Right-wing populist Fortuyn murdered

Move to right in elections

On 15 May, the List Fortuyn (LPF), the party led by right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn until his murder on 6 May, won 26 seats, slightly less than expected.

After Fortuyn's murder, it was widely predicted that the LPF would garner at least 20% and it appears the lower, 17% tally actually registered, was probably due to the very public faction fight that broke out inside the LPF after his death.

The struggle for power inside the LPF, together with the inept campaign waged by outgoing Social Democrat (PvDA) premier Wim Kok who had declared that voting LPF was a "risky adventure", helped the "more moderate" Christian Democrats (CDA) to win 43 seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament. Kok's party has been crushed.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the ultra- reactionary head of the CDA and likely next prime minister chose not to attack Fortuyn, instead casting himself in the role of Holland's leading critic of the multi- cultural society and openly making overtures for a coalition with Fortuyn until the latter's death.

Researchers have pointed out that young people especially voted for Fortuyn's party but also that support for his ideas had a broad electoral base, mainly in the big cities where the extreme right- wing Centrum Democrats used to poll heavily.

The preliminary results indicate clearly that a large chunk of the Dutch population has opted for a rightist mixture of repressive immigration policy, dismantling of the country's still relatively liberal social welfare arrangements and tough law and order measures.The main question now will be how the extreme-right in the Netherlands will foment social unrest and how Fortuyn's party will deal with his inheritance.

In the meantime, people will have to deal with a growing climate of hatred towards the left as ministers and politicians will now, unprecedentedly, drive around in bullet-proof cars, surrounded by armed body-guards.

The once homely, placid, welcoming Netherlands is dead, wiped away for ever by the events of 6 May.

At 18.10 on that day, Pim Fortuyn was shot dead in a car park after leaving a radio studio in Hilversum where he had just given a live interview for a popular radio station. The gunman, who shot Fortuyn five times, was captured within half an hour. This unprecedented murder rocked the Netherlands, making the political situation even more uncertain and causing massive public anxiety.

Before his killing, Fortuyn was on course to change the political landscape with his vicious attacks on the coalition government's migration and law and order policies and his anti-establishment rhetoric as well as his proposals for a brutal pruning of health-care and education.

Because of his one-liners, snappy sound bites and almost constant presence in the media, above all on TV, people readily identified themselves with Fortuyn and he become a person in whom many saw a saviour.

The churches, social organisations, stand-up comedians, progressive political parties and anti-fascists were not so impressed, however, and warned that Fortuyn's ideas were nationalistic and xenophobic, pointing out that the kind of country he wanted was a "survival of the fittest" society, forced integration of minorities and closed borders. Just before his death Fortuyn commented alluding to immigration for BBC TV: "The house is full. We have to make sure that the guests don't take over the house."

Immediately after the shooting, a crowd of several hundred people gathered at the parliament building in The Hague, where least a hundred skinheads from the nazi group Stormfront, supported by right-wing football hooligans, set fire to cars in the building's garage, threatened journalists and scrapped with the police. Slogans as "Murderers. Kill the left" were shouted over and over again.

Fascists and others enraged by the killing went to work on the internet, sending threats and hate mail to organisations who they believe responsible for the Fortuyn's demise, not least especially the PvdA and GroenLinks (Green Left).

The day after the murder, one political party received over 5,000 hate mails and security for the leaders of Groenlinks and the PvdA was stepped up. Evidently, a lot of people were willing to find these parties guilty of "creating an atmosphere in which this murder could take place". Fortuyn had said on TV, months before his death, that the PvdA should be held responsible "if something should happen to me or if I were to die".

The shock of his murder brought the election campaign to a standstill. Fortuyn's Rotterdam home, the scene of the shooting in Hilversum and the city hall in Rotterdam, where condolence books could be signed became the sites of anti-establishment demonstrations at which flowers, photographs, pamphlets, teddy bears and presents were laid down as expressions of mourning and sympathy.

The evening after the murder, around 100,000 people marched silently through Fortuyn's Rotterdam stronghold followed, on Friday 10 May, by more silent protests, attracting thousands, in other Dutch towns.

In Amsterdam, a delegation of 30 fascist New Nationalist Party (NNP) supporters tagged on to the end of the demonstration, unwelcome to the organisers, but not, however, sent packing. In other cities, too, delegations of fascists, shouted "Never again the left in power", "The Left is going to die" etc.

Their slogans were not appreciated by all those present but others joined in. In Leyden, Fortuyn sympathisers smashed windows at a squatted house, and attacked another squat, wrecking the front door and a room.

The fact that the right-wing populist's suspected killer was active in a small environmentalist organisation was enough to trigger a barrage of threats to environmental groups. Anti-fascist organisations were also attacked and the organisers of a planned anti-fascist demonstration in Rotterdam was forced into hiding by the lynch-mob atmosphere.

The right-wing newspaper De Telegraaf played the role of inciter by pointing to possible suspects and publishing alarmist stories about the animal rights movement in the Netherlands and pictures of the three people who threw tarts at Fortuyn during a press conference on the 14 March. The three arrested for a day for the elections, were charged with inciting hatred and causing violence but have now been released. Meanwhile, the alleged killer's girlfriend and baby are in hiding.

It was later reported that people equipped with ladders and petrol had staked out the house of a totally innocent family, guilty only of having the same family name as the suspect, forcing them to flee their home.

On 9 May, it was possible, in Rotterdam, to see Fortuyn's body, "lying in state" in a church for the last time. Thousands of people took the opportunity to do so, standing in long queues, variously crying, angry or quietly applauding in kind of mourning previously unseen in the Netherlands. People, it seems, felt they had lost lost a son and said frequently that "Pim said what we all thought". They were not able to explain what that was exactly for the TV cameras.

Others claimed with massive exaggeration that it was impossible in the Netherlands to express an opinion without being shot to death. What was common to all was that they blamed "the demonisation of Pim Fortuyn by the media and the politicians" for his death.

On 11 May, Fortuyn's official funeral took place. Along the route of the procession, hundreds stood, clapped and threw flowers on the hearse. At a Rotterdam church, in the presence of several government ministers who had to leave by the backdoor, Fortuyn's brother made a political speech insisting that Fortuyn was "not a right-wing extremist".

Fortuyn was buried in Driehuis, the small village where he was born and will lie there for six weeks before making his final journey to Italy where he had a second home. In Driehuis, as elsewhere, thousands of people visited his grave to pay a last tribute.

The people who turned out across the country did so for a large variety of motives. Some were were genuinely shocked by the manner of Fortuyn's death and, in this way, wanted to make a protest against violence in the Netherlands; others were protesting against a political establishment which left them alone to face the problems of rising crime and migration while others felt they had lost their idol, like a popular footballer or musician.

Taken as a whole, the outpouring of grief is a very strong signal to politicians in power that they have to change their way of dealing with widespread social concerns and the elections have only confirmed the fact.

Jeroen Bosch, Anti-Fascist Action in the Netherlands