Pim's legacy

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

The dozens of commemorations across the Netherlands on 6 May testify to devotion still felt for populist politician Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated a year ago.

His ghost still haunts the corridors of power in The Hague and few people have the nerve to criticise the ideas espoused by the fallen demagogue.

Yet, even his strongest supporters are finding it very difficult to take up the reigns and continue the Fortuyn crusade. No one is really sure what it is anymore.

During his five-month career as an active politician, Fortuyn berated the traditional parties for not combating crime; for allowing too many immigrants into the country and for letting them stay here without learning the language or integrating.

Fortuyn proclaimed that the Netherlands was full and that the government should "close the border" and put the needs of ordinary Dutch people first. He condemned the two-term, centre-left Purple coalition between Labour PvdA, the Liberal VVD and Democrats D66 as a "disaster".

His solution? Do away with back-room politics and elect a government, probably headed by Fortuyn himself, stacked with successful business people and visionaries.

This coalition government was not going to bother about details and the nitty-gritty of policy. The ministers, or managers as Fortuyn saw them, would come up with a broad outline and leave it to the technocrats to fill in the details.

After years of micromanagement government (which studied and checked every plan incessantly), Fortuyn's "do" attitude was enthusiastically received by several diverse sections of society.

Helped by his appearances on a television business programme chaired by property tycoon Harry Mens, Fortuyn was an instant hit with many leaders in the business community.

But it was the ordinary man and woman on the street who really embraced Fortuyn. For thousands of white, low income earners in Rotterdam and other cities, the gay, well-to-do academic was "our Pim".

*quote1*They felt disenfranchised by the elite in The Hague and threatened by the large immigrant communities who lived cheek-to-jowl with them, but refused to be and think like them.

Fortuyn and his LPF party promised to change all that with a fantastic revolution and give the Netherlands back to the "common people". His star rose higher each time his opponents and sections of the media dared to accuse him of being far right like France's Jean Marie Le Pen; his supporters bristled at the charges levelled against their prophet and waited for their revenge.

Then on the eve of triumph with his party riding high in the polls nine days before the general election, an assassin's bullets stole Fortuyn away from them. Ferry Hoogendijk of the LPF spoke for a large section of the community when he claimed — without a shred of evidence — "the bullet came from the left".

Some of his drunken followers rioted outside Parliament on the night of 6 May and it looked briefly as if the murder might plunge the country into violent anarchy.

A year on, the devotion, some might say worship, of Fortuyn is still evident in Dutch society, but the zeal has ebbed.

The LPF organised a host of commemorations, but privately admit that the turnout will not match up to expectations. Indeed, Fortuynism — like many other radical political movements before it — has fragmented.

Even before his body was cold in the grave, several wannabes emerged, claiming to be the "new Fortuyn".

Former LPF Economic Affairs Minister and multi-millionaire Herman Heinsbroek was tipped as the heir apparent. But instead of bringing Fortuynists to the promised land, Heinsbroek bickered with his party colleague, Health Minister Eduard Bomhoff, and brought down the coalition government formed after the 15 May general election in just 87 days.

The LPF has spawned about half a dozen "true" Fortuyn parties, all of which bombed at the subsequent election on 22 January 2003. Even when former LPFer and Fortuyn wannabe Winny de Jong posed for "saucy pictures" in a sleazy magazine to promote her new party, the voters ignored her.

*quote2*Most of the electorate returned to the traditional parties and cut the LPF numbers from 25 to 8 MPs. Yet the traditional ruling parties, the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Labour PvdA have failed to get their act together.

They have adopted many of Fortuyn's slogans and policies on crime and immigration, but have proven themselves unable to find a recipe for a stable government.

The CDA, VVD and Democrat D66 are going to give it a go, but this compromise is far from the dynamic government Fortuyn envisaged as both the VVD and D66 were part of the Purple coalition he attacked so bitterly.

So what really remains of Fortuyn's legacy?

Bonny Luyben, 43, who runs an insulation firm in Rotterdam, will not let the world forget. An obsessive Feyenoord fan, Luyben had painted his soccer team's colours on his scooter. Now, he has added Fortuyn's "at your service" and other slogans to the bike.

Luyben told magazine Nieuw Revu that he rides around on the world's only "Pim scooter" to provoke people.

"I want to show there are still people who want to express his ideas. Not everyone can appreciate it. Sometimes I get cans hurled at me by our Moroccan fellow citizens, but they can't hurt me," he said.

The magazine spoke to other loyal "Pimites" and discovered a list of even-more bizarre Fortuyn heirlooms.

Sjaan van der Welten, 78, was Fortuyn's cleaner for ten years and the proud owner of his microwave oven.

"When Pim was still alive he would always give me things, because he loved me so much. My house is filled with them: lampshades, tables, etc. I talk to his photograph every day," Van der Welten said.

Kay van der Linden, 40, was a campaign manager for Leefbaar Nederland when Fortuyn led that party. Van der Linden treasures a bottle of whiskey Fortuyn accepted a drink from on 9 February 2002 — the night he was expelled from the party for claiming the Netherlands was full and suggesting the Constitutional ban on discrimination should be abolished.

hey want to hold it for a while. No problem as long as they don't drink from it," he said.

Others interviewed by the magazine displayed the Pim tattoos on their bodies. One man had a little tie tattooed under his neck in remembrance of his hero, who was a stylish dresser.

People, who were not touched by the Fortuyn phenomenon, might find this type of devotion misplaced or foolish, but it does illustrate Fortuyn's amazing ability to win hearts and minds.

He did not really say anything new; but he dared to make controversial statements and spoke with conviction. This made all the difference — his supporters believed he was serious about tackling the problems. More fundamentally, Pim cared and was going to do something about all these problems, while other politicians went through the motions or ignored them altogether.


Fortuyn's gift died with him. His LPF party is soldiering on, but it is a church without its prophet. To retain legitimacy, the party has to constantly hark back to what Pim said or what Pim would have done.

There is no future in this type of politics; the communist worship of Marx and Lenin was a disaster in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Cambodia and everywhere else it was tried.

The Dutch, on the other hand, have always been wary of experimenting with extreme political ideologies and the dalliance with Fortuyn's populism was the limit. The Dutch are much better at business and marketing, so it should not be a surprise that Fortuyn has posthumously transformed into the Dutch shopping channel's answer to Troy McClure.

Turn on the television in the Netherlands today and you will likely see Fortuyn looking back at you. But instead of spouting political rhetoric, these file images of a perfectly groomed Fortuyn are being used to sell a three-hour DVD about the man's life.

And in true shopping channel style, you can get an additional CD of Fortuyn's favourite classical music. You also have a large selection of Fortuyn books to choose from.

What does Fortuyn's family make of this tacky use of Pim's name? They are all for it. Keen to raise money for the Pim foundation and other good causes, Pim's brother, Marten Fortuyn, came up with the Pim flag (EUR 50, plus postage and administration costs), which he hoped would be bought en masse for 6 May.

So far, less than 10,000 have been snapped up.

Undeterred, the Fortuyn's also have other merchandise stamped with the Fortuyn family crest for sale. Bizarrely, some come with a certificate, signed by Pim Fortuyn himself, state that the artefact is a genuine Fortuyn.

A set of solid gold Fortuyn cuff links will set you back a cool EUR 499 — one way to ensure that Pim is never forgotten.

6 May 2003

0 Comments To This Article