International Papers

A World Without Fortuyn

The assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn on Monday evening represents a “loss of innocence” for the Netherlands, according to the left-leaning daily Volkskrant. Trouw added, “It’s hard to believe that this has happened. We could always be sure that we could settle our political differences with words. This essential trust in democracy has been seriously violated.” (Dutch translations courtesy of an invaluable roundup in Britain’s Guardian.) Spain’s El País said, “Dutch politics is no longer the haven of tranquility and paradise of consensus government that has made the Netherlands a paradigm of stability for the last 20 years.”

Fortuyn was gunned down nine days before the Netherlands’ May 15 general election, in which his party was expected to poll between 15 percent and 30 percent. It was predicted that he might be the leader of the opposition (some papers suggested there was a chance Fortuyn would become prime minister, but given his unwillingness to form a coalition with parties that did not favor an freeze on immigration, this seems unlikely). The elections will take place as planned, but no campaigning or polling has been permitted since Tuesday morning. A 32-year-old “environmentalist activist” was charged with Fortuyn’s murder Wednesday.

Fortuyn was variously described as: “[o]utspoken, flamboyant, confrontational and highly articulate” (the Guardian); “Europe’s first completely post-modern populist” ( Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung); “[the d]andyish maverick of the Dutch Right … [h]ighly articulate, telegenic, and oozing charisma” (the Times); “a political cowboy, excessive and megalomaniac” (France’s Libération); “a right-wing rabble-rouser” (Britain’s Daily Mirror); and the “Dutch ‘Le Pen’ ” (Britain’s Sun, which was the only British paper—online, at least—to show Fortuyn’s body lying in the car park where he fell).

The Sun was by no means the only paper to link Fortuyn with Le Pen (and Austria’s Jörg Haider), a comparison he rejected. (Canada’s National Post reported that he viewed Le Pen “as an anti-semite beneath contempt. “A man who says the Holocaust is no more than a footnote in history is beyond my comprehension.”) The Times declared, “Unlike Le Pen he was an intellectual; unlike Haider he stood for a subtle and complex blend of politics, appealing to a relatively broad constituency; and unlike both of them he had worked his way into the national consciousness with seeming ease.”

Although he was most known for wanting to halt immigration to the Netherlands and to encourage the assimilation of immigrants already in Holland, Fortuyn was happy to defend gay rights, women’s rights, drug use, and prostitution. The Guardian’s obituary explained that “Fortuyn’s open gayness was fundamental to understanding his politics. His belief was that Muslim immigration undermined the society he cherished. For him, Muslims were people who hated gays, and thought women were second-class citizens.”

Several papers tried to explain Fortuyn’s meteoric rise to prominence (his political party has existed for a matter of months). For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the key was his “courage to say what was and still is politically incorrect. … Today’s populists are a product of a paternalist style of politics that presumptuously believes it has a duty to protect people from certain unpleasant truths.” Or perhaps it was a backlash against Holland’s excessively  cozy coalition style power-sharing? Libération quoted the editor of the Dutch weekly Vry Nederland, who suggested, “Fortuyn channeled the enormous disenchantment of the baby boom generation, who are tired of an insufficiently representative democracy, in which people cannot directly elect the prime minister, mayors, nor legislators.”

What will become of the Fortuyn’s political party, the Lijst Pim Fortuyn? The Financial Times predicted, “LPF was a one-man movement. It was last night thought likely to attract a sympathy vote but could no longer expect the 19 to 36 seats in the 150-member lower house that various polling organisations had been forecasting.” The Guardian, on the other hand, said voters could send the LPF “to parliament in massive numbers. … They might even emerge as Holland’s largest single party—packed entirely with political novices. The prime ministership would fall to Fortuyn’s little-known black deputy, heading an avowedly anti-immigration coalition. A constitutional crisis could beckon: Queen Beatrix is thought reluctant to nominate such a man to head her government.”