This article is mostly for foreign visitors. Dutch visitors who watch the news will probably not read much new.
Politics in the Netherlands used to be easy. The people from the Catholic south voted for the CDA (Christian democrats), making it the biggest party in many elections. In the (Protestant) north and of course the non-Catholic or critical south, there were only a few other options. There was the PVDA (labour party), D’66 (democratic party founded in 1966) for the more leftish-oriented voters and the VVD (the liberal and conservative party) that was mostly regarded as the party for the rich people. A small but uncoming party as Groen Links (green left), as the name suggests an environmentally oriented leftisch party. Further there were no parties with any influence, just one for the old people, another small Christian party and a very small reformed party and some hardly worth mentioning.
For decades people more were or less forced to certain voting by their upbringing and the cabinets mostly were about the same. This changed eight years ago. The new generation of voters actually started to look at the party’s programs, listen to debats and picked the party that they thought most highly off and not the one that they were ‘supposed to’ vote for. Two elections (eight years) ago this brought a ‘political turnover’ because there was room for a coalition without the CDA. This was remarkable, because this party is so ‘centered’/ ‘middle’ that it fits in both left and right coalitions. The CDA is a fusion-party that had it’s predecessors in every coalition after the war and has had six successive cabinets with a CDA prime-minister since 1977. The thought at first seemed to be frightening to many people and especially politicians. Others thought that politics would become lively and interesting again. “Purple” was the term for the no-CDA cabinet, and the “Kok I” was the first cabinet since 1918 without religious party.
In practise nothing changed drastically. Another financial policy followed that led the Netherlands through the economy-boom of the first four years. When the economy started to go down, people expected the cabinet (that was more or less rechosen in the same proportions in 1998) to fall apart, but the economic policy remained a winning theory with our internationally respected ‘polder-model’ and the paying off of state-debts instead of ‘burdon-reliefs’ for the people. Even the short times of economic-cutting went extraordinary smoothly.
But in contradiction to what people expected, politics got even more boring in the Netherlands as they already were. The coalition was so keen on ‘finishing the trip’ (being in the saddle for the full four years), that major scandals and blunders remained without consequences. Ministers that made mistake after mistake and squandered millions of guilders and euros remained in their seats and were even hardly reprimanded. Ministers under whose responsibility the most idiotic things happened were held the hands of the rest of the cabinet over their heads and questions from the media, civilians and the opposition were often evaded. Just think of the contruction-fraude, the Betuwe-line (a failed project for a train-trail through a nature-area that costed millions more than planned as was never finished), the foot/mouth crisis and other crisises in the agricultural sector, the drugs/smuggle/XTC problems, problems in the care-section, the IRT-affaire (a police scandal), safety-issues, etc., etc. Problems that couldn’t be solved were ‘seen through the fingers’ as we call it, or with another beautiful term “gedoogd” (a very gentle term for ‘allow’ or ‘permit’). Problems were avoided and shuffled under the matras. And only after six years after the Srebrenica drama (where thousands of Muslim man were carried off and killed under the eye of the Dutch ‘peace-army’), the last cabinet fell over the final offical report.
Now something that many people misunderstand from the Netherlands. It is true that we never really had a serious influence of rightwing-oriented politicians. About ten years ago one man made it into the government with his extreme-right party “CD” (centrum democrats), but this guy -Hans Janmaat- did have no charisma, wasn’t intellectual enough to make a point and was literally ignored by his colleagues in the parliament. He had one point in this program: no immigrants and was simply against the rest of the other party’s statements.
Further there are some small, local rightwing parties, but nothing serious or influential.
This doesn’t mean that nobody questioned the immigration policy that has indeed always been very soft. Some 6/7 years ago, the leader of the VVD (the liberal, conservative party) Frits Bolkestein proved himself a well-spoken politician who said exactly what was on his mind. Because he critised the immigration-policy he was given the usual names. His moderately rightwing party has put immigration on the political agenda since they joined Kok I (1994) and especially under Bolkestein the party got quite some votes. These were the first signs of Dutchmen voting for a person instead of a party and for that person because he said what was on their own minds. Bolkestein -however- couldn’t accomplish his mission, fell in discredit and ‘fled to Brussels’ to because a European minister. Bolkestein used to be a good friend of Pim Fortuyn by the way.
After 1999 it got a little silent in the Dutch politics again. Especially the VVD brought some fireworks now and then, but mostly politics were practised in silence and politicians were busy covering the few scandals that occured. Of course also a lot of good things happened and the Netherlands remained a prosperous country.
Pim Fortuyn was born on 19/2/48 in a Roman-Catholic family. He studied history, sociology, law and economy and eventually became sociologist. Being a student he was active in several student-movements, leftish as they say, but I haven’t been able to find anything about that. After working for the Social Econonic Council he becomes professor at the university of Rotterdam. Also he wrote a weekly column for the ‘actuality’ magazine Elzevier with critical writings on politics and other news.
In 1994 (I think) he got the idea of a political career in his head when a former prime-minister (Ruud Lubbers) tells him that he would be a good president. 1994 Was also the year of his first book called “the ‘business- cabinet’ Fortuyn”. A business-cabinet is so to say a non-political cabinet that is only meant to rule the country in a crisis, for example a world-war. Fortuyn’s second book was one about the individualisation of our society and the loss of religion. Already in 1995 Fortuyn (and Bolkestein) wrote a book about the frightening results of the Dutch multi-cultural society, in 1997 followed by the book with the title “Against the Islamisation of our culture” and “50 years Israel, how longer?” against (Islamitic) fundamentalism. Further an anti-European Union book, one about post-WWII ‘members’ of the babyboom, the dangers of modern society and eventually a critical view on the purple cabinets and his ‘party-program’ book “The Ruins Of Eight Years Purple’.
However originally admirer of the leftish labour party, around 1995 he tries to become chairman of the central / middle Christian democrats, but is turned down. His interest moves to the right in the form of the liberal party and -as mentioned- he becomes friends with Bolkestein, the leader of the VVD at the time. It seems that somewhere along the line, something got wrong between the two, because just a week ago Bolkestein (who doesn’t really have anything to do with Dutch politics) gave the most anti-Fortuyn speech to date.
A bit more history
In 1972 the Socialist Party was formed, but after a few active years, the party only existed slumbering until 1993. The SP started a ‘anti-campaign’ as a protest party against the current political situation, but however a lot of attention, they didn’t get all that many votes. Naturally in the opposition the SP didn’t do much more than say “we disagree” in the first four years, a rather irritating party!! Getting some practise in the first four years, they again presented themselves as a anti-party in the next elections. The noveltly was gone, still there was some attention in the media, but again not too many votes. Here and there in local elections things were better. After eight years of opposition, both the local SPs and the national SP have (in my opinion) very well-thought programs with some very good points and ideas. Also in debats the man in charge got better and the socialists have become an interesting party, that will not get much votes though (7 of 150 ‘chairs’).
Somewhere before the year 2000 the radio-DJ Henk Westbroek started a local party that he called “Leefbaar Utrecht” (livable Utrecht) as opposed to the conventional local parties, more for the common man, pointing to the thougths and problems of the common man. In the last elections the local parties did well and Leefbaar Utrecht was a succes.
This succes spread over the rest of the Netherlands. “Leefbaar” parties popped up everywhere, but don’t have much to do with eachother. Also the idea for a national Leefbaar party came up and on 7/3/99 was a fact, but it wasn’t until 10/6/01 that the founders started to think of a program and not before 25/11/01 before a list of candidates was selected. Pim Fortuyn was chosen as ‘first-to-vote’ (we literally call it ‘list-puller’).
Back to Fortuyn
With Fortuyn in their ranks Leefbaar Nederland was rising in the polls like a rocket, even upto levels making the other politicians very nervous. Both the media and politicians started to try to make Fortuyn look like an idiot and it was strange to see how well the media and politicians worked together. Interviews were cut, statements pulled out of their context, Fortuyn was misquoted, people dug in his past, politicians started to warn people against him, but all was in vain. Especially trying to depict him as a rascist probably made the polls rise. But then there was a major collision with Leefbaar Nederland when Fortuyn grew in his populism and started to ignore the party’s program for his own popularity. He gave his own ideas instead of those of Leefbaar Nederland and on top of all, he kept repeating the ideas he gave in his anti-Islam books. When he stated that the Islamitic culture was a retarted one and however taking his words back a bit and explaining more fully what he meant, Leefbaar Nederland decided that they no longer wanted to be associated with Fortuyn. Quite cranked in his ego, Fortuyn first started to backstab, but later came to his senses and formed his own party, so that he at least could take part in the elections. This was only days before the closing-time of the registration of parties so Fortuyn rapidly had to get a list together. After overcoming the initial shock, the people again took Fortuyn in their arms and the newly founded “Lijst Pim Fortuyn” (list PF) became the new rocket in the polls, and Leefbaar Nederland had to find a new main man, but still came out pretty well in the beginning. The anti-Fortuyn actions continued and on top of all, the man published his ‘party program’ in the form of the book “The Ruins Of Eight Years Purple”. Like Fortuyn in speech, the book is full of ‘this is wrong’, ‘that is stupid’, ‘I disagree with this and that’ without much solutions or ideas of his own. Politicians started to point at Fortuyns weak points, lack of ideas and solutions and to let the people know what they did do well in the past years. Fortuyn proved himself a bad loser and more than ones, he just got angry and walked away when he got serious opposition. His biggest blunder was walking away in the first big TV-debate when the ‘list-puller’ of Groen Links talked him under the table. This was the first time the polls for Fortuyn had a downward direction (in favour of Groen Links, you can imagine how much the Dutchman understands of politics). Also other not-too-smart sayings came from his mouth, like: “just go home and cook” to a female journalist.
But things got a bit different. The media found out that Fortuyn was a massive magnet for viewers, so the man started to pop up in the strangest shows and quizes, often getting the change to say what he really means. Inspite of what is often said, I have heard from his own mouth for two times that Fortuyn had nothing against the Islam religion (“everybody should know that for himself”) and the biggest aversion against the Islam culture was the old-fashionedness like the suppression of women (and of course that of homophiles, but I never heard him say that). Also his ideas about the immigration-subject became clearer. Fortuyn wanted a much more strict immigration-policy. Foreigners who wanted to come here should be checked and only let in if really necessary (political fugetives are allowed for example). Foreigners already here should get more rights, but also integrate more in the Dutch society. It is also said, but I never heard it Fortuyn saying himself, that he was prepared to give all the illegal immigrants that are already here, a staying-permit. I must add -however- that his ideas changed from day to day and from week to week, depending on the public’s opinion.
The night of the murder, I was watching different chanels to hear what was going on. When I zapped CNN they were talking to Philip Dewinte. Philip Dewinter of all people! Dewinter is of course leader of the Belgian “Vlaams Blok” (Flemish block), the extreme-right party of Belgium that got many votes in the latest local elections. Impressed by the popularity of Fortuyn, Dewinter contacted him. As I understand it, in the beginning they had some conversations and found out about their differences and conformities. Dewinter started his own Leefbaar party (Leefbaar Antwerpen), but especially after saying that Fortuyn shouldn’t be so open about his homosexuality, Fortuyn wanted nothing more to do with him. Also Fortuyn got raging when being compared to Jörg Haider, Dewinter or Le Pen. I once saw him being interviewed when walking to the Rotterdam townhall for the local elections (where he got 37% of the votes by the way), when somebody was waving around a plate saying “Haider from Holland”. If Fortuyn could have gotten to him, he had probably smacked the boy’s face! Several times Fortuyn said: “I really don’t want to be associated with these people. They are rascist, I am not. I don’t belong to the intellectual right”, he even found the idea offending and it was often the reason to cut off an interview. Whether or not this was a media-trick, I don’t know. Fact is that he wanted a lot of changes in Dutch politics, not only in the immigration policy. Progressiveness is usually not a characteristic of political right. And not having a program or belonging to a certain political tendency or movement, it is hard to say where to place Fortuyn. Maybe populism will be a new kind of politics after him?
Anyway, when I think of it, there were only a few things that Fortuyn had his own ideas about. He had some vague ideas about unfit-for-work benefits (of course, he used to work for the Social Economic Council who just launched a plan) and health-insurances, but that must be about it.
As time continued, Fortuyn became better in the debate. In the beginning I was totally anoyed by him never letter another person speak, only saying “no” and asking “why” and his theatrical way of acting. Recently he actually listened to other politician’s arguments and then told them how they were wrong. Also he tried to think what would be a good coalition (to be president of) and tried to make friends with possible partners. As said, his ideas differed from time to time, all for the sake of getting as many votes as possible.
I suppose you all know that Fortuyn was shot dead on 6/5/02 at 18:06 after walking out of a radio-studio where he just had an interview. The man who most likely did it, was caught, but even after three days there is no statement. Dutchmen are in shock, suddenly everybody seems to like him, while previously it was about 15% in favour and the rest very much against. There is talking about the death of democracy, but I think this is highly overreacted. Of course, if Fortuyn wouldn’t have been in the media so much, it probably wouldn’t have happened, but I don’t think it would have been different if he had been a TV-personality instead of a politician. When I write this the police still thinks the shooter acted alone in a short periode of insanity. The shooter was a legal adviser for an environmental activist group, but he did have a pistol and ammunition at his place. Recently having become a father, his wife seemed to be shocked. Some people claim that the shooter was a member of a very small left-wing-extremists group that was possibly connected by the unsolved murder of an environmental civil-servant in 1996. This case has been reopened.
I definately was no supporter of Fortuyn, but it is too bad that he can no longer prove what he was worth in the government. I had hoped that he would become a middle-sized opposition party, but now it seems that the Netherlands are heading towards ‘ungovernmentability’ when a party without a program, without a charismatic leader and without a proper politician is going to get a massive amount of sentimental votes. New elections in a few months I think!
BUT, politics will never be the same again and some things are (back) on the agenda and as Fortuyn used to say: “even when I don’t get one single vote, I at least made certain subjects discussable again”.