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

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    Dr. Rita Süssmuth

    Dr. Rita Süssmuth (CDU) was a member of the Bundestag from 1987 to 2002 and President (speaker) of the Bundestag from 1988 to1998. She was a member of the Kunstbeirat (Arts Committee) when it deliberated the proposal of DER BEVÖLKERUNG

Redner 8 | Dr. Rita Süssmuth

Rita Süssmuth (CDU/CSU):
Madam President. Ladies and gentlemen. Dear colleagues. Today we will decide on the art project by Hans Haacke in the Bundestag. I do not have a problem with this decision being made by the Bundestag; for whenever a group of Representatives wishes it, so it shall be. We in the Arts Committee do not consider ourselves as having a greater authority than the German Bundestag. For me, this is not at issue.
(Applause from portions of the CDU/CSU, SPD, and Alliance 90/Greens)

Whenever it is stated today that the freedom of art is not in dispute, I am in agreement. But we are talking about a highly political decision that will be made here today.
(Applause from portions of the PDS)

There are reasons why Haacke’s project is so controversial. The earth it involves is of relatively minor importance. At the core is the question of whether we are prepared to let the motto “To the German People” be followed by the amendment “To the Population.”
(Applause from the PDS and portions of the SPD, Alliance 90/Greens, and FDP)

Several of you have said that this is obvious due to Article 3 of the Constitution. I ask, if it so obvious, why then all this uproar?
(Applause from the SPD and portions of Alliance 90/Greens, FDP, and PDS)

Apparently it isn’t obvious at all. The sheer number of the letters we’ve received shows how great a political issue it is. Believe me, my dear colleagues, each and every individual has the right to decide whether he or she wants to participate or not. But in hundreds of letters – with a few exceptions – there is but one concern; namely, that what we would be permitting here today would open its supporters to charges of being criminals, murderers, and traitors to the Fatherland.
(Applause from portions of the SPD)

Now one might say that this minority does not concern us. But this minority is raising its voice and holds those now in power responsible for the fact that they have to pay for billions in social services for foreigners and asylum seekers who don’t belong here. I have to call a spade a spade, because this is the basic tenor of not just a few letters but hundreds of them.
(Applause from the SPD, Alliance 90/Greens, and PDS)

They also ask whether those who supported it were mentally ill or had lost their minds. They ask, “Should yellow people, blacks, Turks, and Gypsies also be included?” That would be a betrayal of the Fatherland. We have to keep this in the back of our minds.
(Applause from the SPD, Alliance 90/Greens, and portions of the FDP and PDS)

In case this project is rejected, it would be a good idea to deposit all the letters that many of us have received in the empty place in the northern courtyard as documentation.
(Applause from the SPD, Alliance 90/Greens, and PDS)

We can argue over grass, stones, and earth. Nor do I deny anyone the right to declare that as a material, earth is symbolically burdened. All of you who normally speak so much and with such passion about the earth of the homeland are answered quite simply by Haacke . . .
(Applause from Ulrich Heinrich, the SPD, and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and PDS)

. . . when he says that he is interested in a piece of democratic territory. Not everyone has to appreciate this. I find it is perhaps the weakest part of his project.
(Wilhelm Schmidt (SPD): True!)

I would like to say to those of you who clamor so much about “blood and soil”: I have the greatest respect for the earth of the homeland.
(Shouts from the CDU/CSU)

Yes, I do. In my own family there are people who were expelled, who traveled for thousands of miles to obtain a piece of earth from their homeland, without it being burdened with revenge or other negative resentments.
(Applause from portions of the SPD, Alliance 90/Greens, and PDS)

I would like to add, other peoples [Völker] bring stones to certain sites. Today, we all pretend to have agreed wholeheartedly with Christo back then.
(Applause from Ulrich Heinrich, the SPD, and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and PDS)

I remember very well thinking the night before that decision that we would never get a majority for it in the Bundestag. It turned out differently.
We talk a lot about our dignity and self-respect. In this context I’d like to offer this for your consideration: if we discretely deposit a bit of earth in the trough, that would compromise our dignity much less than many a debate that has occurred in the Bundestag. Thank you.
(Applause from Ulrich Heinrich, the SPD, and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and PDS)