Speech by Gert Weisskirchen of the debate on Hans Haacke’s work „Der Bevölkerung“.

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    Gert Weisskirchen

    Gert Weisskirchen (SPD) was a member of the Bundestag from 1976 to 2009. At the time of the debate, he was a member of the executive committee of the SPD faction and spokesman of its Foreign Policy Working Group. He was a member of the Kunstbeirat (Arts Committee) when it deliberated the proposal of DER BEVÖLKERUNG

Redner 2 | Gert Weisskirchen

Gert Weisskirchen (SPD):
Madam President. Dear colleagues. The dedications “To the German People” and “To the Population” are not being contrasted as opposites here. Rather, both terms are being placed side by side in order to generate a dialogue . . .
(Laughter from the CDU/CSU)

. . . on the question: What kind of society do we want for our future? That is what the artist wants to say to us.
(Applause from the SDP, the Democratic Socialist Party [PDS], and portions of Alliance 90/Greens)

What is the basis of democracy? Primarily, of course, it is based on the consent of the citizens; but above all, even before the people, its basis is that “The dignity of human beings [Menschen] is inviolable.” The Constitution therefore states: “All human beings are equal before the law.” And it states also that art is free.
Before any elections and ballots, democracy is based on acknowledging that some things cannot be voted on. Until recently we shared the conviction and had a consensus that one cannot vote on art.
(Applause from the SPD, PDS, and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and the CDU/CSU)

For this reason and for this reason only, the Bundestag created an Arts Committee. I predict: if a majority now votes against the decision of the Arts Committee, then the Arts Committee will not survive!
(Applause from portions of the SPD; shouts from the CDU/CSU and FDP: “Oh!”)

Then you will have to ask yourselves whether the Bundestag, i.e., the entire House, would be responsible for each and every decision on art. I think that would be a mistake. We need this Arts Commission.
(Applause from portions of the SPD and PDS)

Anyone who makes a decision can, of course, be mistaken. This also applies to the Bundestag. Something else is at stake here. It is not about whether majorities can be wrong but rather about the opportunity to have art experts and the Bundestag work together and whether this approach will survive. The most distinguished experts in Germany advised us. They unanimously suggested that we accept this artwork and give it a place here in the courtyard. We grappled with this issue and argued about it in long discussions – ask your colleagues who are members in the Arts Committee. Not that we were without doubts at first. However, we overcame them and decided for it with a clear majority.
What does this tell us? It tells us that art and democracy have a difficult relationship. The artist is autonomous. The artist’s work is allowed to be disturbing; in fact it has to disturb if it is to break out of well-worn patterns. The artist’s work must engender a new way of seeing. It doesn’t need to take any majority into consideration. It doesn’t need to be con- siderate of generally accepted ways of seeing. That’s our job. That is the difference. In the realm of issues to be voted on, democracy must not violate majority rule nor, for that matter, the protection of minorities.
Art, which, according to [Hans Georg] Gadamer, “is not a decorative addition to life, but rather reaches out from its very center,” is not merely pleasing. It must and should, according to Gadamer, have the effect of a provocation. I think we should accept this kind of provocation and make it possible.
(Applause from the SPD, portions of Alliance 90/Greens, and the PDS)

This debate, incidentally, shows that Hans Haacke has hit a nerve.
(Applause from portions of the SPD)

Indeed, he has hit on what matters. Many are concerned about self-image. Whose? The Bundestag’s? The German people’s? Isn’t our self-image, our self-confidence, strong enough to provide a place in the German Bundestag for critical art?
(Applause from the SPD, portions of Alliance 90/Greens, and the PDS)
(Norbert Lammert: But we have done so, many times!)

Weisskirchen: Otherwise, what sense of ourselves would we have?
I trust that the self-confidence of freely elected representatives will allow them to enter into a dialogue with the inscription on our pediment and the work by Hans Haacke. (Warm greetings to you, Hans Haacke, by the way.)

This is the self-image that freely elected representatives should have.
(Applause from the SPD and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and PDS)

Keep in mind that the Kaiser repeatedly rejected the quotation “To the German People” until, shortly before the end of the war, he finally had to concede that there might be some value to the German people. Only then, shortly before the end of World War I, was this inscription installed.
(Shouts from the FDP: “That’s right!”)

So you cannot claim that it was the people who demanded it.
(Dr. Antje Vollmer (Alliance 90/Greens): But the Social Democrats . . .)

Weisskirchen: Only at the end of World War I did the Kaiser feel that his people were worth recognition on our pediment.

Hans Haacke picks up this inscription. He juxtaposes it in his artwork with that quotation. This is no opposition. They belong together.
(Dr. Peter Ramsauer (CDU/CSU): He wants to correct it!)

Weisskirchen: He is complementing it, at ground level. Mr. Lammert, the container of earth will be thirty centimeters deep. Flowers will grow there. Frau Vollmer, please tell us, what is so kitschy about that?
(Applause from the SPD and portions of Alliance 90/Greens, the PDS, and Ulrich Heinrich [FDP])

Willy Brandt would have said, “Do you have it in a smaller size?”
This work asks us, “How broadly do we understand the definition of citizen?” I consider this a very exciting subject to discuss. Do we adopt the transatlantic “jus soli” or not?11 What kinds of rights and duties belong to those who live among us and who are not German nationals? Since the Amsterdam Treaty there is now European Union citizenship in addition to national citizenship. Do we want to keep denying that we live in a country with a growing number of people who are not German? We should want to live in harmony with them. Precisely this is what we should always be aware of and remember. That is what the artist wants to say to us. This is why his artwork should find a place here.
(Applause from the SPD and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and PDS)

The tension – and that’s how I would characterize it, Dr. Lammert – between the pediment inscription and the artwork by Hans Haacke points out nothing less than the fact that we see in our society a growing diversity. You cannot arrive at modernity without diversity. There is no solidarity without tolerance. But to achieve tolerance one needs – excuse me for putting it this way – a dialogue between art and politics. Those who hold that art should be reduced to being merely pleasant and decorative and not critical have a conception of art that doesn’t belong to our day or to our discussion.
(Applause from the SPD, and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and PDS)
(Norbert Lammert: Who are you suggesting has such a conception of art?)

Weisskirchen: The aesthetic question will always be an open one: What else could it be? Politically speaking, though, we must not lose this struggle for the freedom of art. We must not abandon our openmindedness. Indeed, Representatives can also be challenged by art. They must say “yes”; art has a place in our chambers.
(Shout from the CSU/CDU: “We don’t have to do anything!”)

We should not lose our critical artists. Aren’t we constantly complaining about the distance between intellectuals and politics? Don’t we mean it when we call for greater engagement? We need critical artists so that our society will remain alert and alive. Hans Haacke is one of these artists.
(Applause from portions of the SPD and Alliance 90/Greens)

Art breaks through the logic of vested interests; this is its most prominent characteristic. The presence of art can sometimes be much more real than the empirical reality where politics believes it operates. Sometimes it is much more important to get jolted into considering – into reconsidering – one’s own position so that democracy remains vibrant and can continue to develop. That is what Hans Haacke wants to point out to us. That is why I hope we can get a majority for Hans Haacke’s project. Say “yes” to joining “the population” with “the German people.” These concepts should not be seen as opposites but as related to each other. Art is continually prodding us never to forget that we are responsible to all human beings living in Germany, regardless of whether or not they are Germans.
In a comparable era, another emperor, in Vienna, dedicated a building to art with the words: “Art for Our Time; Freedom for this Art.” Make sure that art has freedom! Make sure that Hans Haacke can show his art here in the German Bundestag as a constant engagement with our time.
(Applause from the SPD and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and PDS)

On behalf of forty-one representatives, I move for a roll-call vote.
(Applause from the SPD and portions of Alliance 90/Greens and PDS)

Vice President Petra Bläss:
As you have heard, our colleague Gert Weisskirchen has made a motion for a roll call. In the meantime signa- tures of more than the required thirty-four Members present for such a vote have been presented. Therefore I give official notice that at the end of this debate a vote will be taken by roll call.