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13. und 14.01.2006
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29.04.- 19.06.2005
Be what you want but stay where you are
» Witte de With
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24.02. - 24.04.2005
Paradiesische Handlungsräume
» Secession
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29.11.2004 - 30.01.2005
How do we want to be governed? (Figure and Ground)
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22.09. - 07.11.2004
Com volem ser governats?
22.09.04 Institut Barri Besòs
07.10.04 Palo Alto nau XYZ
21.10.04 Centre Cívic de La Mina
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29.04. - 20.05.2004
Handlungen, die Handlungen setzen
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30. und 31.01.2004
Bildet Regierungen!
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29.01. - 12.02.2004
Die Universität ist eine Fabrik
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28. und 29.11.2003
La construcción del público
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06.11. - 13.11.2003
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kulturstiftung des bundes


Abschluss-Workshop Die Regierung

Change who you are and go where we want you to

Dieter Lesage

Nur in Englisch vorhanden.

In a review of the 1997 Second Biennial of South Africa, curated by the late Documenta 11 artistic director Okwui Enwezor, Armin Medosch reported that Cathérine David, artistic director of the 1997 Documenta X, would have said in a private conversation: “I am tired of this grocery shop idea of identity. It is a very Anglo-Saxon notion: be what you want but stay where you are. I am coming from a very republican regime. I prefer the idea of citizenship to isolated communities”.[1] Thus, knowingly or unknowingly  — who knows? — Be what you want but stay where you are, the title of the exhibition in the series Die Regierung at Witte de With in Rotterdam, looks like a citation by a Documenta artistic director of a citation of a former Documenta artistic director commenting critically on curatorial work of someone who at that time was going to be the next Documenta artistic director.[2] The title of the Rotterdam exhibition therefore could be read as a group portrait of a kind: De regenten van de Heilige Documenta.

However, as the text that presented the exhibition made clear, the title Be what you want but stay where you are was intended to refer both to a certain concept of ‘tolerance’, more or less perceived as the specific Dutch modality of governmentality with respect to the other on the one hand — ‘be what you want’ —, but at the same time at mechanisms of exclusion that go with that supposedly typical Dutch model of tolerance: ‘stay where you are’ meaning ‘but don’t come bother us’. The title Be what you want but stay where you are, if understood as a summary of the Dutch governmental approach of the Other, — and we know how Anglo-Saxon The Netherlands is — therefore, immediately reads as a critique of that model, a critique that seemed to see a painful confirmation of its point in the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on November 2 2004, and the brutal attack on mosques in the aftermath of this murder that shocked Dutch society almost as much as the murder of Pim Fortuyn on May 6 2002, only days before the parliamentary elections of May 15 2002 which this populist from Rotterdam was almost sure to win. After all, he had won the municipal elections in Rotterdam on March 6 2002 with overwhelming succes, when his party Leefbaar Rotterdam conquered 17 seats out of 45 in the Municipal Council, and forced the social-democratic PVDA for the first time in its Rotterdam history into the opposition. Although the murderer of Pim Fortuyn, unlike Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch-Morrocan murderer of Theo Van Gogh, was not an islamic radical, but the Dutch green activist Volkert van der Graaf, the image that Dutch society in this turbulent period was presenting was one in which cultures clashed, and the old ideal of tolerance was definitely lost, if it had ever been an ideal at all.[3] Maybe tolerance had always been a technique of segregation, of keeping groups apart, and thus a technique of exclusion. The sociability suggested by the seventeenth century group portrait by Jan Daemen Cool De regenten en rentmeester van het Heilige Geesthuis (1653) literally playing a key role in the Rotterdam exhibition seems, after all, just the mutual recognition of peers. In the Dutch public debate during this period, many intellectuals pointed out that tolerance was never meant to be the warm embrace of the Other. In any case, the explicit ambition of the title of the Rotterdam exhibition apparently was to address what it supposed to be the specific Dutch governmentality of the Other, namely tolerance, and to make visible its intolerant shadow side.

This presupposition of the Rotterdam title, namely that ‘tolerance’ is a good description of Dutch governmentality of the Other, seems to me very problematic, especially since we know that the exhibition series Die Regierung borrows its name explicitly from the Foucauldian concepts of ‘gouvernement’ and ‘gouvernementalité’. To me, tolerance appears to be the perceived Dutch mentality in dealing with the Other. The Netherlands have a long tradition of descriptions of itself as an open, tolerant nation. And although these selfdescriptions of a supposedly tolerant mentality will surely have had their pragmatic effects, they do not establish, or give a clear picture of the Dutch governmentality of the Other. Michel Foucault, as one knows, was very sceptical about the concept of ‘mentality’. Therefore, in the spirit of Michel — if I may say so, alluding to the ‘spirit of Pim’ which seems to haunt Dutch politics until the present day — I would like to propose to take a closer look to the body of texts that constitute the Dutch governmental discourse on the Other. Foucault defined what he understood by ‘gouvernementalité’ as follows: “Par gouvernementalité, j’entends l’ensemble constitué par les institutions, les procédures, analyses et réflexions, les calculs et les tactiques qui permettent d’exercer cette forme bien spécifique, bien que complexe, de pouvoir, qui a pour cible principale la population, pour forme majeure de savoir, l’économie politique, pour instrument essentiel les dispositifs de sécurité”.[4] Thus we have to look at institutions, procedures, analyses, reflexions, calculations and tactics, if we want to have a clear picture of the Dutch governmentality of the Other, rather than marvel in an ethereal concept like a ‘tolerant mentality’ and continue the national (if not nationalist) discourse on the ‘Dutch people’ that would have had that mentality for a very long time, until it went nuts. To take the Foucauldian concept of governmentality seriously and to question in Foucauldian vein the Dutch governmentality of the Other would presuppose a lot of research and study. C’est pas gai d’être foucaldien. We would have to take a close look at the actions of governmental institutions, not only the government, sure, but also the government.  By this I do not only mean the national or central government, but also the ‘governments’ on other levels, such as that on the level of the city, represented by the Municipal Executive (College van Burgemeester en Wethouders), which, after the introduction in the Netherlands of the dual system on the municipal level, likes to describe itself as ‘the Government’ on the level of the municipality, vis-à-vis the Municipal Council (Gemeenteraad), which is very often compared with Parliament (Tweede Kamer). We would have to consider how these different governmental agencies on different levels act upon each other, call upon one another, supplement each other or get in one another’s way. Foucault, of course, has always been clear that power is not the prerogative of the state, nor of political authorities, but it should be reminded that he developed the concept of ‘government’ in order to understand the way in which the state, as a construction, entered the field of power relations, and in order to be able to determine the specificity of its agency in the broader field of power relations, of actions upon actions. Further, we have to look, not only at the agencies of political authorities, but also at the agencies of organisations that are called into existence by political authorities and have a certain autonomy. Thus we would have to study the so-called ‘Law Citizenification Newcomers’ (Wet Inburgering Nieuwkomers) of April 9 1998, voted under the first so-called ‘purple’ government of the social-democratic minister-president Wim Kok, and the procedures this law established regarding people who come to live in the Netherlands, both certain categories of foreigners as well as of Dutch nationals who were born abroad.[5] For both categories the law established the obligation of what I prefer to translate as a ‘citizenification investigation’ (inburgeringsonderzoek), which would determine the necessity and the scope of a ‘citizenification programme’ (inburgeringsprogramma). We would have to look at the details of these programmes, the courses that they comprise and the presuppositions they reflect on the concept of integration. What would certainly appear from a study of the so-called ‘citizenification programmes’ is that the phrase ‘Be what you want’ is far from an adequate summary of the specific Dutch governmentality of the Other. The whole endeavour of citizenification programmes is to programm individuals so that they will fit into Dutch society. Citizenification programmes produce ‘citizens’. As the end product of a citizenification programme, the ‘citizen’ is no longer someone who has the Dutch nationality. This utterly passive concept of citizenship — which meant that you are in the possession of the right set of papers — has been replaced by a concept of the citizen, defined as a subject that knows what he’s supposed to know, given that he desires to live on Dutch territory. In contemporary Dutch society, the Other isn’t left alone, cannot be what he wants. He’s supposed to learn, first to learn the Dutch language, of course. This is the aim of the programm called NT2 Nederlands als tweede taal, even though for some Others Dutch may very well be the third, fourth or fifth language they learn. Therefore, the name of the programm is symptomatic for the fact that the Other is systematically seen as linguistically poor, speaking only one language, his own. If the Other would be seen as linguistically rich, as linguistically rich as many of the native Dutch who at least speak also English, one would have to recognize that the Other might not have much trouble to integrate in Dutch society, where in many areas English is almost a working language. In fact, obliging the Other, also the linguistically rich Other, to learn the Dutch language, is very much a measure to appease linguistically poor native Dutch, who don’t speak English, even if their educational programme included English as second language. In general one may suppose that the Law Citizenification Newcomers, which at first sight acts upon newcomers, also acts upon the feelings of many native Dutch people. The Law conforts the believe that it’s normal to speak Dutch in the Netherlands. Not only is the Other that is to be citizenified supposed to learn the Dutch language, he should also learn how Dutch society works (maatschapijoriëntatie) and how the market functions (beroepenoriëntatie). As a supplement to one’s integration in the state, one gets integrated into capitalism too. In order to be a good citizen, it’s no longer sufficient to respect the law of the country where one resides, one should also respect certain values. As Foucault of course already pointed out, government is very much about establishing norms. As a gay activist, he might have had a good laugh reading the following chapter of the Dutch ‘citizenification programme’, which describes the desired results (eindtermen) of the citizenification programme regarding ‘life forms’ as follows:

“Participants know the common ideas in the Netherlands about the relationship between men and women, young and elderly.
- They know that homosexuality in the Netherlands is generally accepted.
- They know that the public display of affection, as well between persons of the same sex, as between persons of different sex, is very usual.
- They know that in the Netherlands there are many forms of living together that in general are accepted as equal.
- They know that men and women in the Netherlands in principle are supposed to take the same roles.
- They know that the elderly in the Netherlands do not automatically get respect because of their age.”[6]

This is only a small part of a large programme that, quoting randomly, also wants the Other “to know how and why litter should be gathered separately”, “to know that the Netherlands is a democracy with a separation of church and the state and a parliamentary representation that makes laws”, “to know that in the Netherlands it is very important to be on time on appointments”, “to know the significance of the christian holidays and the meaning of religion in the Netherlands”, and “to know some famous Dutch people (artists, sportsmen, scientists) and to know something about their work”. The only thing the programme doesn’t include is that one should know that everybody is supposed to pay for his own drinks. The end product of the citizenification programme is a subject that speaks Dutch and knows how to behave in Dutch society. As a reward, the newcomer who went through the whole citizenification programme doesn’t get the Dutch nationality, but a ‘citizenification certificate’ (inburgeringscertificaat).

A proper study of the Dutch governmentality of the Other would have to comment on all the blatant contradictions, the almost funny twists and some of the more rude presuppositions of the citizenification programme, established by the Law Citizenification Newcomers, which, as every law under the present  Queen, begins with the words “We, Beatrix, by the grace of God, Queen of the Netherlands, Princess of Oranje-Nassau, etc. etc. etc.”. The Law that wants to assure that everybody living in the Netherlands knows that the Netherlands is not a theocracy, explicitly speaks the language of theocracy, in which all powers ultimately derive from God. The Dutch government can only hope that the people who, by this law, have to be citizenified, don’t read the law itself. It is also quite obvious, almost a trivial remark, that many Dutch do not know everything that the Other is supposed to know if he wants to live in the Netherlands. Within the citizenification programme, the Other can be anything but what he wants. Unless of course he wants what he’s supposed to want, and that is to become totally Dutch, more Dutch than the Dutch themselves. Only in this sense “Be what you want” as the first part of the title of the Rotterdam exhibition, would make sense if the title is supposed to refer to the specific Dutch governmentality of the Other. To the Other, Dutch governmentality, through its citizenification investigations, procedures and programmes, says: “we know what you want to be, you want to be Dutch and we will help you to become what you want.” In fact, citizenification as the core of the Dutch governmentality of the Other corresponds exactly to a “republican regime” which, according to the private-not so private saying of Cathérine David, prefers “the idea of citizenship to isolated communities”.  

But should I stay or should I go now, the Other may wonder. And so we come to the point where I would like to question the second part of the title of an exhibition which took place in a space that, after Documenta X, was run for some years by, exactly, Cathérine David, until she went. That part of the title says: “But stay where you are”. Intended as part of the description of the specific Dutch governmentality of the Other, this seems equally problematic to me. A study of local ‘action programmes’ that supplement the national legal framework, that target other groups of others that may constitute other problems than those related to citizenification, would reveal that the Dutch governmentality of the Other says anything but “stay where you are”. The question where the other stays, and where one would want him to stay instead, have become governmental obsessions. The Other isn’t supposed to stay where he is, he’s supposed to live in regions and neighborhoods where his presence doesn’t cause any statistical imbalances. And so, if we want to complete our picture of the Dutch governmentality of the Other, we would have to study studies, that establish the so-called problem of ‘imbalance’ in the first place. We would be confronted with the power of statistics, as Foucault wouldn’t be too surprised to see. According to Foucault, population statistics were crucial to the development of governmentality. Statistics discover and show that populations have their own regularities, that, by their fluxes, behavior and activities, populations have specific economic effects. Throughout the XVIIIth century, Foucault says, the ‘population’ became the ultimate aim of government. If we want to talk about ‘governmentality’, if we are serious about our reference to Michel Foucault, then we cannot but talk about the governmental obsession with ‘the population’, its ethnic composition, its influxes and outfluxes, etc. etc.

In this respect, one could say that it was naive to think that the concept of ‘the population’ was going to save us from all the pitfalls of the concept of ‘the people’. I’m referring, of course, to the famous gesture by Hans Haacke, when in september 2000 he countered the inscription ‘dem deutschen Volke’ on the west façade of the Berlin building that is now known as the Bundestag by an installation in the northern ‘Lichthof’ saying ‘der Bevölkerung’.[7] Of course, Hans Haacke wanted to point once more to the problematic history of the concept of ‘the people’, and the exclusions which it had served to operate. Many German representatives didn’t like at all to be reminded of that, as the hilarious Bundestag debate of April 5 2000, preceding the vote on whether or not to accept Haacke’s installation in the Bundestag building, has shown. However, what we learn with Foucault is that, where the concept of ‘das Volk’, ‘the people’, is the product of nationalism, the concept of ‘die Bevölkerung’, ‘the population’, is the product of governmentalism. There is no guarantee whatsoever that the concept of ‘the population’ would include everybody, contrary to a nationalist understanding of the concept of ‘the people’. This could be illustrated by a closer look at a sophisticated series of exclusions within a specific operationalisation of the concept of ‘the population’, as practised, precisely, by the city of Rotterdam.

In July 2003 Rotterdam’s Centre for Research and Statistics published a ‘Prognosis for Population Groups 2017’. In the language of the Municipal Executive this prognosis indicated that, “if policy would remain unchanged, Rotterdam would be faced in the coming years with an ever growing group of underprivileged inhabitants”. But when one reads the study, then it appears that it makes a prognosis of the growth of population groups, defined in ethnic terms. Surinamese, Antillians, Arubans, Cape Verdeans, Turks, Moroccans, and people from “other poor countries” are labelled as “attention groups” (aandachtsgroepen). Together with people from “other rich countries” and people labelled as “Northern-Mediterraneans” (Noord-Mediterranen), meaning Portuguese, Spaniards, Italians, Greeks and people from former Yougoslavia, these groups form the group of “allochthones”. The study says that the number of inhabitants in Rotterdam, from 598.467 in 2002, may rise to 635.382 in 2017. Where in 2002, 53,9% of the Rotterdam population were “autochthones” — meaning inhabitants having two Dutch parents — in 2017, that will be 42,1%, against 57,8% “allochthones”. In 2017, the percentage of people belonging to “attention groups” will be 48%. In the study of the Rotterdam Center for Research and Statistics, people from the former Dutch colony Indonesia are consequently considered either as “western” or as coming from “other rich countries” (overige rijke landen), even if the GDP/PPP per capita of Indonesia in 2004 was lower than that of Morocco and Surinam, and far lower than that of Turkey, who all three, in Rotterdam statistics, are considered to be “poor countries”.[8] Apparently, for Dutch statisticians, it seems inconceivable that in that glorious past, which began in the Golden Age, the Dutch colonized East-India and today Indonesia, as it is called now, as a result of all the Dutch colonizing efforts, wouldn’t be a rich country, as seems of course quite logical. It really seems that the Indonesians owe their statistical status as “rich people” to Dutch bad consciousness. Statistics not only creates problems, but it also solves problems: contrary to the Surinamese, the Cape Verdeans, the Antillians, the Turks and the Moroccans, the Indonesians, coming from a “rich country”, are no problem at all! Therefore Indonesians don’t belong to “attention groups”, they statistically disappear in the desired results of all those belonging to the “other rich countries”.

The main point of the study was that in the years to come certain areas of the city would be confronted with an increasing influx of people from “poor countries”, causing a lot of problems related to their economic situation (crime, nuisance, etc.), while “desired residents”, for those very reasons, were leaving those same areas and thus causing an outflux of richness from these areas. After its publication, the study ‘Prognosis for Population Groups 2017’ became the subject of a large debate in Rotterdam. It was said that the city had reached the limits of its absorption capacity when it comes to receiving and supervising socially and economically underprivileged inhabitants and troublemakers.

In December 2003, as a reaction to the study and the debate, the Rotterdam Municipal Council presented the action programme ‘Rotterdam presses on, on the pathway to a balanced city’ (Rotterdam zet door. Op weg naar een stad in balans).[9]The main objectives of the programme were: (1) a fully-fledged immigration policy that combines stricter requirements for newcomers with more facilities for integration for those who are permitted to stay; (2) a stricter residence policy focused on retaining and attracting the desired residents in threatened districts and better control of the underprivileged in the city, region and entire country; and (3) investment in assimilation and integration, in care and supervision, education, work and economy. Further, the Rotterdam Municipal Executive pressed on the Dutch government to recognise that the problems of Rotterdam were ‘extraordinary’ and that a Special Law had to be made, in order to enable the city of Rotterdam to control more adequately the influx of  “attention groups” and to stop the outflux of  what it literally called “desired residents” (gewenste inwoners). On December 20, 2005, this Lex Specialis (Wet bijzondere maatregelen grootstedelijke problematiek), also known as the Rotterdam Law, has now effectively been voted in the Dutch Senate.[10] It creates two instruments for the local policing of influxes and outfluxes. On the one hand, local authorities of a certain category of cities will be able to create “chance zones” (kansenzones), where companies will pay no or almost no property taxes, while on the other hand, local authorities will have the right to refuse certain people to reside in certain areas of the city, because of their poor economical status. Certain categories of people without income from work can be refused a residence permit.

Empire by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, very much the cultbook of the curatorial team of Documenta 11, allows for a very interesting analysis of developments, such as those represented by the aforementioned Dutch Lex Specialis. Empire, the new postmodern sovereign, doesn’t operate from one central point, but is constituted as a network of organisations and institutions, who together aim at confiscating the inherent power of the multitudes. And as we are talking of special laws who want to organize the movements of the multitudes, we may, following Giorgio Agamben’s theory of the state of exception, begin to recognize the capitalist world as organized like a camp, where influxes and outfluxes of people are scrupulously controlled and where tourism, and thus also art tourism, as the ideological celebration of our freedom of movement, is in fact much more something like going to the zoo in a concentration camp.[11] For both Negri and Hardt, as for Agamben, the late Foucault’s reflections on governmentality were of crucial importance for the development of their own political theories. The multitude is a concept that wants to name the possibility of an effective agency against the Government, that Negri and Hardt have renamed Empire, as national governments in times of globalisation only act within a broader imperial framework. According to Negri and Hardt, we don’t need a Government, the multitude as the productive force par excellence, is able to govern itself. And against the postmodern Government that is as much obsessed with the life of populations as the modern Government was, Foucault would undoubtedly have suggested that we oppose our own will of life. Indeed, in La Volonté de savoir, Foucault wrote: “Et contre ce pouvoir encore nouveau au XIXe siècle, les forces qui résistent ont pris appui sur cela même qu’il investit – c’est-à-dire sur la vie et l’homme en tant qu’il est vivant. Depuis le siècle passé, les grandes luttes qui mettent en question le systéme général de pouvoir ne se font plus au nom d’un retour aux anciens droits, ou en fonction du rêve millénaire d’un cycle des temps et d’un âge d’or. On n’attend plus l’empereur des pauvres, ni le royaume des derniers jours, ni même seulement le rétablissement des justices qu’on imagine ancestrales; ce qui est revendiqué et sert d’objectif, c’est la vie, entendue comme besoins fondamentaux, essence concrète de l’homme, accomplissement de ses virtualités, plénitude du possible”.[12]

[1] See: http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/3/3125/1.html

[2] In the discussion that followed the presentation of this text at the workshop ‘Die Regierung’ on January 13th 2006, at the Universität Lüneburg, Ruth Noack and Roger Buergel confirmed that the title ‘Be what you want but stay where you are’ was indeed a quote from a conversation they had had with Cathérine David, who was directing Witte de With at the time they were invited to make the exhibition there.

[3] On April 15 2003 Volkert Van der Graaf (b. 1969) was condemned to 18 years emprisonment, after a trail in which he admitted that the had committed the murder on Pim Fortuyn on the parking lot of Mediapark in Hilversum. On July 26 2005 Mohammed Bouyeri (b. 1978) was condemned to a life sentence after a trial during which he refused to talk, except at the end, where he made a final statement.

[4] Michel Foucault, ‘La “gouvernementalité”, in: Id., Dits et écrits 1954-1988. III 1976-1979, (Edition établie sous la direction de Daniel Defert et François Ewald), Paris, Gallimard, 1994, p. 655.

[5] Wet van 9 april 1998, houdende regels met betrekking tot de inburgering van nieuwkomers in de Nederlandse samenleving (Wet inburgering nieuwkomers).

[6] Maria van der Vegt & Firie Suijker, Eindtermen Maatschappijoriëntatie voor het inburgingsprogramma, ’s-Hertogenbosch, CINOP, December 2001: “Deelnemers zijn op de hoogte van in Nederland gangbare opvattingen over de omgang tussen mannen  en vrouwen, jongeren en ouderen.
•  Zij weten dat homoseksualiteit in Nederland over het algemeen geaccepteerd wordt.
•  Zij weten dat openlijk betoon van genegenheid, zowel tussen personen van gelijk, als van  verschillend geslacht, dikwijls voorkomt.
•  Zij weten dat er in Nederland veel verschillende samenlevingsvormen bestaan die over het  algemeen als gelijkwaardig geaccepteerd worden.
•  Zij weten dat mannen en vrouwen in Nederland in principe geacht worden dezelfde rollen te  vervullen.
•  Zij weten dat ouderen in Nederland niet automatisch respect afdwingen op grond van hun leeftijd.”

[7] See: http://www.bundestag.de/bau_kunst/kunstwerke/haacke/derbevoelkerung/index.html

[8] According to the World Factbook 2005, the GDP/PPP (Gross Domestic Product/Purchasing Power Parity) of Indonesia is 3500,- $; of Morocco: 4200,- $; of Surinam 4300,- $; of Turkey: 7400,- $.

[9] The Dutch text of the action programme, as well as an English summary, can be found on the official website of the city of Rotterdam: www.rotterdam.nl.

[10] ‘Regels die een geconcentreerde aanpak van grootstedelijke problemen mogelijk maken (Wet bijzondere maatregelen grootstedelijke problematiek)’.

[11] This image keeps haunting me ever since I learnt that the concentration camp Treblinka had its own zoo, that offered the SS executioners some relaxation after a hard day’s bloody labour in a decorum designed by a Viennese ‘expert’, as the camp commander later was proud to tell. See: Dieter Lesage, ‘Treblinka Zoo. The Tourist City in the Age of the Global Concentration Camp’, in: Hildegonde Amannshauser, Mare Pedanik & Hinrich Sachs (eds.), Trichtlinnburg III.  An Urban Affair. Een affaire met de stad. Ein städtisches Abenteuer. Linnajuhtum. Essays and Addenda, Maastricht, Jan Van Eyck Academie, 2005, p. 51-61.

[12] Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité I. La volonté de savoir, Paris, Gallimard, 1976, p. 190-191.


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