"I say what I think and I do what I say!"
Pim Fortuyn - 1948/2002
Fortuyn started his political career on the left-wing. It is unmistakable that he shifted right during the last decade of his life, but until the end he vehemently fought accusations that he was politically aligned with the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Jörg Haider. Fortuyn's ideas, especially those concerning the Muslim community were far from proper. A demagogue he was for sure, but putting him off as a fascist is all too easy. What Fortuyn's skyrocketing political career proved was that there is a gaping hole between the politician and the man in the street. He proved that the man in the street doesn't always have proper thoughts. He also proved that the man is far greater in number than we like to admit.
After the September 11 attacks the fear of the Muslim community got hold of the hearts of many Dutch people. Most of the intellectual elite immediately rebelled against these emotions and tried to beat them down with reason. To have such fears is no crime, but to judge your fellow man on the basis of your fears is a big mistake, or so the masses were told. Fortuyn on the other hand fed these subconcious emotions and, being a professor and an intellectual authority figure, gave an excuse to the man in the street to fear his neighbour. In return the Lijst Pim Fortuyn got his vote. In the end, this was what it was all about and Fortuyn was more of an opportunist than a racist.
Immigration wasn't the only issue Pim adressed. He stressed other common problems, like the dramatic degradation of railroad services and the increase in crime rates, to fuel his poll success. It worked mainly because Pim was the first politician in the history of the Netherlands to adress the problem and not the solution. Fortuyn's schtick was to constantly point out where and how the traditional parties had failed. He blew their small slip-ups completely out of proportion. In the mean time, he offered no solutions either, but this is something the masses just didn't seem to notice.
Unfortunately, his routine was very spectacular in debate and the voters that turned away from the boring Dutch politics years ago fell for it en masse. In order to understand this, it is important to remember that political battles were never before fought in the limelight in this country. In the U.S.A. it has been common practice to smear your opponents and to glorify people instead of ideas during campaign. For years, this was just not done in the Netherlands. The traditional parties were caught completely off guard.
It is Pim's undisputed merit that he has brought politics back to the people in the Netherlands, even though his ideas were radical. Now that he is gone, we must hope that at least he served as an eye opener for the traditional Dutch political parties. Fortuyn showed that Joe Average has a vote too and that he is willing to use it. He also showed that Joe Average feels unrepresented and unloved by the government.
On the morning of his death, things looked well for Fortuyn. Poll results of that day showed that he was now the most likely candidate for prime minister. Wether the Netherlands would have benefited or suffered from his rule, his death is an unparallelled tragedy for this country. On May 4, the Netherlands traditionally remembers those who have fallen in battle and violent conflict since the beginning of World War II. It is a day to remember those who gave their life in order that people can live in peace and not be prosecuted for being different. On May 5, the Dutch celebrate freedom and commemorate the liberation from the Nazi regime in 1945. On May 6, a man was shot and killed because he had a different opinion. Pim Fortuyn was perhaps a difficult man and his ideas radical, but part of our democracy died right there with him.
Update June 20, 2002:
It has been confirmed some time ago that Dutch environmental activist Volkert van der Graaf assassinated Fortuyn. As of yet, authorities have not released any additional information regarding the investigation. It is not clear if Van der Graaf acted alone or if he planned the action together with others.
Van der Graaf is known for his active role in the Vereniging Milieu Offensief, where he fought legal battles against corporations and farmers over permits which allowed the receiver to emit a limited amount of environmentally hazardous gasses, like ammonia. Van der Graaf was very succesful at this, because many corporations and farmers did not go through the proper procedures to obtain those permits. If a company was prepared to pay a settlement for the court case that was large enough, Milieu Offensief took it and used it to buy emission permits themselves, thus blocking the opportunity for others to buy the permit and actually emit toxic gasses.
Update November23, 2002:
Half a year has passed since the shooting of Pim Fortuyn. And was it ever a busy period! As expected, Fortuyn, deceased but still listed, got many sympathy votes, martyr votes and straightforward anti-establishment votes in the elections that followed. Although his close friend Harry Mens had relayed Fortuyn's lack of confidence in his own party, it did not stop the LPF from growing big enough to form a governing coalition.
To put it mildly, they messed up. Within a remarkably short period of time, the LPF members changed their leading candidate three times, had two ministers of their own involved in such a row that neither would speak to the other, had an extreme rightwing subfraction split off (two people) who got photographed and videotaped while battering a journalist on their first day, disturbed the day of the queen-husband's burial, launched one bad idea after another, and so on, and so on...
In just a few months time, the LPF turned the Dutch government into a circus, culminating in the cabinet's dismissal. New elections will take place in January 2003. One of the LPF's suggestions for the coming elections: to reintroduce the death penalty. Mind you, that would get the Netherlands kicked out of the EU.
Meanwhile, Volkert van der Graaf has finally confessed to the shooting of Pim Fortuyn. His motivation: he felt that Fortuyn and his radical ideas were becoming a serious threat to society and the environment.