Fortuyn, Pim (1948–2002)

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FORTUYN, PIM (1948–2002)


Dutch author and politician.

Born in Velsen, Wilhelmus Simon Petrus Fortuyn studied sociology at the Free University of Amsterdam and then taught Marxist sociology at the University of Groningen, but he left academic life to work in the private sector as a management consultant. In an odyssey characteristic of his generation, he abandoned Marxism to become a social democrat and ultimately a neoliberal. He was a prolific author, and during his last ten years published a dozen books. As a weekly columnist for Elseviers Weekblad he consistently castigated the consensus policies adopted by the so-called purple liberal-socialist cabinet of Wim Kok (1994–2002). In his view this consensus democracy had degenerated into a cartel democracy, with deals being struck by the ruling parties. Kok's personalized authority had been assumed to be popular in the years of economic growth, but this apparent popularity masked the increasing discontent with the lack of immigrant integration and with the public sector, especially education and public health care, where its growing bureaucracy and expensive managers had not delivered a better service. In reaction to Nazi policies during World War II, political elites not only avoided any discrimination between cultures and races but also denied that there were any real problems. Their espousal of "multiculturalism" led to growing social tensions, primarily in inner-city areas. Fortuyn warned against immigration because he considered Islam to be a threat to a tolerant, liberal Dutch society, and he did not want the emancipation of homosexuals and women to be put under threat. He blamed his generation, the spoiled baby boomers, for decadence in the Netherlands, as their irresponsible egoism took no account of the interests of future generations.

On 20 August 2001 Fortuyn announced that he would participate in the parliamentary elections of May 2002. He became the leader of a new party, Leefbaar Nederland (Livable Netherlands), that was born out of popular frustration with the policy of Wim Kok's "purple cabinet." The terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 brought the hidden tensions within Dutch society to the surface, in particular the slumbering antagonisms between the Dutch and the Muslim immigrants and the fears of certain marginalized sections of the Dutch middle classes, who felt threatened by globalization. They no longer felt themselves represented by elites who pretended to be cosmopolitan. Fortuyn came at the right moment to mobilize these estranged voters by calling for a halt to immigration. He considered television an ideal instrument for a direct form of personalized democracy, as opposed to the "old" democracy of political parties, and he was the first Dutch politician who used an image culture. With his aggressive rhetoric and mastery of television as a medium, he was able to outmaneuver his political opponents.

On 9 February 2002 Fortuyn contended that Holland was full, that Islam was a backward culture, and that Article 1 of the constitution, which penalized discrimination, should be rescinded. This perceived shift to the right proved unacceptable to Leefbaar Nederland, and Fortuyn was dismissed as party leader. On 14 February Fortuyn founded his own national party, the Lijst Pim Fortuyn (List Pim Fortuyn, LPF). The local splinter party, Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam), which still retained Fortuyn as its leader, became the largest party in Rotterdam in the municipal elections of 6 March. With his remarkable political style, the flamboyantly dressed dandy Fortuyn had his finest hours during the many television debates that preceded the parliamentary elections. His ever growing popularity allowed him to frame the political debate, especially on the integration of foreigners and the treatment of criminals.

Fortuyn was murdered on 6 May 2002 in Hilversum by an ecological extremist only nine days before the elections. The Left was blamed for his death, having "demonized" Fortuyn, and other politicians who were threatened went into hiding or employed bodyguards. His funeral gave birth to hitherto unknown expressions of mass grief in the Netherlands. On 15 May, the Labor and Liberal Parties of the "purple" coalition were severely defeated. The LPF won twenty-six parliamentary seats and thus became the largest party after the Christian Democrats. The ascendancy of populism can be observed elsewhere in Europe, but unlike right-wing populists such as Jean-Marie Le Pen in France and Filip Dewinter in Belgium, the overtly homosexual Fortuyn, the "pink populist," could not be classified as a traditional fascist or racist. After his assassination the Frankfurter Allgemeine called him "the first genuine postmodern populist of Europe" (8 May 2002).

This unique landslide in Dutch politics can be seen as the consequence of a longer process, in which traditional political parties based on ideology had been overtaken by more consumerist behavior and an increasing volatility among the Dutch electorate. After Fortuyn's death, the movement failed to maintain momentum, losing eighteen seats in a subsequent election, primarily because of its lack of experience and organization. However, the agenda set by Fortuyn had to be addressed by the traditional mainstream political parties.

See alsoImmigration and Internal Migration; Le Pen, Jean-Marie; Minority Rights; Netherlands.


Fortuyn, Pim. De verweesde samenleving in het informatietijdperk. Amsterdam, 2001.

Holsteyn, Joop J. M. van, and Galen A. Irwin. "Never a Dull Moment: Pim Fortuyn and the Dutch Parliamentary Election of 2002." West European Politics 26, no. 2 (April 2003): 41–66.

Holsteyn, Joop J. M. van, Galen A. Irwin, and Josje M. den Ridder. "In the Eye of the Beholder: The Perception of the List Pim Fortuyn and the Parliamentary Elections of May 2002." Acta Politica 38 (spring 2003): 69–87.

Pels, Dick. De geest van Pim: Het gedachtegoed van een politieke dandy. Amsterdam, 2003.

Wansink, Hans. De erfenis van Fortuyn: De Nederlandse democratie na de opstand van de kiezers. Amsterdam, 2004.

Dickvan Galen Last