- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands For the Dutch, it's an election unlike any other. The dispassionate politicians who have led them for decades are facing an unfamiliar, bare-knuckle fight that is forcing the nation to confront long-hidden demons.
The campaign for the May 15 parliamentary elections has been energized by a flamboyant, shaven-headed former academic and columnist, a homosexual who supports personal liberties and has laid claim to leadership of Holland's perennially vacant political right.
Pim Fortuyn has dictated debate with verbal attacks on the country's 5 percent Muslim population and with an indictment of the shortcomings of what many other Europeans consider one of the most successful countries on the continent.
"The most important effect of the Fortuyn phenomenon is that many things have been pushed out into the open and made explicit. What was politically incorrect two years ago is now open for discussion," said Peter Groot, an associate professor of linguistics at Utrecht University.
Mr. Fortuyn's rise mirrors a right-wing resurgence in several European countries, highlighted most recently by the anti-immigrant Jean-Marie Le Pen's surprisingly successful showing in the first round of the French presidential elections which go into the runoff phase today.
Yet it seems out of place in the Netherlands, a country with a reputation for liberalism. It was the first country to legalize same-sex marriages, regulate prostitution, approve and control euthanasia, and tolerate over-the-counter sale of marijuana in hundreds of "coffee shops."
Though he is tolerant of such subcultures, Mr. Fortuyn's popularity has exposed a deep vein of suspicion of immigrants in Europe's most densely populated country, about 2 million of whose 16 million people are not native Dutch. Some 800,000 are Muslims.
Mr. Fortuyn, 54, is one of Holland's oldest front-line politicians and its most colorful. He's a brash contrast in a political culture that has long been bland and stuffy. In living memory, policy decisions have come from consensus born out of committees, countless studies by government institutes and quiet debate in the backrooms of parliament.
There's nothing quiet about the confrontational Mr. Fortuyn.
In television and newspaper interviews, he slammed the three-party coalition of Prime Minister Wim Kok for allowing public services to decline while the economy grew an average 3 percent annually for five continuous years. Price-fixing scandals in government construction projects have underscored a common feeling that something is amiss.
On April 16, Mr. Kok's Cabinet resigned over an exhaustive study that partly blamed the government for failing to prevent the murder of 7,500 Muslim men and boys in the Dutch-patrolled U.N. enclave of Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.
Mr. Fortuyn appeared on national television within an hour of the resignation to accuse the Cabinet of "walking away from responsibilities" by avoiding a parliamentary debate on the Srebrenica killings, which have nagged the nation's conscience for seven years.
But it's his scathing campaign against immigrants that has won him the most converts.
"The Netherlands is not an immigration country. The annual stream of tens of thousands of newcomers, who largely end up as illegal aliens, must stop," Mr. Fortuyn says.
He calls Islam anti-secular and backward, and blames Muslim immigrants for rising crime. "Islam separates people. They see us as inferior. Moroccan boys never steal from a Moroccan, did you ever notice that?" he said to the newspaper De Volkskrant earlier this year.


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