Nieuws - 24 mei 2012

Farmer Koekoek: Geert Wilders' political forefather

Joris Tielens

LEI researcher wrote a book about the leader of the Netherlands' ‘most successful protest party'.

Hendrik Koekoek was born exactly a century ago. He would go on to make his name as Farmer Koekoek, leader of the Farmers' Party. Ida Terluin, researcher at the Agricultural Economics Institute, spent her sabbatical at the University of Groningen and wrote a book called 100 years of farmer Koekoek, which she launched on 19 May. Her conclusion: the Farmers' Party was part of the tradition of right-wing protest parties that include the Nazi NSB (1931-1945), the LPF (2002-2008) and the PVV that succeeded it.
Koekoek set up the Farmers' Party in 1958, uniting small farmers in protest against compulsory levies by the agricultural board and government interference by minister Mansholt. In 1963, three farms whose owners refused to pay up were confiscated. The ensuing battle was good publicity for Koekoek, who then gained three seats in the lower house of parliament. By 1967, his party had seven seats. It only disappeared from the house in 1981, after internal conflicts, a bad press and a series of scandals in which Wageningen students played a role.
Terluin sees many parallels between the Farmers' Party and the PVV. The chief similarity is their opposition to the elite and the big ruling parties. The Farmers' Party was also a populist movement with a charismatic leader, and it talked of the country in idealized terms as a ‘heartland'. In Koekoek's case, the ideal was a small-scale farming society, while for Wilders it is a country in which everyone shares Dutch norms and values.
There are differences too. Koekoek's party had members and was democratically run, unlike the PVV, and Wilders' xenophobia was foreign to Koekoek. ‘The Farmers' Party was in fact the most successful right-wing protest party of the past hundred years', says Terluin. ‘The party was in parliament for 18 years. The LPF didn't manage that and it remains to be seen whether the PVV will do so.'