Conversations with Herman Bianchi

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By: C.C.

"Each person a measure for himself; not for someone else"

Herman Bianchi (Rotterdam, 1924) is a retired professor of criminology who has written books such as Ethiek van het straffen (The Ethics of Punishment; 1964), Stigmatisering (Stigmatization; 1972) and Justice as Sanctuary (1994). He was a close acquaintance of the late boylove advocate dr. Edward Brongersma. Marthijn Uittenbogaard and C. C. from MARTIJN had a few conversations with Dr. Bianchi.

Throughout his career, Bianchi consistently believed that criminal law is not the most appropriate way to solve conflicts. We ask, "So you oppose prison? What do you think should happen to those who have broken the law?" He wearily refers to the books he has written about the subject. It's like having to explain over and over why adult/child relationships aren't necessarily reprehensible. Bianchi has passed his criminological insights on to a new generation. "When you're over sixty-five, you should always put your mind to something else."

Bianchi's adoptive father Meertens introduced him to Brongersma. Meertens founded the Meertens Institute for Dialect Studies and Ethnology. This institute inspired the famous cycle of novels Het bureau (The Office) by Voskuil. Meertens had been in jail for something he always denied: a sexual contact with a young man of nineteen. Brongersma, after serving his own time for a sexual contact with a boy of sixteen, had retreated to a small room in the city of Utrecht. Bianchi visited him several times there. The two jurists were too different in character to really become friends. "Brongersma was a very clever lawyer. He considered my views on criminal law to be nonsensical. He had something child-like about him, something boyish." With mischievous pleasure, Bianchi imitates the way Brongersma sometimes rubbed his hands and chuckled like a small child.

About every two months, Brongersma dropped by at Meertens', who lived beneath me on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. He used to bring a German picture magazine along and collect it again two months later. Meertens somewhat enjoyed looking at the imberbi (Latin, beardless) in those pictures." What subjects did Bianchi discuss with Brongersma? "In Utrecht, Brongersma and I talked about his incarceration. He had a very unorthodox therapist; professor Baan. The story goes that Baan told Brongersma, with regard to the offense he had committed, 'You're a fool to do such things in Holland! Do them in Morocco instead!' Later, Brongersma and I only discussed politics. We often dialogued from the point of view of the classical Greeks."

"Our moral laws," says Bianchi, "are utterly arbitrary." He emphasizes that he is not attracted to minors himself. But as a young boy, he had an immense desire for an older friend. "I was searching desperately for a handsome, wise friend, someone I pictured in my mind as very ideal. Kafka had the same feelings. I would like to see an organization such as MARTIJN devote more attention to the feelings of young people for older people. It bothers me that there is no word to describe a boy's desire for an older friend. In early May of 1940, on a pleasant spring day, I went to the beach at Hoek van Holland. As I was lying there, I saw a group of Dutch soldiers - it was just before the war. I hoped that one of them would approach me, but they evinced no interest in me. Even before I became sexually mature, I knew that I wanted an intimate friendship with a man. I was with the Boy Scouts, so I was aware of the fact that this is forbidden. On my way to sexual maturity I felt attracted to the mature man who would help a boy in all kinds of ways. My parents did not give me love. An uncle did; he loved children. I felt comfortable with him."

In the case of adults maintaining relations with young persons, Bianchi thinks responsibility is of major concern. "When you've befriended a child who is still very young, you're a responsible pedagogue at the same time. When there's love in the game, all the better. If I were a judge and I saw that a boy was treated badly in a sexual relationship, I would punish the man severely. (Whether he should go to prison is a different matter.) I support strong ethics in this field. Especially in the instance of pedophilia, I don't approve of sex for the sake of sex. I had a friend who was attracted to boys, a prominent New York banker. He and a couple of friends had a yacht and they would take boys of thirteen, fourteen, fifteen with them on it and sail out. All went fine for one year. Then, he appeared on television with handcuffs. He got a mild sentence and committed suicide." Bianchi condemns the orgies that took place on the banker's yacht. "You can have a loving relationship with a boy. It's a wonderful thing if something beautiful flowers. This would be possible if it weren't for the moral panic. What is beautiful should be allowed; excesses should not."

As a nineteen-year-old, Bianchi was deported to the concentration camp in Amersfoort. "While I was there, my father went through my belongings to hide anti-German material in case I should have it. He came across the addresses of men who were my friends. He went and had an argument with one of them: "Keep your filthy hands off my son!" When I returned from the camp an emaciated young man, I quarrelled with my father because of what he'd done."

Prisons remind Bianchi of the concentration camps. He is prepared to sketch his ideas. "Holland contains ten thousand incarcerated persons. Six hundred of them present an acute danger. They would fit in one prison." He lived among Mohawks in an American reservation a couple of times. They are unfamiliar with criminal law. "Jesus said a wrongdoer should be invited seventy times seven times to make up. According to Indian practise, you should ask ten times. But our criminal law does not ask once." Bianchi believes society should try to induce each criminal to show remorse and to make up. Prison could serve as a last resort for those who are absolutely unwilling or unable to show remorse. This principle of reconciliation, restorative justice, is gaining more proponents worldwide.

Bianchi is writing a novel. "My book concerns a boy's dream about the mighty, noble friend, who would carry me off to vast distances; the man I never really found. I am inspired by Plato's Symposium, which is all about males. I know no better mentor than Plato." He pulls a Greek book off a shelf and starts to read to us from it. We trace history as captured by his library: from King James, who seems to have fancied young men, to Kaiser Wilhelm's friendships with prominent German boylovers.

Our conversations enliven Bianchi's past. "I've been rummaging around in my memory: when did I have my first sexual experience? One tends to forget that. During our first conversation I was crawling into the skin of a boy of twelve or fourteen." But some events, no matter how much time has passed, are recalled without effort. "I know when I had my first orgasm: January 31, 1938. At that very moment the church bells in Rotterdam started to ring and the boats started to whistle. I thought it was for me. But it was for the birth of princess Beatrix."

source: Interview 'Conversations with Herman Bianchi' by C.C.; Translated from Dutch; OK Magazine, no. 77; May 2001