The Berlin International Film Festival has confirmed it has invited two elected members of the German far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to the opening ceremony of the 74th Berlinale but says it continues to “stand for basic democratic values and against right-wing extremism.”
AfD politicians, Kristin Brinker and Ronald Gläser, both members of the Berlin State Parliament, were invited to the Berlinale opening ceremony on Feb. 15. The invitations have sparked outrage, with a group of film professionals from Berlin and abroad signing an open letter to the festival protesting the decision.
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In a statement sent to The Hollywood Reporter, the Berlinale acknowledged that “a number of members and representatives of the AfD hold positions that are deeply anti-democratic and contradict the values of the Berlinale and the values of our employees” but noted that the festival’s protocol is to invite democratically elected politicians. All the invited AfD members were elected to either the Bundestag or Berlin House of Representatives in the last elections. “Accordingly, they are also represented in political cultural committees and other bodies. That is a fact, and we have to accept it as such,” the festival said.
The Berlinale is largely state-funded, with the federal government providing around $14 million to the festival annually.
The open letter, posted Friday night, was signed by more than 200 film professionals, most of them from within the German film industry but also including programmers, producers, directors and below-the-line workers from the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere in Europe. The letter says the invitation to AfD politicians is “incompatible” with the Berlinale’s statement commitment “to being a place of ’empathy, awareness and understanding,'” they write. “We don’t believe the opening ceremony can be considered a safe place for Jews, women, members of the BIPOC, LGBTI+, disabled, Roma and Sinti, or Jehovah’s Witness communities, who, among others, faced persecution and genocide at the hands of another far-right, national-conservative movement in Germany.”
The industry open letter calls for the Berlinale to “reconsider and rescind these offensive and insensitive invitations for the safety and well-being of all guests attending the festival.”
The Berlinale is not the only openly progressive European film festival challenged by the rise in far-right politics across the continent. The election of Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party to power in 2022 has meant prominent right-wingers have graced the Venice red carpet. One of the VIPs in the audience for the Venice world premiere of Matteo Garrone’s Io Capitano, an Oscar-nominated drama about the refugee crisis, was Matteo Salvini, a far-right politician who built his career on demonizing refugees and blocking NGOs from rescuing migrants drowning in the Mediterranean.
The AfD is not currently part of the government federally or in any of the German states, but the party has been gaining support and is currently polling second nationwide at around 20 percent of the vote. They are particularly strong in the eastern German states that surround Berlin, and there are fears they will sweep to power in a trio of regional elections this summer. The party’s platform has been called anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic and ethno-nationalist. Two of its regional associations have been classified by Germany’s Supreme Court as “clearly right-wing extremist.”
The AfD politician Gläser has frequently been called out for his extreme and provocative statements, including once comparing Winston Churchill to Adolf Hitler. There were calls for him to resign in 2019 after a German newspaper published a WhatsApp discussion in which Gläser appeared to approve of a suggestion made by another AfD member, that machine guns should be used against left-wing Antifa protesters.
Der Berliner #AfD-Politiker Ronald #Gläser findet es prima, dass ein Parteifreund mit einem Sturmgewehr als „Antifaneutralisator:-)“ posiert. „Haben will. Toll“, schreibt Gläser auf WhatsApp. Die ganze Geschichte von @Robert_Kiesel https://t.co/YMJ7hWIPlt via @Tagesspiegel pic.twitter.com/oYJrd7HDuX
— Matthias Meisner (@MatthiasMeisner) April 11, 2019
Over the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Germans have taken to the streets to protest the AfD and to have the party banned as anti-democratic. The demonstrations were sparked by a report from the investigative group Correctiv that revealed details of a meeting between senior AfD members and wealthy German corporate figures where they discussed a plot to deport asylum seekers and German citizens of foreign origin en masse once they came to power.
Since the report, German politicians have been more openly critical of the AfD, with some openly describing the party as “Nazis.”
Deadline first reported on the open letter to the Berlinale.
Read the Berlinale’s full statement below.
The Berlinale stands for basic democratic values and against right-wing extremism and supports all demonstrations and other initiatives against the undemocratic currents. We clearly reject right-wing extremist or right-wing populist thinking and are concerned to observe that anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim resentment, hate speech and other anti-democratic attitudes are on the rise in Germany. For weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in Germany to defend our democracy and our values. This sends a clear signal of how the majority in Germany thinks and opposes right-wing populism and anti-democracy.
A number of members and representatives of the AfD hold positions that are deeply anti-democratic and contradict the values of the Berlinale and the values of our employees. We are committed to opposing all forms of exclusion and discrimination and consistently stand up for the values of an open-minded and liberal democracy.
As for the invitations of AFD members to the opening of the Berlinale:
Members of the AfD were elected to the Bundestag and the Berlin House of Representatives in the last elections. Accordingly, they are also represented in political cultural committees and other bodies. That is a fact, and we have to accept it as such. Both the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Berlin Senate receive invitation quotas for the Berlinale, which are allocated to the democratically elected members of all parties in the Bundestag and House of Representatives. It was against this background that the AfD representatives were invited to the Berlinale.
People – including elected representatives – who act contrary to our fundamental values are not welcome at the Berlinale. We will express this clearly and emphatically in a personal letter to the AfD representatives as well as on other occasions.
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