Achtung Berlin 2018 – “Merkel Must Go”

     |    Monday April 23rd, 2018

Sabine Michel’s documentary “Merkel Must Go” was subject to controversy after its premiere. The director deliberately does not take a position on what was shown and subsequently felt compelled to refer in a statement to the personal responsibility of the audience in the evaluation. Andrew Horn, filmmaker and critic, watched “Merkel Must Go” at this year’s Achtung Berlin Festival and presented his view of the film.

The title of Sabine Michel’s documentary, “Montags in Dresden” – literally ‘Mondays In Dresden’ – has an English title of “Merkel Must Go”. Being a movie about a right wing movement, I imagine it was thought this title would say more to a non-German audience. To Germans, however, the actual title carries a certain amount of irony. For those who might not know, in 1989 the people of Leipzig in East Germany began a series of demonstrations that took place every Monday that became known as the Monday Demonstrations (Montagsdemonstrationen). Protesters were demanding the right to travel and the right to elect a democratic government. Chanting “wir sind das Volk!” (we are the people!) the protests spread to other cities, and the movement became instrumental in the fall of the East German state.

Today, the former East German city of Dresden, has its own Monday demonstrations. They even share the rallying cry “wir sind das Volk!”, but the object couldn’t be more different. The demonstrations in Dresden are part of a movement called Pegida, which stands for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West. Pegida believes that Germany is being increasingly Islamicised and aims to oppose Islamic extremism. And while they’re at it, they are also opposed to outsiders in general. “Multiculturalism is tearing our country apart,” says one person interviewed in the movie. “Democracy means getting those people out.”

When Michel, who comes from Dresden, returned to her hometown, she was troubled by what she saw going on and decided to spend a year documenting it for this film. Beginning with one of the Monday rallies we find the party line creepily similar to a Trump rally. They talk about distrust of “outsiders”, distrust of government, distrust of the media – this last peppered with chants of “Lügen Presse” (though these people actually know what that means). And in this context, the tone of the crowd calling out, “wir sind das Volk!” sounds more like 1933 than 1989.

But rather than passing judgement, Michel decided – like Pauline in “Egal gibt es nicht” – to observe and listen, to try and understand what was going on and maybe even why. In so doing, the movie follows three members of the movement and let’s them tell their own stories. We have René, an active proselytizer for the cause, who tells us he started out as a genuine Merkel supporter but turned against her when she let in the refugees; Daniel who combines his conservatism with Catholic fundamentalism and says he fears outsiders who come and bring their god with them; and Sabine, a struggling single mother and quasi survivalist who insists that race riots are breaking out in Europe that are being supressed by the media.

René assures us that “we’re not Nazis”, and Daniel adds, “people who call us right wing, don’t know what that means.” To us it sounds like denial but if we can’t sympathize with their beliefs, we do gain some understanding of where they come from and how they might find solace in such a movement. Significantly, Michel said in the Q&A after the screening that when she showed them the film, they felt they were fairly portrayed.

The idea of channeling bitterness and social frustration into fascism is hardly a new concept, but it can happen that even a totally crazy solution can illuminate the way to a better understanding of the problem(s), if you’re willing to look for it – and this movie might be one small step in that process. While it might not have any more chance of effecting major change than Pauline and her friends did, even if it’s just another drop in the bucket, you get enough drops and that’s how the bucket gets filled.