Youth’s Video Takes Aim at Merkel’s Party in Run-Up to European Elections

Youth’s Video Takes Aim at Merkel’s Party in Run-Up to European Elections


BERLIN — For years, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has been fighting to expand the digital skills of the nation’s work force and to get more youths engaged in politics.

This past week, a young, blue-haired German YouTuber known as Rezo showed how unsettling the right combination of digital savvy and political engagement could be to the establishment.

In a slick 55-minute clip, complete with a list of 247 references and citations of scientific literature, he attacked Ms. Merkel’s governing Christian Democratic Union for a range of sins: growing social inequality, pollution, war and internet censorship. As of Saturday morning, the YouTube video had been viewed more than nine million times, making it Germany’s most popular nonmusical clip in six days.

The video has led to a storm of debate in a country that is just starting to come to terms with the outsize effect that independent journalists and activists on social media can have on the public discourse. The clip also became a public relations crisis for the governing conservatives just days before Germans headed to the polls on Sunday for the European Parliament elections.

“It’s upending the familiar order of knowledge: What are facts and what isn’t? What are the most important voices?” said Andreas Dörner, a professor of media studies at the Philipps-University Marburg.

“It’s both fascinating and scary,” Professor Dörner added.

The video is a master class in online civic engagement. Clad in an orange hoodie and gray baseball cap, the narrator, who says he is 26, unfurls his attack point by point, apparently while sitting in his workroom study with guitars and keyboards in the background. His real identity and hometown are unclear, but he says he is a YouTube music producer.

The video employs easy-to-watch cuts, sound effects and graphs and, in a style commensurate with German youth culture, uses much English slang.

“In this video, I’ll show how C.D.U. people lie, how they are lacking fundamental competencies for their jobs, how they make politics that runs counter to expert opinion, they apparently take part in various war crimes, how they use propaganda and lies against the younger generation, how because of their politics of the last decades the rich become richer and the poor and others increasingly lose,” he says at the start of the video. “And I’ll show that according to many thousands of German scientists, the C.D.U. is currently destroying our very lives and our future.”

As the number of views on the video rose, the reactions from politicians whose party was attacked changed from dismissive to angry.

On Thursday, Ms. Merkel’s party published an open letter addressing each of Rezo’s main lines of attack. It then announced that it had filmed its own video in response, using the youngest member of Parliament, Philipp Amthor, but decided against publishing it.

“This very public accounting puts the traditional parties on Defcon 3,” Professor Dörner said.

Instead, Paul Ziemiak, the head of the Young Union, the party’s youth wing, called out Rezo on Twitter for a one-on-one debate. “We take it very seriously, especially because so many young people are watching the video,” Mr. Ziemiak told German reporters.

Since then, other young politicians, including the Christian Democrats’ Jenna Behrends, who is involved in Berlin city politics, and Tiemo Wölken, a Social Democratic Party member of the European Parliament, have responded with their own videos. But none of the responses have garnered the interest that the initial video did.

The national fascination with the video comes from the recognition that the authority structures in the country are being upended in real time, Professor Dörner said in the interview.

German households pay a media fee of almost $20 a month directly to public broadcasters, whether they own a television or not. In return, the public broadcasters are trusted to be a bedrock of quality journalism and worthwhile entertainment. But Germans are increasingly getting their news and entertainment from nontraditional sources on the internet.

A recent analysis by the news organization BuzzFeed showed that of the 100 most-shared social media posts mentioning the European elections in German, 49 came from the populist Alternative for Germany and 13 others from the Freedom Party, Austria’s far-right party whose leader recently resigned as vice chancellor over a video that raised questions over ties to Russia.

Legacy news broadcasters accounted for seven of the 100 most shared. The Christian Democrats, who have run the country for 13 years and are poised to win the most seats in the European Parliament of any Germany party, did not even place.

While Rezo’s video, titled “The Destruction of the C.D.U.,” attacks the party directly, he doesn’t shy away from criticizing the Social Democrats, who have been in the governing coalition for nine of the past 13 years. And at one point he calls Alternative for Germany members Nazis.

Because the clip appeals to young people, who in the past have not voted, its effects have not been obvious in the newest opinion polls, where the Christian Union (made up of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratics and their Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union) still leads the German parties with roughly 27 percent of the vote.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a conservative-leaning news daily, published an op-ed article targeting Rezo under the headline “Every ‘like’ an indictment of shame.” Dozens of other articles have either criticized and praised the video blogger, and some have dissected his arguments one by one, the way American news media outlets fact-check claims made by presidential candidates.

In the ensuing storm, Rezo stayed quiet. Then, on Friday, he and 90 other YouTubers — many with significant followers in Germany — put out a video calling on viewers to go out and vote, but not for the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats.





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