Murdered on May 6: who was Pim Fortuyn, and does he still have an impact?

The story behind the infamous Dutch politician.

May 4 and May 5 are both important days in the Netherlands. The country remembers the people who died during World War II on National Remembrance Day and celebrates our freedom the day after on Liberation Day.

But many people also remember May 6, as it marks the date on which the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated 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 flamboyant style, Fortuyn divided the Dutch political sphere in a way that few people managed to do before him.

Accused of racism, sexism, populism, or any kind of -ism with a bad reputation, the controversy around Pim Fortuyn grew.

During the presentation of his last book, protesters supposedly threw a cake filled with excrement and vomit in his face.

He called for an ‘ideological fight’ against Islam, meaning that he wanted a debate about how Islamic culture is incompatible with Dutch liberal views.

In his own words, parts of Islam had no place in Dutch society. Fortuyn was heavily criticised for using the word achterlijk to describe these parts of Islam, meaning as much as ‘backwards’ or ‘retarded’.

Pim Fortuyn’s assassination

On May 6, 2002, just a few days before the elections, the ‘lone wolf’ Volkert van der Graaf shot Pim Fortuyn at point-blank range outside of the studios in Hilversum.

In court, Van der Graaf claimed he saw the need to kill Fortuyn because he was a threat to Dutch society and used Islamic culture as a scapegoat to gain political power.

Many Dutch people saw the assassination of Pim Fortuyn as the murder of Dutch innocence and Dutch democracy.

Before May 6, 2002, the idea of someone being murdered for their ideas was something alien to most Dutch people — something that happened in the past or in other countries, but not “where we live.”

Translation: On May 4, we remember the dead. On May 5th, we celebrate freedom. We will be quiet again on May 6th. On May 6, Pim Fortuyn, the man of free speech, was murdered.

How did his death affect Dutch politics?

Priding itself as the one country where the prime minister rides his bike to work, the Dutch identity experienced a new vulnerability.

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 favour.

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 been 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 (in Dutch). It’s an interview of Pim Fortuyn, made by Theo van Gogh, who was himself murdered for his ideas two years later.

Decades later, how does the Dutch population feel?

Pim Fortuyn’s death hasn’t stopped his ideas from persisting within the Dutch population. In 2022, a large part of the Dutch population still agreed with Fortuyn’s political stance, according to the AD.

Research by the EenVandaag Opinion Panel in 2022 showed that 24% of Dutch voters said they would have voted for him in the elections had he still been alive.

While 72% of the population found Fortuyn’s ideas important to Dutch culture, 45% also admitted that he had contributed to a division in society.

Have you heard the story of Pim Fortuyn before? Tell us in the comments below!

Featured Image: Roy Buesker/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

Frank Kool
Frank Kool
Born and raised in Holland, spent his time procrastinating and studying Psychology and Philosophy. Frank harbors a special interest in weird social phenomena (which are ALL social phenomenon if you think about them long enough).

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  1. Nice article, but funnily enough it shows that the accusations of Pim of being ‘demonised’ by the media started a life of their own. The cakes that were thrown in his face were not filled with excrement or vomit, that was a myth. The smell was caused by a ‘stink bomb’ set off at the location.
    Added to that, Pim was not the only politician receiving a cake on the head: Cakes were thrown on minister Ruding, Labour leader Melkert etc. etc.
    Fortuyn himself was a master in demonising others by accusing them of belittling him. Too bad he was killed. Apart from the obvious tragedy of any murder, this was the first political assassination since the founding of the Dutch Republic. It would have been a delight to have Pim around today. Not that he would still be in politics today because he could not come up with solid policies outside of his populist frames.

  2. Volkert van der Graaff is a typical example of a left-wing lunatic weaned on “progressive”socialist dogma that is ruining Dutch society which has become to a degree Sovietized like most of the EU. Types like Graaf sometimes perceive themselves as “do-gooders”, almost Messianic and do great harm to their society and whatever good causes they are involved in. As is typical of this society’s “justice” he was released in 2014 because cold-blooded murderers have feelings too. Then in 2018, Van der Graaf had the nerve to take legal action against the government over the terms of his parole, saying that the parole hearings prevented him from emigrating. Oh the inhumanity, the injustice to this poor little fellow! Maybe to the Republic of the Congo would be appropriate for him.

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