As the Netherlands heads for a general election, barely a day passes without a mention of “Henk and Ingrid“, or Mr and Mrs Average, in a political debate that has revolved around the economy and the euro zone debt crisis.
The invention of populist politician Geert Wilders – who heads the anti-immigration, anti-euro Freedom Party – this mythical couple attracted a different kind of notoriety after a real Dutch Henk, with a wife called Ingrid, killed a Turkish immigrant, prompting commentators to warn that populism can backfire.
Until now, voters have been receptive to homespun stories about the imaginary hardworking couple who, Wilders says, are fed up with Muslim immigration, and lately with the cost to Dutch taxpayers of bailouts resulting from the euro zone debt crisis.
Wilders’ anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric propelled his party into third place in the 2010 election and gave him real power and influence as the minority government’s ally in parliament. It was Wilders who brought that government down in April when he refused to support budget cuts to reduce the deficit to meet EU targets.
“The cultural issues that dominated from 2006 are off the agenda since the economic crisis really hit us hard in Europe,” said Andre Krouwel, a political scientist at VU University Amsterdam.
Krouwel says the tragic story of Henk and Ingrid highlights the limits to the kind of opportunistic populism that he said had passed its high tide in the country.
Henk was implicated in the apparent racist killing of a Turkish immigrant in the poor, post-industrial town of Almelo.
According to the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, a long-running conflict between Henk, 61, his wife Ingrid, 59, and the family of a Turkish immigrant named Aziz Kara, 64, came to a head last Saturday. During an argument, Henk threw Kara to the ground. Kara went into a coma and later died.
The sad irony of an apparent racist killing being committed by two people sharing the names of Wilders’ mythical populist couple has been widely noted, furnishing material for comedians in an Amsterdam club on Friday night.
Henk and Ingrid used to refer to Kara’s family as “the mafia,” putting on Dutch music to drown out their Turkish music, and complaining that the Turkish family, popular in the neighbourhood, was “spying on” them, the newspaper reported.