Marcel van Soest
Harrie van Rooij
Dirk van Meeteren
Thanks to the anti-retroviral therapies, a gradual end has come – from 1996 onwards – to the massive scale of death from aids in the 80’s and 90’s, at least in the West. But even nowadays about 50 people in this country die of aids every year – because the anti-retroviral therapies do not necessarily work for everyone. There was, for example, Vera Springveer, the alter ego of Charles Lücker, who died in 2008 at the age of 43; or Julie Hukuboen (2010, 50 years of age) – a strong Moluccan woman and social worker in the field of refugees; or one of the co-founders of Hivnet – Jan Langenberg (2010, 58 years of age, who was awarded a knighthood in the Order of Oranje-Nassau). In the United States, aids activist Spencer Cox (44 years of age) died on 18 December 2012. As spokesperson for ACT UP and co-founder of the Treatment Action Group, he developed a protocol in 1995 for the testing of protease inhibitors, which was taken up by the pharmaceutical industry, and which led to the faster approval by the authorities (see Advocate.com for text and video).
Portraying the loss
Whoever experienced closely the dramatic period up to 1996 will often think back with dismay to the suffering which was experienced in those years; to the dead, the fear, the panic, the tension, the social unrest, which aids caused. An AIDSmonument portrays the loss – individual and collective – during, but also separate from, the usual times of commemoration on World Aids Day and Candlelight Memorial (known in the Netherlands as Aids Memorial Day).
Homage to the buddies
Aside from all the suffering, aids has also brought with it positive things. Gay men in New York started taking care of their friends with aids, as “buddies”. This approach was adopted in the rest of the Western world, principally in cities with large gay communities, such as Amsterdam. By 2012, care provided by buddies has long since evolved into something not restricted to just gay men: it forms a model for a humane approach to people who (temporarily or otherwise) aren’t able to look after themselves. An AIDSmonument will honour this group of volunteers.
Empowerment of hiv-positive people
Living with hiv is sometimes not easy. While they bravely defy taboos and discrimination, hiv-positive people can still benefit from some extra support. With an AIDSmonument, the Netherlands makes a statement: we feel solidarity with hiv-positive people, and are working on a future in which the virus will be banished from the body and the world.
A wide audience for a humanist message
The AIDSmonument envisages a wider audience than just the most directly affected groups mentioned above. In exactly the same way that the National Monument on Dam Square is not exclusively for people who have personally experienced war and oppression, and that the Homomonument attracts countless visitors from outside just the immediate gay community. Just like these monuments, the AIDSmonument has a humanist message: remember the people who have died of aids, honour the buddies, support people who live with hiv. It will be able to touch those who deliberately come to visit it as well as those who just happen to pass by.
An ode to Amsterdam
The choice of Amsterdam is an obvious one. The city is well known, both nationally and internationally, as being cosmopolitan and liberal. The sensible approach to sexuality and drug-use has created an atmosphere where many people feel at home; where people can grow and develop. In this, Amsterdam is still able to draw people to it, at an international level. It has served as an example for new European gay capitals such as Berlin, London, and Barcelona. The tolerance of people who are different – even when that tolerance is sometimes threatened – still acts as an example for other cities. It was this positive social climate which attracted many hiv-positive people, people who no longer felt at ease, or who were downright discriminated against, in the places where they used to live. An AIDSmonument is also an ode to Amsterdam, and enriches the cultural landscape of our capital.