POPULISM: Democracy Ltd is a wake-up call for the people of Europe at a time when the dark forces of populism are on the rise.
Nick Holdsworth
Journalist, writer, author, filmmaker and film and TV industry expert – Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
Published date: March 24, 2019
Country: Austria/France/UK, 2019. 87min

In his timely and taut examination of what is driving Europe’s headlong rush into the facile charms of right-wing ‘populist’ parties, Austrian filmmaker Robert Schabus provides an insight into the human stories behind today’s political and social upheavals.

In 2016 in his debut documentary feature, Bauer Unser (Our Farmer, 2016) Schabus examined the «faster, cheaper, more» mantra behind Austria’s industrialised food production system and the fraught connections between economic policy, industry and society.

With Democracy Ltd he widens the focus and roams across Europe’s deeply unsettled dividing lines, spending time with striking French workers in Amiens, where thousands of low-skilled factory jobs have disappeared in recent years. He’s also talking to the Polish people who are now doing those jobs for a fraction of a French wage after the multinationals shifted production east; and digging into the sense of abandonment in England’s depressed Northeast that was behind the shock ‘Leave’ result in the UK’s EU referendum in 2016.

«I have two kids, one is 18, the other 12. For me to find another job at 50, it is not easy.»

It’s not only about the gilets jaune – with which Schabus opens the film –  the ‘yellow jackets’ of the thousands of anti-austerity protestors who last autumn erupted onto the streets of Paris.

It is also about the ordinary Austrian grandmother, living in an Art Deco-inspired pre-war block of flats, who feels overwhelmed in a society where change has happened to her or the working class Greeks, whose emphatic Oxi! – ‘No’ – to humiliating and punishing economic austerity inflicted by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels when Grexit was threatened, long before Brexit hove onto the horizon.

He weaves these apparently disparate strands together at a time when the EU falters on the brink of disaster, with plummeting faith in political parties and Europe’s centre faltering as Angela Merkel, the German chancellor (a byword for stability) is due to step down in 2021.

Schabus also fields a handful of the ‘experts’ so blithely dismissed by the likes of Britain’s Brexiteers, and one ‘faceless’ EU bureaucrat: Günter Verheugen, the bloc’s commissioner for Enlargement and, later, Enterprise and Industry, between 1999-2010.

The commentators are intelligent and reasoned; Verheugen is a member of Germany’s SPD Social Democratic party, a key plank in Germany’s …

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