There was his daughter, his citizen, his Dutchman, in the form of a piece of paper

There was his daughter, his citizen, his Dutchman, in the form of a piece of paper
There was his daughter, his citizen, his Dutchman, in the form of a piece of paper

Recently my cousin had his first child. He invited me to go to town hall to register the child with the municipality. A solemn moment, which he wanted to make even more solemn by walking towards it. When we entered the town hall, he showed me a letter from the municipality. The subject: ‘recognizing unborn fruit’. “You have indicated,” I read, “to acknowledge the unborn child of which the mother below is pregnant.” (This acknowledgment is necessary for unmarried couples; in a married couple, the acknowledgment is taken for granted.) My cousin’s signature was underneath: the scribble signified that he had accepted the child-to-be as his own. This is how we recognize: with pen, with paper, with stuff.

This is how we, in Western societies, have been doing it for millennia. The primary purpose of documenting births originally had a tax or military purpose: in order to appeal to nationals, as a monarch you had to know who you were looking for and where they lived. With a birth certificate (a birth certificate) you were registered, your certificate disappeared in a register that was administered by the state or by the church, which hardly anyone ever saw. In that sense, a birth certificate is virtual: it’s part of a system you never see.

But the consequences of a birth certificate are very real and tangible, because the certificate leads to the passport. “It’s just a piece of paper, but it actually defines who you are, and gives access to rights and privileges and the obligations of citizenship,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died last year, once said, no doubt thinking of the bureaucratic foundations of the United States. apartheid regime of his homeland. With the deed in your pocket you are recognized by civil society, you are a citizen. Without it you remain an outsider. You are not born a citizen, you are made a citizen.

My cousin and I drew a number. Foreign students came to get ID forms, others came for driver’s licenses, a toddler was driving a toy car on the floor while his mother begged an official for help.

“The Dutch passport is one of the most coveted passports in the world,” said my cousin, who was deployed as a Dutch soldier to Afghanistan and Mali (twice), where the trade in passports was thriving. According to him, a Dutch passport also meant exemption from dangers (also called privileges): „With that passport you will not starve. With that passport you will not be deported from the country. With that passport you can go wherever you want.” The French philosopher Michel Foucault has pointed out that the word ‘subject’ means two things: ‘the I’ and ‘subject’. In the case of the birth certificate, both meanings come together: you submit (to the state) and thereby you become someone. Foucault initially studied power as a practice, as a technique, looking not so much at what power is, but at how it is performed. One of those ways: through stuff.

Our number appeared on a screen. We sat down opposite a stern looking lady with a ponytail. Beside her was a plastic mini-bin. “You are the lucky father?” she asked my cousin. After he agreed, she looked at me questioningly. “I’m the unfortunate cousin,” I said.

She turned to my cousin. “Congratulations,” she began dully. “You have acknowledged the unborn child,” she said afterwards, in a tone as if reviewing his order for ink cartridges. He admitted that. Then she asked him what the child’s name was, when was it born, at what address the mother lived. Then he was presented with a document with the answers he had given, that was the deed. He ran through the data and picked up a pen.

“No no, don’t sign,” the woman said quickly. “That deed is for us.”

“Don’t I get one then?”

“That is possible, but it costs fourteen euros.”

“For a copy?”

“Fourteen euros is our fixed rate.”

There lay his daughter, his citizen, his Dutchman, and she had the shape of a piece of paper with a fixed price. She was privy to the world of stuff. In a sense, she herself had become an object. We make things, things make us.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: daughter citizen Dutchman form piece paper

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