New party chooses right-wing populist as lead candidate
Jeroen Bosch

Members of the new centre-right party Leefbaar Nederland (LN) ­ freely translated, Livable Netherlands ­ have opted massively, as predicted, to field right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn as their lead candidate in next Mayıs parliamentary elections.

On 24 November, Fortuyn, a day before his adoption, launched a reprint of his highly controversial book Islamisation of our culture. Dutch identity as a fundamental, having inveigled fake Imam Haselhoef to write a foreword to the book, calling for a total halt to asylum-seekers entering the Netherlands.

In the weeks before the LNıs party-congress, the party issued a new statement on refugees, calling for the number of refugees accepted to be limited to 10,000 a year. The statement, however, was rejected by a small majority at the congress.

Fortuyn commented afterwards that inside the LN, which he describes as "a movement, not a classic political party", a lot of work has still to be done on the refugee-issue. He also said he would respect this decision, but that the members "could not shut down his brain".

Fortuyn said that he saw refugees as calculating "there it's better, there I'll go" people. Other members at the congress stated that political refugees have created their own problems, expressing the view that "if refugees can't get along with the regime in their own country, they just should behave better."

Most party members saw the rejection of the 10,000 a year limit as a strategic move to appease the media, with which LN chairman Jan Nagel and Fortuyn are in a continuous self-proclaimed battle, and prevent the LN from being characterised as extreme right-wing.

In fact, Fortuyn has launched a campaign in the media, accusing it of belonging to the political establishment and ignoring him. However, Fortuyn has had a lot of attention for his policy of lashing out at the mainstream political parties.

Every major news programme and every newspaper has interviewed him and LN is predicted to get at least 15 seats in the Dutch parliament.

LN chairman Nagel and Hans Janmaat of the moribund racist Centrum Democrats (CD) share the same anger at the Labour Party (PvdA) but for different reasons. Nagel, who once belonged to the former PvdA, claims that the party has used the media to slap the extremist label on LN in the right-wing corner, to weaken its main competitor, Liberal Party (VVD)

Janmaat, on the other hand, accuses the PvdA of 'inventing' LN to weaken and divide the centre-right of Dutch politics. Of course, the fascist New National Party ( NNP) tried to hand out leaflets at the LN's congress but were given short shrift. Likewise, at the founding congress of LN, some members and former members of the CD were kicked out the party, although one is still unsuccessfully trying to get back in.

The NNP is facing its own small crisis anyway. A preelection meeting, in Amsterdam in November, was disrupted by anti-fascists and the fascists had to flee, leaving behind a huge quantity of newly printed leaflets. They still do not have a main theme for the elections. So far, the NNP's 'activity' has amounted to little more than holding a banner in the Rotterdam city hall.

Fortuyn was also member of the PvdA until 1989, when he became adviser to the Christian Democrats (CDA). In 1993, he spoke at the annual meeting of the OSL, a conservative right-wing organisation whose leader, Prosper Ego, was convicted for racism in 1995 and whose magazine Stavast (Stand Firm) finds space every month for xenophobic and racist comment.

During the eight years that Fortuyn wrote a column for Elsevier, a centre right magazine for business and politics, he often praised Janmaat, who has been convicted several times for racism, as an "upright citizen". Janmaat later offered Fortuyn a seat in the parliament if he would stand for the CD but Fortuyn refused.

Another prominent member of LN is Wim Couwenberg, a professor from Rotterdam and director of Civis Mundi, a conservative think-tank and magazine. Couwenberg, a strongly anti-Communist Cold War-veteran, writes for Tekos, the Flemish magazine of the Delta Foundation, which is linked to the French new-right organisation, GRECE.

Couwenberg spoke at a meeting of the Delta Foundation in Belgium in 1997, as well as at several OSL meetings, sits on the board of a pro-apartheid club and has spoken at pro-apartheid meetings.

Couwenberg is an accepted intellectual, with new-right ideas and gets regular space in the opinion pages of at least three big Dutch newspapers, de Volkskrant, Trouw and NRC Handelsblad to propagate the unification of the Netherlands with the Flemish part of Belgium, write about a stronger Dutch identity and fulminate against the multi-cultural society, the political establishment and asylum-seekers. Now, of course, he writes about LN as the party that can change the political landscape and fill the vacuum on the right.

When Pim Fortuyn said he wanted to enter politics, LN was the first to recruit him, in the knowledge that it would not stand a chance if he launched his own party. Fortuyn will not give up his other jobs as a consultant while running for election. He will also continue to give lectures to gatherings of the business, industry and banking establishment, from which he receives a lot of support, in the Netherlands. These links have enabled him to have four times the budget that the PvdA had to secure victory in the 1998 elections. Fortuynıs campaign will paint him as as the voice of the voiceless, as the real opposition to "the 3% who rule the Netherlands".

Combined with big victories by 'Leefbaar'-type parties and initiatives at local level in the city council elections in 1998 and the moves everywhere in the Netherlands to form similar parties, LN will be tough competition for the mainstream political parties, representing as it does an outright attack on solidarity, tolerance, immigrants, refugees, Muslims and egalitarian values in the Netherlands.

Written for Searchlight Magazine, Januari 2002 edition