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Fortuyn, Pim (1948-2002)  
 
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In a famous televised debate in 2002, Fortuyn clashed with a Muslim cleric, who, offended by Fortuyn's libertinism, denounced him in virulent obscenities. At that point, Fortuyn turned to the camera and raised the specter of sharia (Islamic law) taking hold in a Western country, calmly allowing the cleric's outburst to illustrate the danger that an uncritical multiculturalism posed to Dutch society.

Assassination and Aftermath

On May 6, 2002, Fortuyn was fatally shot by Volkert van der Graaf in the head and chest as he was leaving the building of a radio station where he had just given an interview. Nine days before the election, a usually peaceful and calm country was rocked by one of its few political assassinations since the slaying of Willem van Oranje (William the Silent) in 1584 during the Dutch uprising against the rule of Spanish King Philip II.

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Van der Graaf was pursued by Fortuyn's chauffeur and captured while still in possession of the gun he used to kill Fortuyn. There was some relief that van der Graaf was a deranged vegetarian and animal-rights activist (Fortuyn's policy he most objected to seems to have been a proposal to lift a ban on mink farming), rather than a jihadist.

Van der Graaf confessed to the crime. Some months later, he received an 18-year prison term. This light sentence is regarded as an injustice by many of Fortuyn's supporters, particularly because the court seems to have accepted in part the defense's argument that Fortuyn was a danger to society.

An immense outpouring of grief followed the assassination. Even people who had not supported him politically lamented the loss of a talented man struck down by an assassin's bullet in a country that prides itself on its calm and rational politics. His death was seen by many as proof that something had gone seriously wrong with the country.

The elaborate funeral featured the slave chorus from Verdi's Aida blaring from loudspeakers and Fortuyn's beloved dogs, Kenneth and Carla, as the chief mourners.

Fortuyn's remains were then transferred to Italy, where he owned property. After his coffin was loaded into a plane, two fire engines on the runway at Rotterdam airport spouted jets of water and formed a rainbow in the sunlight.

Soon, a number of shrines and memorials appeared at Fortuyn's home, at the scene of the crime, in front of Parliament in The Hague, and at the Homomonument in Amsterdam.

Peter Jan Margry has investigated the messages left at these sites, characterizing them as expressions of grief, condolence, and dismay; declarations of affection and love; attributions of metaphysical qualities to the person of Fortuyn; and angry threats of retaliation, specifically for the perceived "hate campaign" against Fortuyn in the media.

The most immediate result of Fortuyn's death was that all parties ceased campaigning, though the election was not postponed. Since the date of the election was so near, there was no time to reprint the ballots. Technically, people could still vote for Fortuyn, which is what 17% of the voters did. The LPF received 26 seats in the 150-seat chamber, making it the second largest party in Parliament.

Political Legacy

The election of 2002 resulted in devastating losses for two traditional parties that had formed a coalition since 1994: the free-market libertarian Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) and the leftist Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA). The only other winner in addition to the LPF was the conservative Christen Democratisch Appèl (CDA).

A coalition was formed among the CDA, VVD, and LPF, which lasted less than three months (mostly due to infighting in the LPF, whose cabinet members proved inept at governing), but the new constellation triggered some momentous changes as all the major parties veered rightward on the question of immigration.

In the wake of the assassination of Fortuyn, the Netherlands adopted the most restrictive immigration policies in the European Union. In addition, the country engaged new and unsettling questions about the value of multiculturalism and the essence of Dutchness.

Another legacy of Fortuyn's rise and fall may be an American-style polarization of civic discourse.

The most controversial member of the administration that took office in 2003 was immigration and integration minister Rita Verdonk, nicknamed "Iron Rita." Although not a member of LPF, she proposed policies that LPF members supported, including prohibiting Muslim women from wearing burqas outside their homes and banning languages other than Dutch in public spaces.

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