Queen Beatrix surrounded by the First Cabinet Kok.

Queen Beatrix surrounded by the First Kok Cabinet.

In 1994, the Dutch experienced the unusual situation of an administration without Christian Democrats: the First Kok Cabinet, named after its Prime Minister Wim Kok. As it was made up of ministers from the Labor party (red), and ministers from the Liberal party (blue), it was jokingly called ‘purple’. Typical ‘purple’ themes were said to be a clever combination of state interference and market forces which did away with the endless debates of the consensus culture and consequently meant less consultation. The new cabinet turned out to be unusually effective and foreign journalists started to look for the key to its success. Ironically, they were impressed by the process of continuous consultation, which they identified as the main strength of what they called the ‘polder model’, a system they never grew tired of lauding.

If the Dutch and their observers did not agree on the nature of purple policy, neither did the coalition partners themselves, each group offering a different interpretation. This was probably to be expected, as only by leaving things deliberately vague, could people as far apart in the political spectrum as socialists and liberals go along with it. In the meantime, their economic policy might as well have been conducted by Christian Democrat ministers as it contained all the same elements.

Although no one knew what was exactly meant by ‘purple’ or the ‘polder model’, certain themes were mentioned time and again in association with them, while, at the same time other important developments in the Dutch economy were just as consistently ignored. House prices, for example, rose to match the European average, a fact that cannot have been without consequences for the Dutch economy, but was never mentioned as something ‘purple’. After several years, the politicians of the purple government, who had such different opinions, at least agreed that constant consultation was indeed one of the characteristics of the Dutch economy – a fact that employers and trade unions had never lost sight of.

The Second Kok Cabinet which came into power in 1998, soon lost its splendor. It was generally felt that important social problems were being ignored – a criticism which was not completely fair. Because the Christian Democrats had not been part of the Cabinet, important legislation on abortion, euthanasia, and gay rights could be passed. Furthermore, the participation of women in the labor force increased spectacularly.

Cartoon: Cartoonist Mirjam Visser’s view on Dutch politics: the Muslim demand for respect, a response to the remarks by Fortuyn, is used by the Christian Democrats to pursue their own agenda.

Cartoonist Mirjam Vissers’ view on Dutch politics after 2002: the Muslim demand for respect, a response to the remarks by Fortuyn, is used by the Christian Democrats to pursue their own agenda.

However, problems with regard to the integration and assimilation of uneducated Moroccans (mentioned above) were very belatedly addressed. In fact, it was only when the 9/11 attacks in New York gave a boost to the popularity of Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing politician who called Islam ‘a backward culture’, that these problems received sufficient attention. The demand that Morrocan immigrants (which were often lumped together with all other Dutch Muslims) would do more to adapt themselves to Dutch society, made them demand more respect for their values.

Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats had found a new leader in Jan-Peter Balkenende, who dreamed of a restoration of the old Christian morals and values. In the 2002 elections, the Christian Democrats and the political party founded by Pim Fortuyn, were convincing winners. They would have joined forces to create a new ruling coalition if Pim Fortuyn had not been assassinated shortly before the elections.

This political assassination traumatized the nation and left Dutch politics in a state of shock: the last political murder had taken place in 1672, when a mob in The Hague had lynched Jan de Witt. Consensus was sorely tested and threatened to disappear altogether. And then, just as people were beginning to convince themselves that it had been just a tragic incident, a second political murder made it clear that the problems were structural. The victim was Theo van Gogh, a movie maker with very outspoken opinions about Islam, who had called the prophet Muhammad ‘a goat fucker’. The fact that there are law courts to establish whether this was a punishable insult, was insufficient for the assassin, a Muslim born in Amsterdam.

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