By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
AMSTERDAM (Worthy News) – The Netherlands on Friday remembered the 20th anniversary of the killing of populist politician Pim Fortuyn, a murder that has remained an open wound for this liberal nation.
Fortuyn’s murder, the country’s first political assassination since the 17th century, happened days before a national election that his anti-migration LPF party was expected to win.
The 54-year-old flamboyant, outspoken leader was killed May 6, 2002, after talking to the Dutch 3FM radio network in Hilversum, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Amsterdam.
Fortuyn was heading for his car near the studio complex when he was shot six times, according to investigators at the time. Paramedics rushed to treat Fortuyn, where he fell at the entrance to the building, pumping his chest to try and revive him. They failed, and for hours, Fortuyn’s body lay where he was shot, covered with a white sheet, footage showed.
Detained Dutchman Volkert van der Graaf, an environmental and animal rights activist, said he murdered Fortuyn to stop him from exploiting Muslims as “scapegoats” for the nation’s problems. He accused Fortuyn of targeting “the weak members of society” to gain political power.
Van der Graaf received eighteen years imprisonment, but he was released on parole in 2014 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
On Friday, people who knew him mourned his death, which to a certain extent robbed the Netherlands of its political innocence.
Commemorations included a march starting at Fortuyn’s former home in Rotterdam, the Dutch port city. From there, some 400 marchers walked to hold remember him at the statue of the politician on Pim Fortuynplaats.
Their gathering was briefly interrupted by a small group of far-left protestors, said police, who detained two people. Still, at 6.06 pm local time, a two-minute moment of silence was held near the statue and at other locations in the Netherlands. At that time, Van der Graaf reportedly shot Pim Fortuyn dead 20 years ago at the Media Park in Hilversum.
Mourners also gathered at the Westerveld Cemetery in nearby Driehuis, where the late politician was buried for several months. Fortuyn was later reburied in the Italian village of Provesano, where he had a second home. But his legacy remains.
Two decades following his murder, two-thirds of Netherlands residents are positive about Fortuyn and many of his ideas, a Dutch television poll showed.
During Friday’s commemorations Lale Gül, a Dutch author of Turkish descent, was awarded the annual Pim Fortuyn Prize for daring writings criticizing her strict Islamic upbringing.
Gül, 24, gained national attention with her autobiographical debut novel “Ik ga leven”(I’m going to live), in which she distances herself from her strict religious upbringing. Her book also underscored a broader debate about the role of Islam in the Netherlands, where Muslims comprise 5 percent of the 17.4 million population.
After publication, she reportedly received death threats from people within the Dutch-Islamic community and her own family. Fortuyn, who fought for the right to free speech, would be pleased with her writings, organizers suggested.
The award in his name is for “opinion makers, administrators or politicians who fight for free speech, dare to break through taboos and take a position in the social debate.”
But that can be dangerous. Two years after Fortuyn’s murder, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was killed at age 47 in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh, a far relative of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, had criticized Islam in a television documentary.
Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan Islamist who objected to the film’s message, was charged with the assassination. He is serving a life sentence without parole.
Just before he died on November 2, 2004, Van Gogh was heard saying: “Mercy mercy! We can talk about this!”
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