The pampered Dutch voted for Fortuyn because he made politics funby Simon Kuper / June 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
It was a scandal, a Dutch friend told me, that the foreign press was always comparing Pim Fortuyn to Jean-Marie Le Pen and J?rg Haider when he wasn’t far right at all. This is a common view in the Netherlands. Partly it is sympathy for the murdered Fortuyn, partly Dutch moral superiority (our racist politicians are better than theirs!), but there is truth in it too.
Foreigners have never been interested in Dutch politics, and are interested in it now only as another domino in continental Europe’s supposed slide back into barbarism. That is why Fortuyn is grouped with Le Pen. But the two men regarded each other with revulsion. Fortuyn was a specifically Dutch phenomenon, different to Le Pen, Haider and Belgium’s Filip de Winter. He did share with them an opposition to immigration, but that issue is quantitatively different in the Netherlands than elsewhere.
Fortuyn was not a “fascist.” He never hinted at violence, never flirted with anti-semitism, and never exuded the hatred of foreigners that Le Pen does. The gay former Marxist academic was in fact the first camp populist, ranting with a joke and a wink. Asked on television whether he knew any Moroccans, he replied: “Know them? I go to bed with them!” Indeed, he claimed he was attacking Islam (which he called “a backward religion”) precisely because the religion was supposedly intolerant and antidemocratic.
Fortuyn was not Le Pen, and nor is the Netherlands France. Poverty and despair are not big features of Dutch life. After nearly 20 years of virtually unbroken economic growth, official unemployment is just 2 per cent. The Dutch have never had it so good, and the Dutch model-combining some of the labour flexibility of Anglo-Saxon countries with the long-termism and high productivity of Germany-is often regarded as the best in Europe. Admittedly, about one in seven Dutch people of working age lives on disability benefit. Foreigners regard this as a form of hidden unemployment. Becoming “disabled” is often a choice: you can quit your job and continue to draw 70 per cent of your salary.
Nor is there nostalgia for the great days of fascism in the Netherlands, as there seems to be in parts of Austria and even France. The 8 per cent or so of Dutch people who supported the Dutch Nazi Party (NSB) at its peak in the late 1930s, crept under stones after 1945,…