Posted on November 16, 2004

Fortuyn Voted Greatest Dutchman

BBC News, Nov. 16

Television viewers in the Netherlands have voted the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn, killed in 2002, the greatest Dutchman of all time.

Mr Fortuyn, who inflamed Dutch society with fierce anti-immigration rhetoric, was shot by an animal rights activist.

He beat the first William of Orange — the 17th-Century founder of the modern Dutch state — into second place.

The vote came amid racial and religious tension after film-maker Theo van Gogh was shot dead by a Muslim extremist.

Before his murder, Pim Fortuyn’s right-wing List party was poised to make large gains in the general election of 2002, campaigning on an anti-immigration ticket.

The flamboyant and openly gay Mr Fortuyn also criticised Muslim attitudes to women and homosexuals.

He was shot dead in May 2002 five days before the election. In the wake of the murder, his party soared to second place, but has since split apart.

But many of Pim Fortuyn’s policies have been absorbed by mainstream Dutch political parties.

Changing society

Mr Fortuyn’s champion in the poll, journalist Yoeri Albrecht, suggested the result reflected current realities in the Netherlands.

“The question is what meaning ‘the greatest Dutchman’ has for society at this moment,” Mr Albrecht said.

“Just look at what has happened in the last 14 days.”

Opinion polls after Theo van Gogh’s killing suggest that a majority of Dutch people feel threatened by the prospect of high immigration and the further integration of ethnic minorities into society.

Sectarian attacks on mosques, churches and schools have increased in the wake of the killing, further undermining traditional Dutch principles of tolerance.

In the final vote, the decolonising post-war Prime Minister William Drees came third, while Anne Frank, footballer Johann Cruyff and artists Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt were all in the top ten.

In Britain and Germany, similar polls saw Winston Churchill and post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer take the titles.