It says a great deal for the political stability of the Netherlands that the murder of far-right leader Pim Fortuyn was the first political killing in that country since the brothers Johan and Cornelis de Wit were slain for opposing the rule of the royal house of Oranje-Nassau in 1672.
Other countries including this State, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Italy, in which murder for political motives has been far more frequent, will have little reason to hold the Dutch people up to scornful criticism on the issue.
For the people of the Netherlands, however, the assassination may have far-reaching consequences. In a country where, despite its wealth, government ministers arrive by bicycle for cabinet meetings, where leading politicians walk freely through the streets of its towns and cities, there is a strong danger that this admirable situation may be brought to an end.
Despite his extremist views, despite his objectionably self-centred stance on immigration, there was no justification whatsoever in taking Pim Fortuyn's life. It is the very essence of democracy to allow anti-democratic views to be expressed. Maverick politicians may take advantage of the freedoms provided by liberal democracies but that it is a price that we should gladly pay. If initial reports are correct and the person believed to have killed Mr Fortuyn was an eccentric animal-rights campaigner then, brutal and unacceptable as the murder was, the body politic in the Netherlands may have something to be thankful for.
The fact that Islamic extremists appear to have been ruled out as suspects may help avoid emotional reprisals against the moderate, law-abiding, majority of Dutch Muslims. The elimination of left-wing elements from the murder investigation should help avoid the type of political strife evident in other countries but totally at variance to Dutch tradition. Nevertheless the murder will serve to highlight the rise of the far right in European politics and may in the long run gain votes for those involved in simplistic, racially-motivated campaigns. Today, on the 57th anniversary of the defeat of fascism, such trends strike a sad note.