Petra Kelly died in 1992. A new documentary shows her importance for the Greens and the peace movement. With restrictions.
When she died, her star had already burned out. Time had passed by Petra Kelly, the woman to whom the Greens owe so much, but whom they no longer wanted to have anything to do with. Her violent end 30 years ago shockingly brought the extraordinary political activist back into the headlines from which she had long since disappeared. Now Sky is dedicated to her life and death in a three-part documentary.
Petra Kelly would have been 75 in November. Remembering those who are now largely forgotten is meritorious. Their importance for the founding of the Greensthat they did not experience themselves from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s can hardly be grasped today. Shaped by the civil rights movement in the USA, she was the world-famous face of the anti-nuclear and peace movement in the old Federal Republic and the resulting “anti-party party”, as Kelly defined the Greens.
She describes her former comrade-in-arms Antje Vollmer as a “pop icon, but imbued with politics”. “Without Petra Kelly, the Greens would never have got over the five percent hurdle.” Entering the Bundestag in 1983 with 5.6 percent was the absolute highlight of her political career. After that it went downhill.
“Political activism is incredibly exhausting and can also be grueling,” says Carla Reemtsma from Fridays for Future in the documentary on Kelly. Because as an activist you are in a role that is not intended. “There’s actually no place for them, and you have to fight over and over again to be heard,” says Reemtsma. What impresses her most about Kelly is “the determination to say, I’m not giving up here”.
The film snippets from her speech at the great peace demonstration in October 1981 in Bonn’s Hofgarten give an impression of the incredible power and energy with which the petite Kelly was able to speak in front of hundreds of thousands of people. But in the Bundestag she seemed lost. “Like a lost little bird,” puts it Marieluise Beck, who formed the first parliamentary group leader of the Greens with her and Otto Schily.
Driven by a resolve to save the world, Kelly lived a life in the fast lane, with no regard for herself or others
With her idea of politics, Kelly, who did not belong to any party tendencies, was increasingly sidelined. This was not only due to the brutal manners that prevailed at the time in the Greens faction, compared to which the current disputes in the Left Party seem like a spa stay. With her rigorous morals and her exuberant demands – her travel and postage costs blew any budget – Kelly eventually became just annoying. In 1990 she left Parliament as a backbencher.
Driven by a passion to save the world, Kelly lived life in the fast lane, with no regard for herself or others. She didn’t want to admit that at some point she would hit a dead end at top speed. “Petra was always rushed,” Beck recalls. “A person can’t endure that well.”
The attempt at a comeback ended in disaster: At the federal delegates’ conference of the Greens in Neumünster in 1991, Kelly failed with her candidacy as federal spokeswoman, as the chairmen were still called at the time. She received just 32 out of 650 valid votes.
The Greens couldn’t do anything with Kelly anymore. “She wasn’t treated well, really not, not by her opponents anyway, but unfortunately not by the Greens either,” says singer-songwriter Konstantin Wecker, who was friendly with Kelly and played at her funeral service.
The range of interlocutors, whose generally well-chosen quotes the author Anna Grün has combined with historical recordings and game scenes, is one of the strengths of the documentary. Not only former companions have their say, but also political opponents such as Theo Waigel, who expresses himself extremely appreciatively about Kelly.
And who speaks a truth that today’s Greens don’t necessarily like to hear: “I don’t think she would have been willing to say that we also have to help someone with weapons,” said the former CSU leader and Federal Minister of Finance. “She was an unconditional pacifist, without compromises.”
The statements of contemporary witnesses are supplemented by those of today’s political protagonists such as the climate activist Reemtsma and the Schleswig-Holstein Green Minister Aminata Touré, both of whom were born after Kelly’s death, but are extremely reflective about Kelly’s life and work. So it could have been an excellent documentary.
The three-part series is praised by Sky as a “unique combination of contemporary history, political drama and true crime”. In concrete terms, this means unnecessary tabloidization: A lot of time is wasted pursuing nonsensical speculations about who might have killed Kelly in 1992: was it burglars, a right-wing political sect, remnants of the Stasi or even the Chinese secret service?
One conspiracy theory after the other is inflated in the second part of the documentary, only to finally let the air out again in the third part and come to the same conclusion that the investigating authorities soon found out of the question: Kelly was killed by her partner Gert Killed Bastian, who then took his own life.
The West German peace movement’s “Krefeld Appeal” brought Kelly together with Bastian, who was 24 years his senior and married, in November 1980, both politically and personally. In 1983 they entered the Bundestag together for the Greens. The reconstruction of the toxic connection between the pacifist and the war-experienced general, who had resigned from the Bundeswehr in protest against the double-track NATO decision, makes the documentary worth seeing again. Bastian’s two children make a decisive contribution to this: Till and Eva Bastian describe very calmly the complexity of the increasingly problematic relationship, which finally ended in disaster.
Probably on the night of October 1, 1992, Gert Bastian first shot the sleeping Petra Kelly with his pistol and then himself. It will never be possible to explain what made him do it. Antje Vollmer speaks of a “short circuit from no longer being able, no longer knowing”. Quite possible.
But even the exact time of death can no longer be determined. Because their bodies were not found until more than two weeks later. With the deaths of Kelly and Bastian, a utopia “destroyed itself,” says Vollmer. “It was like murder and suicide of the peace movement rolled into one.”
“Petra Kelly – The Mysterious Death of a Peace Icon” from Saturday 1 October on WOW and Sky Crime