TCS Daily

Pim in Perspective

By Erik Driessens - May 10, 2002 12:00 AM

THE NETHERLANDS -- Last Monday, Pim Fortuyn was brutally shot dead after giving a radio interview.

Pim Fortuyn was the openly gay former professor of sociology and columnist who founded and led the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF), a new right of center political party in the Netherlands. Polls showed the party was about to make an unprecedented entry into Dutch parliament by gaining 20 to 30 seats out of a total of 150. Fortuyn was eating away at the blue-collar base of the Labor party. His party has decided to carry on, in order to realize his dream of a right-of-center political majority comprised of LPF, the Liberal party ('liberal' as in free trade, fiscal conservatism and a balance between law and order and civil rights -- that's what liberal means in continental Europe), and Christian Democrats.

Pim Fortuyn said a lot of things that made people angry, especially those on the political far left. He called Islam a backward culture (the Dutch word for backward can also mean retarded). He was very critical of Islam, but this criticism applied especially to Wahhabism and other fundamentalist strains because of their hostility to individual freedom, their position on women in society, and their call for the dominance of religion over reason and public life.

His political program contained a mix of libertarian, conservative and even 1 or 2 socialist proposals -- this may come as news to those in the United States and in Europe who portrayed him as a far right wing politician. Not all of his proposals were practical, and some were, in my view, downright incredible. But his supporters never considered him to be infallible, they just were grateful that he gave a voice to their concerns about issues most Dutch politicians preferred to avoid. (Dutch politicians have always been reluctant to talk about immigration and crime committed by ethnic minorities, for example. Frits Bolkestein, a candidate of the Liberal party, broke this taboo in 1994. But in 1998 Mr. Bolkestein left parliament after the elections and went to Brussels, to become a member of the European Commission.)

Mr. Fortuyn also said a few things about the environment. He didn't believe in the alleged threat of global warming. He said the environmental debate is dominated by ideology.

And he weighed in on the animal rights' debate in Europe saying he wanted to reverse some laws forbidding breeding farms for furbearing animals like mink. It's well possible that this is how he signed his death warrant. See, most environmental groups are well integrated into the Dutch Polder model: Several interest groups can sit at the table, while negotiating new laws. But animal rights groups are more radical than run-of-the-mill environmental groups and are infamous for their violent actions. The alleged killer is an environmental and animal rights activist. He has no prior arrests, but he was known by the Dutch internal intelligence service.

In addition to his views on immigration and the environment, Mr. Fortuyn also wanted tough regulations for our welfare system, especially our disability benefits, which have been abused on a large scale by unions and employers. While the ruling coalition of Liberals and Social Democrats (Labor) succeeded in getting rid of unemployment and the fiscal deficit, it couldn't agree on how to deal with immigration, crime and the fact that the Netherlands have almost 1million officially 'disabled' with a work force of around 7 million people. To add to this: bureaucrats setting budgets every year still centrally plan our health care system. This has led to waiting lists and rationing of care.

Pim Fortuyn decided that he could no longer watch all of this, and entered the political arena. In doing so, he also brought a new style into Dutch politics. He always said what he thought, without care what others might think. This appealed to a lot people, some of whom hadn't voted in years. His outspokenness without caring about being politically correct irritated a lot of people. Mr. Fortuyn verbally attacked ministers too, claiming they did their jobs poorly, and sometimes added personal remarks. He played political hardball.

But his opponents unfairly started quoting him out of context, often in order to make him look like a right-wing extremist. He was called a racist, compared to Jean Marie Le Pen in France, Jorg Haider in Austria and some characters from WWII. The press went along, confirming suspicions about media bias. As much as 80% of Dutch journalists vote left (and our political center is to the left of that of the United States).

The Netherlands has always been an open democracy. The last political assassination was in 1672. Politicians never needed bodyguards. One could see MPs or even the prime minister walking by or riding a bike in The Hague. I hope this openness can be maintained, in spite of the brutal murder of Pim Fortuyn.

The writer works as a translator in The Netherlands.


TCS Daily Archives