Bettina Rohl’s “The RAF (Red Army Fraction) Loves You – The German Federal Republic in the Intoxication of 68 – A Family at the Centre of the Movement” is several books for the price of one.
Rohl’s mother, Ulrike Meinhof, was one of the leaders of the early 1970s urban-terrorist RAF, otherwise known as the Baader-Meinhof Group (which Rohl insists on calling the Baader-Meinhof Gang, to underline what she sees as its essentially apolitical and criminal character).
One of the books within the book provides an insight into the relationship between Rohl and her mother. Clearly, there was no love lost between them. Only rarely throughout the book’s 600 pages does Rohl refer to “my mother”. Otherwise, it is just plain Meinhof.
The book’s title (“The RAF Loves You”) is a quote from a letter sent to Rohl by Meinhof after her imprisonment. Rohl was distinctly unimpressed. She was too busy looking forward to Christmas, which, with her mother safely behind bars, she was now allowed to celebrate.
“Was Meinhof a Lying Piece of Shit?” asks the title of one of the book’s chapters. Rohl needs only three pages to answer in the affirmative.
Not for Rohl the portrayal of Meinhof as a victim of manipulation by other RAF members. For Rohl, Meinhof opted for terrorism as a form of escapism. Although portrayed by her admirers as “the Mother Theresa of Terrorism”, she was really “the original desperate housewife”.
Meinhof wanted Bettina (and her twin sister) to have a proper revolutionary upbringing. This culminated in Meinhof’s decision, after she had gone underground, to send her daughters to be brought up in a Jordanian camp for orphaned Palestinian refugees.
This proved too much for some of Meinhof’s allies. They helped the children’s father bring them back from Sicily, where they had been en route to Jordan.
But Rohl’s father – owner, publisher and editor of the magazine Konkret, a mixture of left politics and soft porn, heavily subsidised in its earlier years by the East German government – does not come out of the book much better.
As Meinhof became an international media sensation, Rohl’s father “jumped on the Meinhof train” and “began to travel on a Meinhof ticket.” Who better to conjure up “fairy tales” about the too-sensitive-for-this-cruel-world Ulrike Meinhof than her former husband?
Adding family-life touches to the portrayal of Meinhof as “an immaculate Virgin Mary figure”, he ended up as a character from the medieval epic Die Nibelungen: wielding “the sword of justice” in a vain attempt to free “the prisoner Meinhof” from the RAF’s “evil influences”.
The second book within the book is Rohl’s sweeping dismissal of the West German Extra-Parliamentary Opposition (APO) of the late 1960s, with many of whose leading figures she had a childhood acquaintance.
The APO had nothing to rebel against. West Germany was “the best republic which had ever existed on German soil.” It was a country in which “labour was worth more than capital”. The major problem in the late 1960s was that “there was no problem”.
The APO was “intellectually and emotionally beyond complete madness.” Led by guru-in-chief Rudi Dutschke (“a student who had no time to study but who dreamed of world revolution instead”), it combined an “ideological Nirvana” with fashion-accoutrement street protests.
Book number three is Rohl’s settling of accounts: Anyone who has pandered or contributed to the beatification of Saint Ulrike of the Kalashnikov over the past 50 years is savaged in a staccato of denunciation
The writer Heinrich Boll, the singer Giovanna Marini, the dramatist Johan Kresnik, the poet Erich Fried, the former German President Johannes Rau, the former Minister of the Interior Otto Schily, the Meinhof biographer Alois Prinz, the historian Gerd Koenen, the painter Gerhard Richter, etc., etc., etc.
And Alfred Klaus as well – the police chief who headed the “Special Terrorism Commission” set up to defeat the RAF. According to Rohl, he spent too much time on “kitchen psychology” and ended up providing a left-liberal cover for bank robberies, bombings and murders.
Rohl’s settling of accounts is only one facet of her broader political analysis of the past 50 years of German history. According to Rohl, the APO won: “The state lost. Since then the state has been an object of suspicion, and that is already defeat.”
The mad Maoists who got high on death and destruction (Rohl: “The revolution is written in blood.”) became doyens of academia, the media and politics. They now hegemonise German politics and society, “stifling the western idea of freedom of the individual”.
This delirium reaches a climax in Rohl’s claim that German Chancellor Angela Merkel “agitates on the 68 wavelength” and is now “the head of the 68 snake”. In (supposedly) anti-fascist politics, “Meinhof was the great grandmother, but Merkel is today’s queen of anti-fa.”
“The RAF Loves You” is one of a number of books published in Germany this year which ‘commemorate’ 1968. It contains some previously unpublished materials and personal recollections. But that does not compensate for its wildly right-wing political slant.