Wytze Russchen's 'Oliemannetje'

Some say I was already practicing politics in the crib. In my memory, 1984 was a breakthrough year. It was the year of the cruise missiles and the people’s petitions. Of pacifist Woodstock residues Strikwerda and Faber of the Interdenominational Peace Council (Interkerkelijk Vredesberaad; abbreviated as IKV in Dutch). Seventy-five percent of the students were against the missiles; amongst the teachers it was closer to 100%. This contributed even more to my already deviant standpoint. I had a sticker on my bike which read “better a missile in my back garden than a Russian in my kitchen.” In my bedroom I had NATO flags. Politics was about defined issues. You were either in favour or against, pro or contra. I was almost fourteen and I was pro.
On the day it was allowed I joined the JOVD (the young liberals in my hometown Drachten). Belonging to something, I loved it. A year later I became President. This would happen to me a few times again later on. Something was happening in Drachten. We combined the pleasant with the useful, in that order. This attracted a lot of attention and, subsequently, new members. Day in and day out I was busy with my “club”. My dad, who was an obdurate Christian Democrat and teacher saw my school results plummeting. He saw the JOVD as a threat. Time and again my answer would be that this would pay itself back later on. And that is exactly what happened, be it a lot later than expected.
Mark Rutte became the national JOVD President. They were turbulent times. Decadent yuppies and snobs on one side. Marihuana smoking altos of diverse background on the other. Polarisation, polemics and good music. I was seventeen in the middle of the eighties. Drachten, of all places, became the fastest growing local section of the country. From being a nerdy student with A-s and A+s, I became Hot. I felt a popularity I had never known before. It tasted like more. My school results went down and the fights with my dad went up. I would be on the phone half the day with the board and other JOVD members. “When is the next meeting, who will we kick out and what do we put in our next press release?”
At that time, I was quite a stutterer. But instead of keeping my mouth shut, I went on the counter attack. Being the local President I had to give public speeches. In the beginning, this would often fail. Sometimes I had to repeat my stammering. Or it would take me two minutes to reply to a question that would normally take twentyseconds. I forced myself to press on, I enjoyed the attention and this political game way too much. By doing this, I got rid of my stuttering for a great deal.
Confronting your biggest fear. Later on, when I developed a fear of flying (see 6.1) and when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I repeated this. A sort of primal strength to survive; I was in the clouds.
Then all of a sudden he called me. Mark Rutte was on tour. In his old Volvo, with his childhood friend Koen Pedersen behind the wheel, the national President was touring the Kingdom. He had heard a lot about us and wanted to visit Drachten.
I stuttered on the phone that it was a great honour. Oh, and yes, he asked whether they could stay over because Friesland was quite a drive and us young liberals liked a beer here and there. I had to think of my overstrained father and thought for a moment… “Of course Mark, you are more than welcome and you know, mi casa es tu casa!”
We held our department meetings in the evenings in the dark brown café Marktzicht, on the first floor around the billiard area. Lots of beer, cigar smoke, blue blazers and tie pins. Seventeen-year-old boys looking like old men; like the regulars who were downstairs. At the JOVD in Drachten there was always a party. For Mark’s speech we had put in some extra effort. Local press, snacks, lots of posters and balloons; the big boss was paying us a visit!
I was quite nervous so I had poured myself several shots of courage. Finally, there they were. Rutte and Pedersen stumbled up the small stairs. It was packed and people were standing all around the room. I immediately grabbed the microphone. This was my moment: “Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present you our national President, Mark Rutte!”
It turned out to become a late night and this on a weekday. Koen left the Volvo conveniently at Marktzicht.
We would pick it up the next day. Quite tipsy, loaded with travel bags we got into a taxi. Like long time old friends, the bosses and me. This was really cool. I sobered up quickly when we arrived at my parent’s house. I beggedthem to be really quiet, because my dad was asleep and had to get up early the next morning. In addition, he was not a big JOVD fan. My mom had prepared towels. They giggled drunkenly. I put my finger to my lips: “ssshhht, quiet, good night boys.” I sneaked to my own room to go to sleep. Hopefully it would all be all right.
It took only five minutes before there was a deafening noise, laughter and thumping broke out. Assholes! Mark and Koen had decided not to go to sleep yet, but first have a pillow fight on the bunk bed and roared with laughter. I heard a door open down the hallway. Oh my God, my father! “Please guys, go to sleep.” I also did not want to come across too submissive, but I knew how my dad could react. Quickly back to my room and there he was fuming, right in front of me. “What were these bastards thinking at three in the morning, what a bunch of brutal egoists!”
Freaked out, dressed in his brown pyjamas he was heading towards the spare room. My position was at stake. As was my recently acquired special relationship with our President. And the relationship with my family too. What to do? You could hear the pillows being slammed back and forth which did not help either.
“Dad,” I said, “let me solve this myself. I will make them stop. And maybe you do not care, but this bastard on our bunk bed with our pillows will one day be the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.” He trudged back to his room.
Everyone went to sleep. Peace and harmony were saved. Twenty-three years later, when I congratulated him on his new role as the country’s Prime Minister, I reminded Mark Rutte of this incident.

The Fixer: Lobbyist in Europe

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The Fixer. is published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform | 236 pages | ISBN 978 15 3042 781 9.

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