Thursday 18 November 2004

Here lies ...

Greatest person competitions
It was with interesting amusement that we all witnessed the climax of the mockery of history shows that tries to extract from popular opinion the greatest personality of a nation.
When the BBC conducted this event in 2002, Winston Churchill [1] was voted the first, and then in 2003, Sir Isaac Newton [2] who was sixth in the previous year was voted the first.
What a difference a year makes, or some people have really done a biographical study of the contenders and begun thinking rather than following the media hype.
Mind you, the English seem to have a knack for inventing new shows that get copied by other institutions like the Weakest Link, Who wants to be a Millionaire and now this charade of greatest countrymen.
So the circus came to the Netherlands amidst a lot of noise, a murder, tensions between communities and the reminders of a very recent political event.
Striding past a villa in a village in the Veneto region of Italy, a slightly weathered tombstone bears a newly engraved message - Here lies the greatest Dutchman of them all. [3]
You would be forgiven for thinking it was Vincent van Gogh, the painter, who came tenth in the list, but he was buried in French; nor was it Anne Frank, the refugee Jewish diarist from the Nazi times whose nationality was contested during this event, she died in a concentration camp.
Nor was it Rembrandt van Rijn, another popular Dutch painter and engraver; William of Orange who at one time was King of England and considered the founder of the Dutch nation came second. Erasmus is someone you might have heard of and for football fans Johan Cruyff who came sixth.
All these people represent a very positive and recognisable image of the enterprising, tolerant, intelligent and innovative Dutch, just like Philips and the invention of compact discs.
More so, there are no populist politicians, but people who painstakingly went about their business and in the process were recognised for what they did, what they represented and who they are.
Pim who?
So, it was with utterly bewilderment that we received the information that Pim Fortuyn was voted the greatest Dutchman ever.
It is likely, that you do not know this man, but he has the unfortunate record of being the first political murder in the Netherlands in over 300 years. He was gunned down by an animal rights activist in May 2002 in the media park of the assembly of radio and television stations in a distant Amsterdam suburb.
In my previous blog, I made mention of him in relation to a more recent murder of a descendant to Vincent van Gogh and how his rise to prominence was as a result of challenging the unfriendly commentary of minority group Muslim clerics in Rotterdam.
However, in all that can be said about Pim Fortuyn [4], he was vocally on the political scene for less than a year, he had quite a number of personal achievements, he was quite eccentric and was not affected by his alternative lifestyle related to his sexual orientation.
However, he represented a seemingly popular view that no one would express regarding immigration, integration and Islam; however, those views earned him lots of votes.
The media in general compared his banter to that of fascists and extreme right-wing propaganda. His animosity to Europe was quite evident, and though he displayed a flair for exercising free speech, he was not an espousing of the Dutch values of tolerance and friendliness.
After his death, his party which was a tribute to egomania in that it was simply "Pim Fortuyn's List" came second in the elections, but fell into terminal decay that within 6 months they caused the government to fall and then lost most of their seats in the election that came there after.
However, the vote occurred in the light of the recent killing of Theo van Gogh who is mistakenly given the accolade of a champion of free speech. He was NOT.
In a twist of irony; Mr Pim Fortuyn who so spoke of Dutch values and expression, defending the history, culture and political soul of the Dutch to the very end, died in the Netherlands but was buried far away from what he was martyred in protecting - in a little village in the region of Veneto in Italy.
Just as the highest point in the Netherlands is the platform from which you view the "highest" natural point in the Netherlands [5], be not surprised if whilst on holiday next summer in Italy you wonder how you can across a piece of Holland, where the greatest Dutchman is laid to rest.
[3] Fortuyn buried after Dutch bid farewell
[5] Drielandenpunt - the highest point in the Netherlands

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