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

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    Dr. Norbert Lammert

    Norbert Lammert (CDU) has been a member of the Bundestag since 1980. At the time of the debate, he was the cultural and media policy spokesman of the CDU/CSU. He has been the President (speaker) of the Bundestag since 2005.

Redner 1 | Dr. Norbert Lammert

Dr. Norbert Lammert (CDU/CSU):
Madam President. Dear colleagues. Today, the German Bundestag is about to have a debate that could probably never take place in any other legislature in the world.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU)

Neither the U.S. Congress nor the English House of Commons, let alone the French National Assembly, would even consider discussing what is up for a vote here today: the idea of contrasting the current dedication of the German Parliament Building, “To the German People” [“Dem Deutschen Volke”], with a political art installation dedicated “To the Population” [“Der Bevölkerung”]. The German Parliament building is dedicated to the German people and thus to the sovereign power that this Parliament represents and from which it derives its legitimacy. This dedication – installed on this building in 1916 after years of opposition by the Kaiser – does not require any justification. It is not outdated.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU and the Free Democratic Party [FDP]; objection from Rep. Monika Griefahn of the Social Democratic Party [SPD])

In the debate of recent weeks we have heard many high-minded arguments, which are hopelessly correct [sic]; namely, that one cannot decide on matters of art by majority rule, just as one cannot vote on matters of truth. That is certainly true. But they all miss the point. Whether or not this project by Hans Haacke is a significant artwork may be decided by others. It is, incidentally, highly controversial even among the experts. The Bundestag has to decide whether or not it wishes to commission this work for this building. Nothing more and nothing less.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU and the FDP)

It is absurd to question the right of the Bundestag to make this decision. Despite all the enthusiasm and outrage surrounding Haacke’s political art project, it is clear that as the client the Bundestag alone has the power to decide whether it wishes to realize this proposal or not. It cannot and should not shirk its responsibility.
The intention to challenge the recommendation of the Arts Committee of the Bundestag [is] different from the process of previous commissions – and I am very much in favor of this remaining the exception, don’t misunderstand me . . .
(Heckling from the SPD: “Oh, yeah?”)

Give me a chance to explain why. Perhaps you have not thought through how this project is different.
(Heckling from the SPD: “Oh, yes we have!”)

There are not only reasonable but, in my view, compelling grounds for why this decision should and must be made in the full House and not in any other body.
First, according to the artist’s description of his project, the installation can be realized only with the cooperation of the members of Parliament. 3 If the personal cooperation of 669 members of the Bundestag is an essential element of the project, then you have to ask whether they are prepared to cooperate.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU, FDP, and portions of the SPD and Alliance 90/Greens)

Second, in essence, Hans Haacke and the supporters of his proposal want to address the disparity between the historical dedication of the Reichstag building, originating in the difficult early years of German parliamentarism, and the self-image of today’s Parliament, emancipated from the yoke of authoritarianism. Such a discussion is certainly valid. But whether the proposed project is suitable for this discussion within and beyond the Parliament may and indeed must be debated.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU, FDP, and portions of the SPD and Alliance 90/Greens)

By the way, this debate is what Hans Haacke clearly wanted, so one can hardly object that there is now a debate, let alone that it takes place and is decided in this Parliament.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU, FDP, and portions of the SPD and Alliance 90/Greens)

The artificial – and I mean artificial in both the literal and figurative sense – confrontation of the terms the people and the population does not do justice to either the people or the population, and certainly not to a meaningful examination of this sensitive matter. The representatives of the people who fulfill their mandate in this historically significant parliament building have long understood themselves – even without this inducement – as the representatives of all human beings [Menschen]5 in this country . . .
(Applause from Antje Vollmer [Alliance 90/Greens])

. . . thanks to a Constitution in which “the German people” – I quote and I repeat, “the German people” – declares its support for “inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation for every human community, for peace and justice in the world.” We don’t need a tutorial from anybody.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU and FDP)

Whoever basically suspects the term people of being nationalistic or mythologizing, as Hans Haacke does, is either consciously or thoughtlessly refusing to acknowledge the sense of our Constitution and this elected representation of the people. In this context he cannot expect to accomplish anything enlightening or liberating, particularly not by an installation of German soil.
(Applause from Antje Vollmer [Alliance 90/Greens])

That the Bundestag should take upon itself this union of people and earth, soil and population is nothing short of perverse. I personally consider Hans Haacke’s proposed idea a political and artistic failure.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU and FDP)

The laboriousness with which he, according to his project description, intends to do justice to “the population,” or at least bring attention to it, The Bundestag, is monstrous and in my opinion a parody of the issue it wants to address. According to his project description, for the “transport of the earth” each and every Representative (I’m quoting from the project description) is provided with “two twenty-five-kilogram sacks labeled with their destination” …
(Laughter from portions of the CDU/CSU)

. . . during the delivery of which the Representatives, again I quote, “shall make a declaration about the site of origin of his or her earth.”
(Ulrich Heinrich (FDP): Now this is really weak!)

Lammert: Indeed, it is weak through and through, Mr. Heinrich. That’s why we need to know what we’re voting on here . . .
(Applause from the CDU/CSU and portions of the FDP)

. . . after which Haacke will surely find an equally compelling solution for removing the earth after departures of Representatives from the Bundestag.
(Amusement from the CDU/CSU; objection from the SPD)

A few days ago a letter to the editor suggested that the artist should install corresponding wood troughs in the voting districts, with the inscription “To the Representatives of the Population” in neon above them.
The transformation of conceptual art into a comical Bundesgartenschau is no great feat but rather a great folly that does not do justice to the seriousness this topic deserves and demands.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU and portions of the FDP)

The artist’s need to promote himself is legitimate; in this particular case it is apparently more pronounced than his interest in enlightenment. In this sense the proposal shows internal consistency in that it provides for plaques to be installed on all the floors of the Reichstag building, on which the names of the Representatives with their party affiliation and their districts or states are to be inscribed, along with the date on which the Representatives made their contribution of earth.
(Laughter from the CDU/CSU and portions of Alliance 90/Greens. Shout from the CDU/CSU: “Is he serious?”)

All this is from the project description.
Because in this day of new media an artwork is not complete without it, there will naturally also be an Internet component. There is provision for a video camera to be installed in the open-air courtyard that regularly observes the growth and completion of the artwork so that each day after twelve noon visitors can see the development of the project on a continually updated website. So much effort for such a simplistic thing!
(Applause from the CDU/CSU)

I personally find this particular expression silly and inappropriate, and I’ll take the same liberty in stating my opinion that, of course, I grant the artist in coming up with his idea.
(Applause from portions of the CDU/CSU)

He is at liberty to call the objections of his critics – and particularly those from the CDU/CSU – “rubbish,” as sources have reported. I will take the liberty to call the proposed idea an imposition and to refuse to collaborate. We are not debating the freedom of art here and hopefully not the freedom of the Bundestag to accept or reject this art proposal for its parliament building.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and FDP)

Those of you who know me are aware that for many years I have passionately argued for the self-evident fact that art must concern itself with politics and politics must be concerned with art.
(Wolfgang Thierse (SPD): But look out if it’s actually doing it!)

Lammert: I should point out, however, that I do not accept the prejudice that art can approach politics only through critical engagements and that politics should approach art, preferably, with reverent admiration.
(Amusement and applause from the CDU/CSU; applause from portions of the SPD, Alliance 90/Greens, and FDP)

Nothing is being censored here. But an aesthetic judgment must be admissible, especially on a project that, just from an aesthetic point of view, has found as much favor as disfavor even among the socalled experts. The objection that the plenary of the Bundestag should not decide about art in its own building betrays a fundamental mistrust of politics when it deals with art.
(Dirk Niebel (FDP): Outrageous! I wouldn’t hang a painting in my living room if I didn’t like it!)

Lammert: The German Bundestag does not deserve this kind of mistrust. I can’t think of another parliament in the world that has decorated its building, not with a painting gallery or busts and historical events, but deliberately with works of contemporary art. The German Bundestag did not choose some innocuous, unprovocative, and decorative artistic design but called on artists from Germany and abroad to critically examine the Parliament building and its history. Artists such as Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Günther Uecker, Christian Boltanski, Bernhard Heisig, Jenny Holzer, and, not least, Norman Foster have accepted this challenge in ways that are hardly uncontroversial but are definitely worth arguing over.
In recent years the German Bundestag has made two memorable decisions that firmly demonstrate its command of the situation even in matters of aesthetics: I am referring to the world-celebrated Wrapped Reichstag by Christo, which, after decades of false starts was finally made possible by a vote of the German Bundestag . . .
(Applause from Hanna Wolf [SPD] and Antje Vollmer)

. . . and the decision to erect a Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, which even beyond its political significance is to take a highly challenging aesthetic form in Peter Eisenman’s field of steles. It certainly cannot be accused of pandering to the much-maligned public taste. Incidentally, I personally fought for both of these controversial decisions . . .
(Wolfgang Thierse (SPD): You personally, yes!)

. . . so now quite naturally I am exercising my right to state my views on this matter just as emphatically.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU, FDP, and portions of Alliance 90/Greens)

It is not only politics that can be presumptuous about art and is not to be tolerated. There is sometimes also the presumption of declared and self-appointed art experts vis-à-vis the public. These, with the authoritarian manner of high priests, consider their artistic opinions to be the only ones that count.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU, FDP, and Antje Vollmer)

The decision now before the Bundestag – worthy of and certainly necessitating discussion – about an artistic project for its building: this is a case not just for the freedom of art but also for the sovereign judgment of the Parliament. It has to do not only with the occasionally belabored dignity of the Lower House but also, and even more importantly, with the dignity of the human beings we are supposed to represent in this House and that we should not pit against one another as “people” and “population.”
(Applause from the CDU/CSU, FDP, and portions of Alliance 90/Greens)

Today I received a letter from a teacher and historian I’ve never met that seems also to have been sent to the President [Speaker] of the Bundestag. He writes, “Our examination of Germany’s history cannot go so far that . . . German legislators make themselves a laughingstock in their own House.” We have reason to take this concern seriously, and we have the possibility of proving it unwarranted through our vote.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU, FDP, portions of Alliance 90/Greens, and Hanna Wolf Munich) SPD])