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[Nettime-nl] Limping messenger: Postscript on Dutch political party colour symbolism

I have added a postcript to my February 20 article

Colour pallet and flag of new Dutch government coalition.

A full illustrated version can be found at the Limping Messenger/Hinkende Bode blog:

Postscript on Dutch political party colour symbolism


The ‘Purple Cabinets” (Paars Kabinetten) covered two periods: 1994-1998 and 1998-2002 and were made up of three parties: PvdA/Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party), the VVD/Volkspratij Voor Vrijheid en Democratie (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy/Liberal Party in the Dutch history sense; see my short explanation also on this blog) and D66/Democraten (19)66 (Democrats 1966), 1966 being the founding year of that party amidst political turmoil, especially in Amsterdam with its joyful Provo “revolution”. Paars/Purple added a new pallet to Dutch politics, 1994 it was the first time in eighty years that a government was formed in which none of the  ’confessional parties’ participated. The notion of confessional parties in the Netherlands means Christian Parties of which there were many in the Netherlands with one big Catholic party (KVP/Catholieke Volkspartij) and many distinct Protestant Christian parties. Three of these fused in 1980 into what is called since then CDA/Christen Democratisch Appèl: the Catholic KVP and the Protestant  CHU/Christelijk Historische Unie (Christian Historical Union), and the ARP/Anti-Revolutionaire Partij (Anti-revolutionary Party). The Catholic KVP used in the fifties of last century still the yellow and white papal colours in vertical stripes, plus the light blue, also associated with the catholic church especially the virgin Maria. In the seventies the people’s party may have felt the competition of the socialist parties more strongly in their stronghold, the southern provinces of the Netherlands, which may explain the introduction of the colour red in some of their election posters (like the one with Klompé and De Jong). The Protestant ARP was the oldest political party in the Netherlands, founded in 1879, the letter ‘A; standing for ‘anti-revolutionair’, anti-revolutionary meaning the refusal of the ideas of the French Revolution. Their favoured colour  in the ARP election posters has been ‘purple’ a colour  which has  several association: royalty in the political arena and in the biblical sense associated with the liturgical period of penitence and mourning. The expensive dye (Tyrian from Lebanon) needed to paint cloth purple, may have given it  its air of exclusiveness, from Roman emperors to copy-cat dignitaries of the christian church. The protestant CHU/Christian Historical Union was a split off from the ARP and had a more liberal attitude to issues like participation of women in politics. The CHU has used a combination of purple and orange in its election posters, displaying their attachment to the royal house of Orange. The christian fusion party CDA has chosen from the beginning to use the colour ‘green’, mostly with lettering in white and in the early eighties still a band of ‘liberal dark blue’. Also D66 has used from their beginning in 1966 the colour ‘green’, thus the CDA has purposely tried to deflate the symbolism of colour coding in politics.


The liberal VVD can look back at half a century of continuity of its colour usage. Only in the fifties the colour red can be seen, but then as a threatening red back ground from the Cold War area against which a pure white American statue of Liberty is displayed with the colour blue as a symbol of liberalism. From the fifties onward the royal house orange is added to clarify that the party has no intention to change the Ntehrelands a a constitutional monarchy. The red only comes back in the display of the national Dutch flag as in the Mr Oud election poster.


The social-democrat PvdA/Labour party has of course ‘red’ as its main colour. The PvdA is a post war reconstitution of the earlier SDAP/Sociaaal Democratische Arbeiderspartij (social-democrat worker’s party). “Stemt Rood!” (Vote Red) says a postcard from a century ago, with a prototype worker in red clad. The factory chimneys and red flags have long disappeared from the social-democrat iconography, but red still sticks and the joint symbol of European social-democrat parties,  the red rose in a fist, has been kept, be it often in a more artistic rendering than the stylised version of the seventies. PvdA party leader  Wouter Bos and his cortege hand out red roses on their election descents in the streets; a symbolic gesture that a week or so ago has rumoured to have been been highjacked by the leader of the one of the new Dutch parties at the right hand of the spectre (also a spinoff of the liberal VVD party) Rita Verdonk…


Rita has been seen campaigning in an almost deserted inner town of Almere on a sunday morning. I somehow think to have seen it on television, but alas, could not find sufficient proof afterward. The colour issue is a strong element in Dutch elections as can be seen in this inglorious reportage of election campaigners on Saturday February 6 in the town of Spijkernisse (near Rotterdam) with the PvdA and their red pullovers, scarfs and roses, versus the orange scarfs of Rita Verdonk and her brand new TON/Tros Op nederland (Proud of the Netherlands) party. A hilarious photograph shows the TON and VVD teams meeting, both using the royal orange as an expression of their political position.


The post WWII right side of the political spectre Dutch parties have little or none consistency in their political colour pallet. I am purposely leaving out the very popular NSB/Nationaal Socialistische Beweging of Anton Mussert – active from the beginning of the thirties to the end of the WWII (who used the Dutch ‘tricolore’ and the colours yellow, red and black) – because the new right wing parties may be xenophobic to a certain extend, but none of them can be characterised as racist and/or anti-semite. To do so would be  a ‘reductio ad Hitlerum‘ , a false comparison.

First post war newcomer on the national scene was the Boerenpartij/Farmers Party of the a man known as ‘Boer Koekoek’ (Farmer Cuckoo, the bird being his family name and in Dutch that bird has another connotation than in English, so not necessarily a fool). Their election poster and the poster of Binding rechts/Bound to the Right (a split off from the Boerenpartij) have green and orange as their colours. The Centrum Partij/Party of the Center  mostly known as the vehicle of its lonely member in the Dutch parliament Janmaat, copied the colour palette of the liberal VVD party  and implementing this in a Dutch national setting with a lion shown in a heraldic posture defending the rights of the “autochthon Dutch population.” The Centrum Partij/CP hardly filled the decade of the eighties with their “neither left nor right” activities and have been subjected to both leftwing activist physical attacks and anti-racist organisation court cases. In retrospect the  xenophobic discourse of CP leader Janmaat  is pale in comparison with some of islamophobic sermon offered by Geert Wilders (it would be too much of a derivation to go in further detail here, but an article of DeNieuweReporter weblog from last year tackels some of the issues at stake).

Interesting to see is that two of the latest upswing parties in the righthand spectre of Dutch politics have hardly any specific typography or colour pallet: the LPF/Lijst Pim Fortuyn (List Pim Fortuyn) and the PVV/Partij Voor de Vrijheid posters look similar in concept though. (for a detailed explanation of the complexities of the phenomenon of Pim Fortuyn you may read my article written just after his murder in 2002). We just see the leaders looking at us in a way that is both composed and joyful, suggesting the new future that lays ahead when we vote for them. Only recently Wilders and his PVV have embarked on some form of design with the seagull as  a totem animal.

The last design to mention, the emblem of Rita Verdonk her TON/Trots op Nederland combines the Dutch tricolore with a royal orange stripe in the middle. Real Dutch royalits wil hoist on official festive days the national flag plus an orange free floating streamer on top. The design suggests also an American police badge that can be flashed in appropriate circumstances…. This is a less than subtle association because Rita Verdonk was a minister for Integration and Immigration and for a short while also minister of Justice in two of the Balkenende governments (2003-2006). She made her political carreer in the VVD party after a period in which she worked in prison management and the Dutch secret services. Verdonk was renowned for her harsh anti-immigration policies and her militant proposals to Dutch parliament to evict and extradite illegal asylum seekers. In the end Rita Verdonk isolated herself by her impulse and populist approach to politics which lead to her expulsion from the VVD party (it could be the influence   of her more youthful alter-ego that make her fail as a states woman, from the years that she migrated as a youngster through successive radical movements from the Union of Law Trespassers (BWO) to the PSP (Pacifist Part) and the Nijmgen squatters movement, Verdonk according to some sources was known in those years as ‘Red Rita’). Will there be a reunion of the tripartite right-wing liberals in the Netherlands? VVD+PVV all in one TON (ton also means barrel in Dutch)? Maybe the Trots Op Nederland/TON emblem has this reunion embedded in its code: Red for Rita, Orange for Mark (Rutten/VVD), Blue for Geert (Wilders)/PVV. I now have the association of Rita Verdonk represented by  a ‘red herring’ at the centre of her TON party emblem.
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