Speech by Dr. Heinrich Fink of the debate on Hans Haacke’s work „Der Bevölkerung“.

  • null

    Dr. Heinrich Fink

    Heinrich Fink (PDS) was a member of the German Bundestag from 1998 to 2001. He was a member of the Kunstbeirat (Arts Committee) when it deliberated the proposal of DER BEVÖLKERUNG

Redner 6 | Dr. Heinrich Fink

Heinrich Fink (SPD):
Dear President. Honored colleagues. When Peter Behrens, [for] the Jewish iron foundry in Berlin, designed the pediment inscription for the German Reichstag, the German Kaiser still considered the German people entirely as his subjects, whom he allowed to argue in democratic assemblies in parliament. For many, love of the Fatherland and loyalty to the Kaiser were considered indispensable values.
The two artisans who cast the letters “Dem Deutschen Volke” in metal could still count themselves German and feel German. But after 1935 they were reclassified as non-Germans by the new Aryan laws. In the name of the German people, after its racial cleansing, one of the owners of the foundry was executed in Plötzensee and the other was murdered in Theresienstadt.
In 1935, in exile, Bertolt Brecht wrote in an essay on the five difficulties in writing the truth: “In our day, whoever says population instead of people is at least refusing to support a pack of lies.” This statement, according to Hans Haacke, was a key inspiration.
(Applause from portions of the PDS and SPD)

The motion to reverse the decision of the Arts Committee, the committee that is charged to make decisions on art in the Reichstag in consultation with art experts, is, in my view, not aimed at the artistic concept of Hans Haacke but rather at the words to the population. They are the real target of all the protest. I find this confirmed in the many letters from citizens incidentally (this is interesting for me too), so far only from the old Federal states who have aired their outrage in terms from our darkest [literally “brownest,” i.e., Nazi] past.
“To the population” is not a rededication of this history-laden building but rather articulates, for the German people, through art, eighty-two years of struggle for democratic change . . .
(Applause from portions of the PDS, SPD, and Alliance 90/Greens)

. . . and thus will get politicians, guests, and visitors to join the discussion, hopefully for good. That is why I find this artwork necessary, and that is why I like it.
(Applause from the PDS, SPD, and Franziska Eichstädt-Bohlig [Alliance 90/Greens])

Hans Haacke has been living in the U.S.A. since the sixties and for decades now has been expressing himself, as a critical democrat, in ever new and surprising forms, about democracy and the relevant, crucial questions of life today. Wasn’t Haacke invited to design a work for the courtyard precisely because we could expect him to introduce something unusual into our stern, Prussian setting?
(Applause from the PDS, SPD, and Ulrich Heinrich)

My dear colleagues, everyone who heard the name Haacke mentioned in connection with art in the Reichstag surely knew that it would be a provocation, and this debate proves it.
I don’t understand why we should vote to reject this truly democratic challenge, from a distinguished artist, in our Bundestag, which has a lot of experience in political controversies. Everything that we decide in the Bundestag and write into law is binding for everyone who lives in Germany and not just for Germans. “For everyone” means for the population.
(Applause from the PDS and SPD)

I find it encouraging that Haacke trusts the population to understand this project.
Museum directors, art educators, the president of the Federal Association of Architects [Bundesarchitektenkammer], art dealers, directors of art academies, arts associations [Kunstvereine], and individual artists have signed an open letter to the Bundestag asking that we see Haacke’s proposal as a complement to, and not some kind of rejection of, the dedication on our pediment.
(Applause from the PDS and SPD)

They see a productive contradiction that helps keep tradition on its toes and keeps it from hardening into mere convention. In Haacke’s piece I see an important statement in an interesting form, a monumental epigram, not an attack on the Constitution but rather a stroke of luck for democracy . . .
(Applause from the PDS and SPD)

. . . so that the discussion of the role of the German people in the population, which might otherwise continue to be repressed, can get underway.
My colleagues, I ask you not to vote for the motion [to reject the work] but rather to let stand the decision of the Arts Committee and its experts so that we don’t fall under the suspicion that in the future art will be censored by Parliament.
(Dr. Dietmar Kansy (CDU/CSU): That is outrageous!)

I ask that you spare us this disgrace.
(Applause from the PDS, SPD, and portions of Alliance 90/Greens)