomb attacks, shootings and kidnappings that the organisation undertook against political and NATO targets.

What really struck BFTF was that the members of the RAF had been born before or during WW2 and had grown up in post-war austerity - a world of cars with running boards, valve technology television and propeller aircraft. But, by the 1970s, they were living in a world of Ford Granadas, transistors radios and jet aircraft. Truly, they were people who had witnessed profound changes in the world around them. And yet, they felt they were not seeing the same kind of changes in the political structure. The situation, and how it caused the formation of these far left groups has been commented on by Stefan Aust:

"World War II was only twenty years earlier. Those in charge of the police, the schools, the government — they were the same people who’d been in charge under Nazism. The chancellor, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, had been a Nazi. People started discussing this only in the 60's. We were the first generation since the war, and we were asking our parents questions. Due to the Nazi past, everything bad was compared to the Third Reich. If you heard about police brutality, that was said to be just like the SS. The moment you see your own country as the continuation of a fascist state, you give yourself permission to do almost anything against it. You see your action as the resistance that your parents did not put up."
No douts these fears would have been fed by the introduction of laws such as the 1972 "Radikalenerlass", which banned radicals or those with a 'questionable' political persuasion from public sector jobs.

One of the most surprising elements of the story is the level of support that the RAF had amongst the general population, as explained by Stefan again:
"A poll at the time showed that a quarter of West Germans under forty felt sympathy for the gang and one-tenth said they would hide a gang member from the police. Prominent intellectuals spoke up for the gang’s righteousness (as) Germany even into the 1970s was still a guilt-ridden society."

Another surprise was the level of co-operation between the German far left groups and organisations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). For example the group involved in the 1976 "Entebbe" airliner hijacking comprised two Palestinians from the PFLP and two Germans from the German Revolutionary Cells. In another example, the RAF co-operated with the the Palestinian terrorsts who hijacked Lufthansa Flight 181 in 1977, with the release of a number of RAF prisoners being one of the hijackers demands.

RAF "WANTED" poster from 1986

Incidentally, the RAF weren't the only left wing terror group operating in Germany at the time, for example, the Revolutionary Cells group committed some 186 attacks (including 40 in West Berlin)at around the same time.

And it wasn't just West Germany that was facing these challenges, in Italy the far-left group The Red Brigades were credited with 14,000 acts of violence in the first ten years of the group's existence and some 75 killings in total.

In France there was Action Direct, who carried out some fifty attacks, including a machine gun assault on the employers' union headquarters in 1979 as well as assassinations and attacks on government, commercial and military.

Meanwhile, the Greek authorities were facing the actions of the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, who assassinated 23 people in 103 attacks on U.S., British, Turkish and Greek targets.

And in Spain, GRAPO had, since their inception in 1975, assassinated 84 people, including police, military personnel, judges and civilians, either by means of bombings or shootings. Of course, Spain has also had to deal with ETA who, since 1968 have been held responsible for killing 829 individuals, injuring thousands and undertaking dozens of kidnappings.

And here in the UK, it was the Provisional IRA who were causing the casualties, including 1,800 deaths (1,100 of whom were members of the British security forces).

Looking back, BFTF is glad that the only thing it really had to worry about at the time was making sure that didn't scuff its school shoes too much!

Image Source : Wikipedia