A US artist in Berlin has found a provocative way to invigorate the drug decriminalization debate. He has submitted an official application to erect a public landmark for drug dealers in one of the parks where they do business.
Minnesota-born Scott Holmquist submitted a citizen's application to the local Pirate Party in Berlin's Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain district, where local party representatives will consider it before submitting their own version to the council in the next legislative period.
Two of the local parks, Görlitzer Park and Hasenheide, are the scene of frequent police raids against drug dealers, most of whom are of African origin. "Establishing a monument to the African-immigrant park drug dealer would recognize contribution of this dangerous job in the ongoing fight against the heritage of colonialism and for individual's freedom to control their body," Holmquist's proposal reads.
"The drug dealer's job is like any other but more dangerous," it continues. "Dealers provide a socially valuable service appreciated by many people - in places where they are easiest to reach: neighborhoods and parks."
The proposal makes a point of underlining what it says is the history of immigration and colonialism that underpins the drug dealing phenomenon in Germany. "For decades, park dealers in Germany have been noticeably from Africa," it reads. "Many have come to Europe to escape violence and poverty in their countries of origin that have origins in their plunder under European colonial rule."
Holmquist has already begun making designs for the monument, though he was reluctant to go into details to DW. His press release, however, reads, "In view of the situation on the ground, Holmquist currently anticipates portraying the symbolic park drug dealer as an African-immigrant."
The monument is only one part of Holmquist's long-term project "The Last Hero" - a collaboration with the local Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg museum that will involve a series of installations and performances in Berlin parks in the fall of 2017. In preparation for this, Holmquist has begun talking to some of the drug dealers to collect their stories - while this is geared more towards entertainment, he describes the monument as more of a "conceptual engagement with the subject."
"No serious artist would consider erecting a figurative monument to a 'hero,' right?" he told DW. "I'm interested in this idea of a monument to 'a' hero or the idea of a hero. And for me this seemed to work in the flow of what's happening now in Berlin."
The idea has been met with a vitriolic, occasionally racist response online - including suggestions that drug dealers ought to be killed. Holmquist says he was "blown away" by the hatred directed at the proposal. "People take their monuments pretty seriously here," he said - but then added that the reactions "prove his point."
"That's, effectively, what makes dealers the Last Heroes," he said in an email. "While what they sell is consumed without shame across the West, it is fully permissible to suggest killing dealers. Taking on such a job, you have to admit, is heroic."
Pirate support - with caveats
The local Pirate Party welcomed the idea as an innovative way to address the repression and criminalization of drugs - though it had some reservations.
"We are seriously considering asking for that monument," local Pirate councilor Felix Just told DW. "I'm not so happy with the text about why we should do it - the stuff about colonialism. I don't really see that as a reason to do it."
For Just, the more urgent point of the work was to address the pressures on immigrants in Germany: "Drug dealing in Görlitzer Park is a major problem that concerns much more than [colonialism] - it's about people who have to flee their country, how we treat people who seek asylum here, who we don't allow to work."
Just also said that even if the idea was accepted, there was "no guarantee" that it would necessarily follow Holmquist's design. Though that might turn out to be a moot point, since the councilor admitted he wasn't very optimistic that the monument would be built - the Pirate Party only controls five of the 51 seats in the Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain parliament.
Still, he was happy that the initiative would create a debate in the district that went beyond criminality. "The discussion is always 'how do we get the dealers out of Görlitzer Park?' That's not going to solve anything - if they can't sell them in Görlitzer Park, they'll sell them in the small streets around," he said. "The dealing is spreading, instead of being contained, by the way we are dealing with it now."