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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
The paradox of Pim Fortuyn
March to commemorate Pim Fortuyn
The Dutch are mystified by Pim Fortuyn's murder
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By Angus Roxburgh
BBC Europe correspondent

It's hard to imagine an entire nation as confused and perplexed as the Dutch are today.

In fact, it was rather comforting to know that I wasn't the only one in Rotterdam this week who found the whole business of Pim Fortuyn's murder - its motives and consequences - totally mystifying.

I was just removing my ear-piece after a live broadcast on Tuesday when a man who had been listening approached me. "I work for Dutch television," he said. "What do you make of all this?"

Pim Fortuyn
A third of Mr Fortuyn's supporters were said to be immigrants
It was such a broad question, I was left fishing for words, but he saved me from my embarrassment by quickly adding: "We don't understand a thing. It's a complete mystery."

The puzzle starts with the man who's been arrested for the murder.

Bizarre motives

I don't know if you can have good or bad reasons for killing someone, but here the motive verges on the bizarre.

It turns out that Mr Fortuyn may have been shot six times in the head and chest by a man who said in an interview a couple of years ago that as a boy he'd objected to fishing with worms because it was cruel to both worm and fish.

Now - a vegan animal-rights campaigner - he has a strong objection to factory farming, so he decided to assassinate a politician whose party had scarcely even formulated a policy on the issue.

Then there is the question of Mr Fortuyn's political party and its supporters.

A third of them are said to be immigrants - despite the fact that its principal policy is to halt all immigration.

The long queue of mourners snaking around his house in Rotterdam contained many Asian and African faces.

One exotic looking lady of Indonesian origin, wearing horn-rimmed sunglasses and holding a glorious bouquet of flowers, said she remembered the assassination of John F Kennedy - and this was the same.

A wonderful man was dead, and she had been crying all night.

Immigration policy

Mourners pay their respects
Many of the mourners objected strongly to Mr Fortuyn's views
Mr Fortuyn, it's true, wanted to integrate immigrants already in the Netherlands, rather than expel them.

He objected to Islam, he said, because it militated against Dutch liberal traditions - he himself supported gay rights, legalised drugs and prostitution - the very hallmarks of Holland's permissive society.

A young woman filing past Pim Fortuyn's house illustrated her support for him by pointing to her well-exposed cleavage. "I want to be free to walk about like this," she said.

"But they come up to me [Muslim immigrants] and swear at me or even spit at me. They've got to learn to live like we do."

Next paradox: The line of mourners included hundreds of people who objected strongly to Mr Fortuyn. They came too with floral tributes.

The reason?

To register their anguish and disgust at Holland's sudden descent from a land of consensus and tranquillity into a brutish shadow of America.

The murder has united Dutch people of every persuasion in a determination to make sure that this mad act will never be repeated.


Mr Fortuyn himself is the biggest mystery of all. He was a right-winger who had pictures of Marx and Lenin in his house.

The commonest remark was that he [Pim Fortuyn] spoke the unspeakable, broke taboos, voiced ordinary people's concerns which mainstream politicians swept under the carpet

A man intolerant of Islamic culture because it wasn't tolerant enough for his. Most Dutch people describe him as a populist rather than a fascist.

He was well-known in Holland long before he became active in politics - as a flamboyant, outspoken columnist and television chat-show guest.

Again, in the queues of mourners, and in the huge silent march through Rotterdam on Tuesday night, the commonest remark was that he spoke the unspeakable, broke taboos, voiced ordinary people's concerns which mainstream politicians swept under the carpet.

There's a lesson there for the Netherlands' famed and lauded system of consensus politics.

Coalition governments

Every government here for decades was a coalition. Every view was taken into account, so long as it was broadly democratic. Elections became slightly meaningless.

But what is his party without him? Every candidate was hand-picked by Mr Fortuyn to ensure complete agreement with his policies - but not one of them has his stature

Whoever won, whatever slight rejuggling there might be of the coalition partners, Dutch politics bobbed along in its cosy, centrist way.

No one noticed the growing complacency, the failure to spot the anxieties on the fringes of society... until Mr Fortuyn came along and promised to address them.

The election

And so next week's general election goes ahead. And there is nothing cosy or predictable about it now.

There is every possibility that the Pim Fortuyn List, as his party is known, though leaderless, will gain a sympathy vote and do even better than if he'd been alive.

But what is his party without him? Every candidate was hand-picked by Mr Fortuyn to ensure complete agreement with his policies - but not one of them has his stature.

It could be the worst of all worlds - a hard-right party holding the balance of power, but led by political pygmies and novices.

Angus Roxburgh
"The murder has united Dutch people of every persuasion"
See also:

08 May 02 | Uefa Cup
Low-key plans for Uefa final
07 May 02 | Europe
Dutch press in shock
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