By Alex van Veen
Fall 2000. Sitting in the boardroom of Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth) in Amsterdam, I had a brief conversation with the director. The occasion was a series of articles for activist magazine Ravage, in which I would look back on a number of notorious actions in the 1980s. What could be more appropriate than to meet with Wijnand Duyvendak.
I asked him whose idea it had been to break into the Energy Directorate-General of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, then located opposite The Hague Central Station, in the summer of 1985. Even though anonymity had been guaranteed, Duyvendak denied having had anything to do with this action. This disappointed me quite a bit, especially since we were no strangers.
I was therefore quite surprised when Duyvendak, now climbing towards the glass ceiling as MP for GroenLinks, himself issued a press release earlier this week in which he made public that he had been involved in the political burglary, which went down in history as ‘The revenge of esquire De Brauw’. He ‘disclosed’ this as part of the presentation of an environmental book he wrote.
Although it has been alleged in numerous publications since 1985 that Duyvendak had been involved in the burglary, he and his party might have suspected that the confirmation of this fact might create a bit of a racket. Incomprehensible. And yes, the media plunged into it, following the lead of popular website GeenStijl.nl, which set its teeth in the story like a pit bull terrier. The editor concerned was probably pissed off for having had to pay his flight tax last week at Schiphol Airport for his monthly outing. Revenge!
And as soon as GeenStijl turns something into a prominent issue, the mass media meekly follow. This says a lot about the quality of today’s journalism. Anyway, crisis at the Duyvendaks’ and in his party. So play it down, and fast! Being a lame duck, he told anyone who wanted to listen that he was sorry for the Economic Affairs burglary.
He goes way too far in this. Actions would only be permissible if they remain within the law, Duyvendak says. Does he really think so, has he distanced himself from his past role as extraparliamentary activist? Or have these absurd statements been fed to him by the GroenLinks board and its party leader, Femke Halsema?
I suspect the latter; in fact, I am pretty sure. Just look at what Halsema said in de Volkskrant today: “I have always stimulated him to give account” of his illegal deeds in the past. “With his book, he is cleaning his slate, putting his problematic past behind him”, Halsema said.
Well, that is how political parties work. GroenLinks is doing better in the polls, and it hopes it will finally have a chance to be part of a government after the next election. Duyvendak might qualify as minister of the environment. Or else he could become party leader, even though he described that function as a ‘lousy job’ in 2003.
If you want to attain such a position, you will have to make some sacrifices. In this case: distance yourself publicly from your radical past. His erstwhile pals, many of whom have themselves gotten ahead nicely themselves, will surely understand. However, a clumsily worded press release now threatens his position.
But the affair is also harming the party. For why was Senator Sam Pormes expelled in 2005 because of his radical past, and is Duyvendak now being protected? This has everything to do with GroenLinks’ ambitions, for the party thinks it has its own Al Gore in Duyvendak. Its followers will sooner or later look through this kind of power play, it will harm the party. I could not care less.
But perhaps the worst thing about Duyvendak’s apology is that his performance has made a substantial contribution to the criminalisation of the extraparliamentary action movement. And this at a time when politicians are busy declaring squatters and animal rights activists personae non gratae. Through Duyvendak, GroenLinks is making an important contribution to this. Shame on you, Wijnand.
To conclude, I quote a statement Duyvendak made in activist magazine Bluf! in June 1985: “We call on everyone who has something against nuclear energy, militarism, etcetera to act. (...) Now is the time to stay ahead of our enemies!”
This article was originally published at Ravage Digitaal.