Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Post-Pim Fortuyn Syndrome

(Volkskrant 18 08 2006)

In the wake Pim Fortuyn’s rise and fall, a number of parties have sprung up in the Dutch political landscape. Fortuyn’s own LPF (Lijst Pim Fortuyn) splintered again and again after the spiritual and worldly leader of a new breed of right-wing populism was murdered in 2002. Many of old party members have gone on to set up their own copy-cat parties, each with a very similar hard-line approach toward immigrants in general, and Muslims and the Islamic religion in particular. So now there is the:

  • Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom, or put translated another way, sounding conspicuously with the ‘Freedom Party’). This party, led by ex-VVD parliamentarian Geert Wilders, aims “for a better, more sensible Netherlands, that is proud of its own dominant culture”.
  • Eén NL (One NL) party, founded by Marco Pastors, the Rotterdam alderman who famously claimed that Muslims use Islam to justify indecent and anti-social behaviour.
  • Partij van Nederland, which wants a total ban on the Islamic headscarf and abolition of religious schools, led by Hilbrand Nawijn who was the old faction leader of the LPF.

These parties seem to have weak political agendas, and have much more in common than they claim to be different.

“Strength [resoluteness] is an important theme with [the] small right [party]. Doing what you promise. […] Let’s look at how the promises of the small right have degenerated. There was, and still is, the call for more discipline, security, and decency. Order is interesting in this respect. There was once a movement, the LPF. That party may have its name changed and will receive competition from the ‘Partij voor Nederland, the ‘Partij voor Vrijheid’ and ‘Eén NL’. Seldom in the parliamentary [formation] has such an indistinct group been seen together.

Decency is also notable. Grievances are rarely exchanged within these parties, let alone resolved. Rather, they are preferably fought out in public. And most of the time it is not even about the big topics which is being bickered about.

[…] And then another pet topic of the small right: unity. The country is much too divided, too many different groups do not think the same way, too many people also who do not want to adapt [to the culture]. The Netherlands would have to become one Netherlands again. But if division reigns anywhere, it is then on the right side of the political spectrum. If you cannot even get it together to politically unite more or less likeminded people in one party, how is it every going to succeed to weld unity in the Netherlands?”[1]

Another commentator argues that the call for unity, discipline and decency is scarily reminiscent of the dark old days of authoritarianism:

“[I surprised myself] about the names of the new right-wing parties. Nawijn’s ‘Partij voor Nederland’ and especially Marco Pastors’ ‘Eén NL’ [One NL]. That last one was probably meant as a promise, but I find it [is] a clear threat. Who wants that the Netherlands be ‘one’, what a kitsch idea, it is the shortest way to the abolition of democracy. Communists and fascists always dreamt of that unity, and the political Islam in that regards is a worthy successor [of that]. Whoever takes freedom seriously (and that say all those conservative splinters) can not speak out for ‘unity’ at the same time, because freedom means difference of opinion, ‘we agree to disagree’, that is the democratic core, and whoever promises more is on course toward a one-party state.”[2]

The fact that the origins and leaders of these small splinter parties all hail from Fortuyn’s legacy underscores the fact that they all want to be boss, all want to lead, and all claim to represent the people’s will. But in reality they weaken themselves and their chances of any real electoral success:

“The populist leader derives his authority from ‘the will of the people’, which he claims to represent. The people is in that sense a homogenous community with a divided culture and its own identity. Because the populist leader, a man with charisma, pretends to directly understand the voice of the people, he would want a direct mandate from the voters and thus has no need for the representative democracy with all its intermediary organs, like parties. The problem with the heirs of Fortuyn is that so many among them see themselves as the best translator of the people’s will. How vulnerable populism is toward egomania appeared in the past few weeks in the inability of Pastors, Wilders, Nawijn, Herben and Van As to [accommodate one another] for the sake of bundling power together.”[3]

About the names of the new parties: ironically, Eén NL, which claims to champion Dutch culture as the ‘Leitkultur’ and opposes all forms of immigration, chose the tulip as its logo. Tulip, as well as being the national flower of the Netherlands, was in fact an import, from none other than Turkey:

“At those right-populists you [can] continue to laugh. […] While they cannot agree among themselves and do everything to sigmatise whole population groups, the new party calls funnily calls itself Eén NL. With as logo: the tulip. ‘A real Dutch flower’, says [party leader] Marco Pastors.

But does Pastors know that the tulip is actually a real immigrant, from Turkey as well? In Turkish, the flower was named ‘tulipan’, because the form is makes one think of the turban. In the 16th and 17th Century these were taken over here en masse and some inhabitants of the Netherlands became stinking rich from the trade.

A pleasant similarity with what happened since the 1960s, when many cheap Turkish labour forces were taken over here. […]”[4]

And the obsession in emphasising the Netherlands in the name of the new parties is not in any way reassuring to the public, but worrying:

“How uncertain you must actually be, would you in this country establish a party with the explicity mention of the Netherlands [in the name]. I always thionk: if someone repeatedly and without being asked reveals that he is ‘a real man’, then I would start to distrust [him].”[5]

It’ll be interesting whether the intelligence and integrity of the average Dutch voter will be swayed by these (weak but nonetheless dangerous) attempts to seek self-interested political gain under the mantle of representing the ‘people’s will’.

[1] Roland van der Vorst, ‘Klein rechts’ [Small right], p95, 2 September 2006, Vrij Nederland

[2] Stephan Sanders, ‘Echt’ [Real], p96, 2 September 2006, Vrij Nederland

[3] Marcel ten Hooven, ‘Democratie staat Pastors maar in de weg’ [Democracy only stands in Pastors’ way], p21, 2 September 2006, Vrij Nederland

[4] Reader’s letter: Michiel de Wit, het Betoog, p7, 26 August 2006, De Volkskrant

[5] Stephan Sanders, ‘Echt’ [Real], p96, 2 September 2006, Vrij Nederland

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