The Netherlands has spent the last two days mindful of our history: by remembering the casualties of World War II on May 4th, Dodenherdenking, and by celebrating our freedom on May 5th, Bevrijdingsdag. But for a lot of people, May 6th is also a sacred day, as it marks the date on which the controversial Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated, back in 2002.
Who was Pim Fortuyn?
A former writer and professor of sociology at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Pim Fortuyn took the Dutch political scene by storm at the beginning of the new millennium. With his controversial ideas, strong debating skills, and his flamboyant style, Fortuyn divided the Dutch political sphere like few people did before him. He called for an ‘ideological fight’ against Islam, meaning that he wanted a debate about the ways in which Islamic culture is incompatible with our modern and liberal views. In his own words, there were parts of Islam which had no place in our society. Fortuyn would be heavily criticized for using the word achterlijk to describe these bad parts of Islam, the word meaning as much as ‘backwards’ or ‘retarded’.
Accused of racism, sexism, populism, or just any kind of -ism with a bad reputation, the controversy around Pim Fortuyn grew. During the presentation of his last book, protesters threw a cake filled with excrement and vomit in his face.
Pim Fortuyn’s assisination
What started with shit-filled pies and death threats ended in assassination. On May 6th 2002, just a few days before the elections, the ‘lone wolf’ Volkert van der Graaff shot Pim Fortuyn at point-blank range outside of the studios of Hilversum. In court, van der Graaff claimed that he saw need to kill Fortuyn for being a threat to Dutch society.
Beyond even the murder of a human being, many Dutch people saw the assassination of Pim Fortuyn as the murder of Dutch innocence and Dutch democracy. Before May 6th 2002, the idea of someone being murdered for his/her ideas was something alien to most Dutch people, something that happened in the past, or happens in other countries, but not here where we live. Priding itself as that one country where the prime minister rides his bike to work, a new feeling of vulnerability entered into the Dutch identity. Anger rose, and tensions grew between various ethnic and political groups.
Following the death of Fortuyn, his political party carried on, but soon fell out of favor. It seemed that without the spark of its charismatic and bold leader, neither its ideas nor its politicians could stick together. The party disbanded in 2008. Though we will never know how successful his political theories would have worked in practice, there can be no question that Pim Fortuyn was a unique politician who was not held back from speaking his mind by threats or insults.
If you can spare half an hour of time, you might want to watch the following video (Dutch). It is an interview of Pim Fortuyn, made by Theo van Gogh, who was himself murdered for his ideas two years later.