You Can’t Go Home Again

Not if you’re Volkert, you can’t.

But who is this “Volkert” of which the NOS, the Dutch public umbrella news organization, writes? If you’re Dutch and/or if you were anywhere in the country around 2001/2002, you don’t need to be told: it’s Volkert van der Graaf, the assassin of Pim Fortuyn, whom Van der Graaf shot in a Hilversum parking-lot on 6 May 2002, nine days before a general election in whose campaign Fortuyn was coming on from virtually nowhere to take the country by storm.

And the news today is that Van der Graaf is scheduled to be released from prison on 2 May, so a little less than 12 years after his heinous crime. Ponder that for a second: 12 years, for the in-plain-daylight murder of a dynamic political figure who was heading towards a significant upending of his country’s political establishment. (Here’s another data-point along the same lines, fresh from today’s news as well: 20 years prison demanded by prosecutors – what the judge will impose is another question entirely, but is not likely to be more – for a 24-year-old youth who burned a house down last summer and so killed a mother inside and her 17- and 14-year-old daughters.)

Yes, Fortuyn had some rather non-politically-correct ideas about the happy “multicultural” society that the Netherlands was deluding itself to be, and very many were then ready to hear that sort of thing. (The assassination of anti-Muslim polemicist Theo van Gogh – also in broad daylight, on an Amsterdam street, by a jihad-crazed Dutch-Moroccan – followed two-and-a-half years later.) I try to think which American political assasination is the closest analogue: Not that of Martin Luther King, Jr., if only because the American Civil Rights movement was of much greater historical import for its society than anything Fortuyn represented. Certainly not JFK – already President for two-and-a-half years when killed – but closer to Robert Kennedy, who of course was campaigning for President when he was shot, except that, on the one hand, Fortuyn’s positions were more radical in relation to the political establishment he faced than those of RFK and, on the other, there was no issue of any “political dynasty” as Fortuyn hit the Dutch political scene in late 2001 coming out of nowhere, out of academia in fact.

Here we go: George Wallace, who you might remember was shot and wounded in 1972 – that is a good analogue for the populist and radical threat to the political establishment that Fortuyn represented. Let’s see, what did Wallace’s unsuccessful assassin, Arthur Bremer, serve? Looks like that was 35 years and he was released on parole in 2007.

The way Dutch election law works, it was too late when he was killed to remove Fortuyn’s name from the ballot, where he headed his very own party, named after him. So of course that party was tremendously successful in the election – no assassin was going to deprive the Dutch electorate of their Pim Fortuyn! It actually came in second nationally and so became a part of the subsequently formed coalition government. Except that, sadly, Volkert van der Graaf had in fact deprived them of their Pim Fortuyn: the rest of his party turned out to be a collection of idiots, you see, with whose madcap antics the public put up at first but then who were unceremoniously driven back into obscurity at the early national election that followed.

But that is dredging up some fascinating history – fascinating to some – of more than a decade ago, when today’s news really is that Volkert van der Graaf is about to leave prison after spending only a little less than twelve years there.

(Well, there is one more thing I want to mention: This Volkert van der Graaf was widely described as, if anything, an “animal rights activist.” Now, Pim Fortuyn was the sort of radical politician who was not afraid to offend people with his statements – but he was by no means controversial when it came to the environment or animal rights! In fact he was known, as I recall, for his little doggies that he had with him all the time. In other words, there were many people out there in the Spring of 2002 who could be assumed to want Fortuyn “out of the way,” but you would have to think that Volkert van der Graaf was not one of them! Which makes the more conspiracy-minded among us wonder who really was behind the killing . . . an angle which I really feel was explored much too little at the time, and certainly subsequently.)

But anyway: Van der Graaf, out after twelve years. He knocked off the person he (presumably) wanted dead, and paid for it with the 33rd through the 45th years of his life in Dutch prison (he is 44 now). Dutch prisons aren’t so bad, either, so I hear. For instance, I recall that the two Pussy Riot members who were imprisoned in Russia – and who visited Amsterdam as the first stop on their Europe-and-USA media tour of last January/February – were rather impressed with them. Anyway, there you go, that was the price Volkert paid, straight up: watcha think, was it worth it?

Except of course that there’s a bit more punishment involved than that, since ol’ Volkert cannot reasonably expect any sort of normal life upon getting out. It’s almost amusing to read in that NOS report how he won’t be allowed even to set foot in – not only in his hometown of Harderwijk – but also not in Hilversum, Rotterdam or Den Haag (The Hague). Actually, the situation is the reverse: for his personal safety he doesn’t want to go show his face where everyone knows who he is (Harderwijk), nor where he committed his infamous crime (Hilversum), nor where there are legions of former Pim Fortuyn voters who are assuredly out to get him (the other two cities, and probably many more).

The current media consensus seems to be that he will probably head to Germany to live there – perhaps an analogue of sorts to the handful of Nazi-era SS war criminals wanted for misdeeds in the Netherlands but who managed to avoid justice by hiding out in Germany. He’ll still have to report to the Dutch authorities weekly, he has to have a psychiatrist available at all times, and he can’t talk to the media. And he’ll still probably need to be rather discreet about his exact residence, as Germany – no matter where – is not that far away from, say, Rotterdam, where Fortuyn made his political start, and where memories and resentments no doubt still die hard.

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