geert lovink on Sun, 14 Jul 2002 18:20:06 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Herman Asselberghs and Dieter Lesage: Pim Fortuyn, a Case Study

(translated for the second make world paper)

From: "herman asselberghs" <>

Homo politicus
Pim Fortuyn: A Case Study
By Herman Asselberghs & Dieter Lesage

Translated from Dutch © 2002 by Sakhra -l'Assal

A Paradoxical Politician

The only thing missing was Elton John. Aside from that, Pim Fortuyn,s
departure had all the ingredients of a modest remake of Princess Di's
funeral. It turned into a massive public display of the Dutch nation's
disenchantment and grief. A huge gathering of the national family turned the
city of Rotterdam the assassinated politician,s home ground upside down.
Thousands of fathers, mothers, children, youths and pensioners erected
makeshift roadside memorials out of farewell notes, bouquets and cuddly
toys, providing the sort of TV material that had already proved its impact
several years ago the main difference now, of course, being the deceased
in question. Pim Fortuyn was not the innocent child bride who had publicly
blossomed into an independent yet vulnerable woman. He was not the people,s
princess who had single-handedly and at great personal expense guided the
long-isolated British royal family into the modern world. Ever since his
appearance on the Dutch political scene, Fortuyn had been a staunch and
rowdy iconoclast, a new kind of politician who made paradox his trademark:
an elitist populist, a libertine puritan, a modern traditionalist.

Unlike Princess Di, Fortuyn had already undergone his transformation by the
time the mass media focused their attention on him. It was as if though his
shift from the extreme left to the new right over the past few decades had
never taken place, as if he had never advocated anything other than the
self-professed common sense which he came to embody during those few first
and last months of his political career. This public figure, who having
dominated the local elections on March 15, 2002, now seemed bound towards a
national victory on May 15, seemed made for the spotlight. Today the making
of a political personality must be taken quite literally: there can be no
political stars without extensive media training and expert hair stylists.
But Fortuyn, by contrast, was a natural (and bald to boot, to the regret of
many a hairdresser but much to his own benefit, effectively defusing any
tricky questions that could have possibly endangered his ambitions for
premiership from the start). His eloquent one-liners seemed to be the actual
product of his own wit, not prompted by overpaid spin doctors. This was
partly due, no doubt, to his years of experience addressing crowded
auditoriums in various university departments and his past work as a
newspaper columnist. Yet his sharp tongue and flamboyant camera appearances
were an unmistakable part of his nature, or "proclivity," as it was once
known. Fortuyn was the extroverted kind of homosexual. He may not have been
ordinary, but he was perfectly normal.

"At Your Service"

How else to interpret this campaign slogan of Fortuyn's than as a naughty
double entendre, a mischievous allusion to the sexual activities our
politican admitted he readily succumbed to in the darkrooms of many a gay
club? "At your service" means being at someone's disposal, being available.
To those in the know, it was a clear sign that this newcomer to the
political arena had learned the rules of taking and being taken in quite a
different sphere than the public one. His accompanying military salute could
be taken as a symbol of determination, but it also suggested at least as
performed by him a parody of the rituals of the ceremonious "purple" Dutch
ruling coalition and of politics in general. Both before and after Fortuyn's
death, more than one commentator pointed out that his rudimentary political
program functioned mainly as a classic bombshell that shook up the status
quo. The same can be said of his image, that of the impeccable but
cosmopolitan outsider, the extravagant gay man who poked fun at the stuck-up
straight establishment. Queer though he was, his ideas were square. His
tough stance and simplistic solutions ensured that his mainly heterosexual
constituents gladly forgave him his homosexual coquetry. His straight
followers tended to overlook the fact that "their Pim" was gay. They didn't
care: he gave voice to what they felt.

That an openly gay politician should be so successful among the gay
community, on the other hand, is hardly surprising. As long as equal
opportunity for lesbigays goes unrealized, there remains a need for positive
role models in the public sphere. For many, to have the first openly gay
premier in a modern democracy would be effective proof of true social
tolerance. Because in our Belgian federal organization a "prime minister" is
different than the Dutch "premier," such tolerance has already been
demonstrated in our case by the success of socialist Elio di Rupo, who
served as prime minister for the Walloon Region. The staunch leader of the
French-speaking Socialist Party, Di Rupo is a kind of leftist-populist but
equally dandyish, ultrapopular and gay Belgian counterpart of Fortuyn, and
as the mayor of his hometown of Mons, he can count on overwhelming loyalty
among voters.

That Fortuyn's bid for this highest of representative functions should have
been applauded by the gay community mainly serves to illustrate the ghastly
limitations of an apolitical sexual politics. Since the 1990s, it appears
that for many gay people today, the ultimate social acceptance of one,s own
homosexual identity is mostly a matter of buying into the consumer market,s
appropriate niche. For this eager commercial market, gayness means being
able to shop like any other affluent citizen. Brand awareness is more highly
favored than political awareness. To invest in Dolce & Gabbana, Dior's
Higher, Kylie's newest and Brad Pitt's latest is to support the good cause:
that is, the introduction of hip queerness into everyday life. For what
could be more normal than to consume? It seems that a clever gay person who
knows how to enrich boring politics with the hedonism of this entertainment
culture can automatically count on gay voters Fortuyn's crass statements
regarding ethnic minorities notwithstanding. Or perhaps he even struck a
certain chord with that same gay audience there: after all, who harasses the
boys in the street and steals their brand-new Nokia cell phones?

Explicit Politics

During the elections, Fortuyn was doubtless successful among politically
unaware (or disinterested?) gays. The real miracle is how, in a country
where scandals concerning pedophilia usually cause a public outcry, a
considerable number of heterosexual citizens morally outraged heterosexual
citizens, even voted for this self-confessed pederast. In interviews
Fortuyn never made a secret of his love for young boys nor his fondness for
rimming. It must be said that most Dutch journalists wouldn't dream of
asking an obviously heterosexual politician about his or her sexual habits,
but Fortuyn visibly enjoyed such confessions. He understood like no other
media celebrity that giving explicit details on his sexual activities would
allow him to make his far bolder, blatantly racist and nonsexually
intolerant statements unhindered. Fortuyn was the first politician to
voluntarily depart from the asexual sexual politics that still dominates the
media. For no matter how big a part of the media and the public domain sex
may be, every public figure who actually gets associated with it risks
humiliation and demonization. If politicians have learned one thing from the
Monica Lewinsky affair, it is that in their particular field of work, sex
appeal had better not lead to real sex.

Some gay media celebrities excel at desexualizing their own sexual
identities. These openly gay pop stars, game show hosts and soap actors
often seem to lead private lives devoid of sex. They are proudly normal,
just like any straight celeb. In other words, no promiscuity, no limp
handshakes, no nervous tittering, no boas or tutus. To each his or her own
style, but it is often these esteemed gay folks who frown upon the
participation of flamboyant leathermen and drag queens in the annual Gay
Pride parades. These moralists seem to have redeemed their social
stigmatization by means of a thorough makeover, and as if that were not
enough to ensure their full media cooptation, they now advocate a general
purge among their peers. Fortuyn never subscribed to this call for decency.
He knew that in these times of full media exposure sexual scandals threaten
the life of every politician, especially if they are gay. So he embraced
such scandals from the start, to prevent other opportunists from doing it
first. He wasn,t going to get caught with his pants down, as George Michael
did: his sexual identity would not be a sexless one. After all, he was the
guy who "puts his money where his mouth is" the first politician to take
kissing ass in a purely literal sense.

Modern Traditionalism

How to reconcile political dignity with an explicit sex life, let alone an
explicitly gay sex life? How to combine social respectability with
anonymous, fleeting darkroom sex? Fortuyn's premature death leaves such
modern questions regarding contemporary politics unanswered. His indecencies
no doubt contributed to his amazingly swift rise as an agent provocateur.
The long-term effects of his unusual image still remain to be seen. Other
candidates with similar sexual preferences will no doubt step forward, for
perhaps those sexual activities which may at first seem aberrant to the
average heterosexual voter may well lead to lasting appreciation in the long
run. After all, Fortuyn was not merely a politician of daring tastes, he was
also a neoconservative of distinct preferences and pleasure, desire, and
diversity just happen to be distinguishing features of the free market
hailed by neoconservatives. In the eyes of many an uneasy and concerned
voter, the unabashed homosexual may well look like a tower of strength.
Someone who dares to make an autonomous decision about his or her sexual
identity especially one so clearly unconventional and manages to stay in
control over the private sphere that is the body surely must stand out like
a rock in a society that is subject to such rapid and radical change it
practically seems adrift. Moreover, sexual tolerance and the acceptance of
new forms of sexuality are hallmarks of modernity. The social visibility of
homosexuals (as in the emergence of lively gay areas in the cities of
Shanghai, Tokyo and Paris, for example), in particular, is perceived as a
measure of the more pleasant aspects of globalization.

Fortuyn never failed to exploit the modernity of his sexual status. He never
tired of stressing the contrast between the wonderfully permissive
Netherlands and those "backward" nations where (homo-) sexuality remains
taboo. He loved to provoke conservative Muslims, because each time they
responded with some diatribe about unnatural behavior and Western decadence,
his supposed progressiveness only gained. This is an old racist technique, a
tired cliché which gay couples in affordable (and hence ethnically mixed)
metropolitan areas are certainly all too familiar with. When someone pees in
their mailbox or scratches their car, their longtime Moroccan neighbor will
point the finger at some newly arrived Congolese refugee. The former victims
of stigmatization are adept at stigmatization themselves. Victims are great
at victimizing. Fortuyn was no exception to this sad rule, openly blaming
immigrants for rising crime rates and seeking to revoke the Schengen Treaty
at once, close the national borders, and introduce racial quotas for all
towns, neighborhoods, and schools. Ironically, his simplistic proposal that
the Netherlands put itself in order first before concerning itself with the
outside world seemed like a secular variant of the Taliban regime,s attitude
in Afghanistan. With his possibly even more insane resolution to ban
computers from all Dutch schools, he displayed a great affinity with those
ultraorthodox Jews in Israel who warn against the Internet because it would
leave the door to the outside world wide open.

If Fortuyn would have nothing to do with restrictions on sexual conventions,
he was fervently eager to narrow the Dutch national identity. Gays could do
whatever they please, but foreigners must adapt to Dutch customs. "It,s
about time we strike back, in a very restrained yet effective and forceful
manner, and plainly point out the joint responsibility that the Turkish,
Moroccan, Surinamese and Antillian communities have in containing the
misbehavior of some of their numbers. We need to build a people and a nation
in order to survive, so they must either adapt and become true Dutchmen, or
they must go back to where they came from." This is how the populist from
Rotterdam summed up his alien assimiliation program. The first Dutch
politician who managed to put nationalism at the top of the public agenda
got all worked up when "with each Turkish soccer victory, my hometown
suddenly turns into Little Istanbul, as if we,re under temporary foreign
occupation." Chances are that a large number of his conservative
heterosexual followers felt exactly the same way about Rotterdam,s annual
Gay Pride parade until an assimilated gay man in a tailor-made suit
managed to convey to them in plain terms that "in our part of the world,
which is that of modernity," the odd homosexual favored the normalization of
our complex existence.

The Pigmentation of Nationalism

After falling out with the "Leefbaar Nederland" ("Livable Netherlands")
party of which he had been the leader, Pim Fortuyn suddenly had to assemble
his own group of candidates to form his "Pim Fortuyn List" for the upcoming
general elections. Joao Varela, a handsome 27-year-old communications
manager for a cosmetics company who is of Cape Verdean origin, came in
second. Varela is what you might call the "white boy" in the Pim Fortuyn
saga. Not so much because the genealogy of many Cape Verdeans is
characterized by frequent intermingling between black slaves and white
colonists, but because in the Fortuyn saga Varela played the part of the
"alien achiever": as a successful businessman, he was almost like a real
Dutchman. Moreover, as the story goes, he voluntarily offered his services
to the esteemed Mr. Fortuyn at the very same time when Fortuyn was being
"stigmatized" as a racist: Varela was the perfect political butler. By
joining Fortuyn,s list, Joao Varela wanted to help fight the bias against
Fortuyn as a racist something we might call the strategy of the
pigmentation of nationalism. Talk about profitable partnership!

Even Pim Fortuyn's alleged killer unwittingly contributed to the
politician's destigmatization as a racist. An hour after the assassination
in a parking lot in Hilversum's "Mediapark" bastion of the Dutch mass
media the local police spokeswoman offered some "good" news. The murder
suspect had been apprehended, and what,s more, he was a white Dutchman, a
fact that was greatly emphasized. Sighs of relief were heard everywhere, not
least from immigrant organizations. It was the same sort of relief as that
which met the announcement that the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had
been killed by a radical Jew, not a Palestinian. For a moment, people were
afraid Fortuyn had been killed by an immigrant perhaps a hint that they
were well aware of Fortuyn's racist remarks after all, or perhaps itself the
result of some primitive racist reflex: It must have been a foreigner.
Either way, Fortuyn,s racism had not led to his murder. If Fortuyn had been
killed by a Dutchman instead of an immigrant, the general understatement
went, then perhaps his so-called racism hadn,t been so bad after all. Hence,
in every interview they gave after his murder, Fortuyn's family always made
sure to emphasize that Pim had been a symbol for all Dutch people, black and

But the raw political reality soon turned out differently. After Fortuyn's
murder, the inevitable questions about his political heritage arose. Who
would take his place as party chair? And, even more poignant, who would
replace him as the would-be new premier? Some in the Dutch media suggested
with a certain malicious glee that Joao Varela, the second candidate, could
become the first black European premier. The irony was clear to all, but the
suggestion itself was presented in a deadly serious fashion. After Pim
Fortuyn,s assassination, it was all hands on deck for the Dutch political
establishment, and the mainstream media, having been infinitely complicit in
the political turmoil caused by Fortuyn, were now more than willing to offer
their subtle contribution to containing that very same turmoil. The dry
suggestion that a black premier might now come to power was no doubt meant
as a subtle threat: Now that Fortuyn is dead, you,d better not vote for his
party, lest there be contrary effects. A black premier, imagine! Needless to
say, Fortuyn,s own party never seriously considered appointing Varela as its
new chairman. As for the first woman on their list, who was briefly
considered to be a serious candidate to succeed Fortuyn, she was soon found
to be too hysterical; the night of the elections, she suddenly blew her
fuses and disappeared from view. The alien achiever at number two, the
clever blonde at number four: they proved their worth, but things soon
returned to white-male-chauvinist-pig business as usual. Well, what else did
you expect? Those who voted for the Pim Fortuyn List were the last to worry
about all of this, having understood from the beginning that Pim was just
playing it smart that an immigrant and a woman could (only) serve the

Criminalizing Immigration

Elsewhere in Europe, too, we see how nationalist parties welcome immigrants
who wish to join them, not because they have strayed from their original
political programs, but as a strategy aimed at the radicalization of those
programs instead. After all, having immigrants on board protects them from
accusations of racism, just as female members serve to protect them from
accusations of sexism. Once it has been "proved" that they are not racist,
the nationalists are free to pursue the radicalization of their nationalism.
Fortuyn was by no means being original when he said that immigrants already
in the country were free to stay but no newcomers should be allowed. In fact
this has become the new doxa, or position, of so-called liberal democracy in
the West. The only possible argument concerns how far the door must be shut:
somewhat, mostly, or completely. Every European country has repressive
immigration policies; Fortuyn simply wanted to add a little more repression.
Even he never fully closed the door, even if to us Belgians his statements
on its desired degree of openness seemed to have more to do with the latest
Dutch Belgian joke than with any clear political statement: only refugees
from the neighboring countries of Denmark, Germany and the UK were to be
allowed (not from Belgium, it should be noted). In short, Fortuyn,s
discourse was not heterodox but (allow us our own little joke) homodox: that
is to say, in keeping with the doxa. Fortuyn loved the same principles as
the ruling Dutch statesmen, only he loved them to the bitter end.

Stefan Heym once asked about East German Communism, "What kind of system is
it whose only validity rests on the forceful inclusion of its own people?"
The same question must now be reversed with regard to capitalism: "What kind
of system is it whose only validity rests on the forceful exclusion of other
people?" The Berlin Wall may have fallen, but the demand to make all of
Europe a mirror image of East Berlin is stronger than ever. And it,s not
just about image and metaphor: walls and barbed wire fences have already
been erected around the African Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, a
wall between Europe and Africa that is already longer than the Berlin Wall
ever was. In other words, the Wall never came down; it has simply been
moved. In light of how recently it came down, and how strong the demand for
a newer, much longer replacement is, one might say the Berlin Wall was a
disgrace mostly in the eyes of the nationalists: it was simply in the wrong
place. It should have been built at the Polish border instead. And now that
Poland is about to join the European Union, effectively rendering this
option redundant, at least we should build a wall between Poland and Russia.
And so the first panic-stricken reports are starting to reach us from the
Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea: they fear they are about
to become? isolated. This should be enough to give Europeans pause. After
all, how recently was it that we were driven to tears by images of people
smashing up the Berlin Wall? Not so long ago, any West German who helped an
East German over the Wall was a hero. Today, a German helping an illegal
Russian into the country must be either an anarchist leftist or a human
trafficker: a criminal one way or the other. It,s the same in many Western
countries, where you can no longer marry a foreigner without a thorough
investigation into the "validity" of your marriage. Nationality and the
right to stay in a Western country are "fringe benefits" of a mixed
marriage, and not to be divided equally after the marriage ends. For the
alien partner, however, these benefits are fundamental and inalienable
rights. Hence the deep distrust shown by governments who seek to bring
immigration to a halt at all costs. At the same time, this ought to be an
inspiring thought for us: maybe marriage, that supreme symbol of sexual
traditionalism, should be recuperated as an act of political
progressiveness. We can have another world let,s all marry non-Europeans!
And needless to say, so that gays, too, may join in this act of progressive
politics, we firmly support the right to same-sex marriage.

A Funerary Migration

It may seem odd that the self-proclaimed keeper of Dutch values and
traditions chose not to be buried on Dutch soil. Fortuyn had arranged long
ago for his funerary migration to an Italian village, and had already
ordered his grave to be built there. According to this Dutchman, Italy was
the only place he had ever known happiness. But how could he have chosen to
try his luck abroad? Especially when it is obvious that his corpse will
never be able to adjust to the peace and quiet of his final resting place.
The villagers fear that their usually quiet town will become a tumultuous
place of pilgrimage for right-wing extremists and Dutch nationalists. Should
Italy allow this Dutch funerary refugee within its territory at all?

At the same time, it is probably no coincidence that the nationalist can
only find true happiness as a tourist. The socioeconomic realities of one,s
homeland never conform to the fictions which the nationalist entertains and
seeks to impose on it. Yet it is when they are on holiday that nationalists
can experience a country as they prefer to imagine it. Nationalists rarely
deny foreign nations their own identities: on the contrary, to each country
its own identity. Since tourism is nothing but an identity industry, it is
the nationalist,s delight. All year long, nationalists live in a reality
that has little to do with the ossified national identity they dream of.
Only on holiday does this identity do exactly what they want it to: it
expresses itself through monuments and architecture, national costumes,
traditional processions, ancient and unspoiled landscapes, rituals and
customs. Only on holiday do nationalists regain the idea of a nation which
they are hard-pressed to find back home.

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