It is election month here in the Netherlands and, with our dedication to Amsterdam’s amazing history, we thought it only right to pay tribute to one of this city’s most infamous political identities; a man who unwittingly became one of the world’s first politicians to be solely ‘created’ through a dedicated media
Amsterdam of the 1920s was, like other great cities, a melting pot for concepts, discussion, and ideas towards the advancement of civilization. Throughout the city, a multitude of characters preached a range ofdifferent sermons, prophecies and intonations for redemption. At the same time, universal suffrage had come into effect, seemingly giving every person the right to vote, and also to stand for election. No longer was politics the realm of only the elite and untouchable, as now, surely, even the ‘average Joep’ on the streetcould participate in governance.So diverse were the views and ideas going around at the time, that there included in society a large group of people who saw the newly universal political system as a farce, readymadeto be ridiculed. The Dada movement, whose celebration of the irrational and intuitive had reached Amsterdam from its inception in Zurich, represented the use of graphic design and ‘anti-art’ in the communication of anti-war and anti-bourgeois concepts (or should they be called anti-concepts?). Their political leanings were towards the left, where they were joined by the anti-capitalists and anarchists, as well as ‘free socialists.’ The campaign that grew out of this mingling of ideas was one which set out to prove that the political system was a joke, out of which the “stupid masses” could be persuaded to vote for just aboutanybody. In 1921 they created the Rapaille Partij (Scum party), and selected a candidate to stand for the local council elections.
The man who they chose to be the face of this big practical joke on society was a man called Nelis de Gelder, affectionately known by locals as “Had-je-me-maar”.
Had-je-me-maar was an alcoholic street-performer; a socalled ‘down-and-out’. Having been a former mason and circus performer, he was infamous in Amsterdam for his presence on the Butter Markt, which is today’s Rembrandt Square. Carrying a cigar-box, his stumbling around the square begging for money would occasionally be accompanied by a little Red Indian dance, all of which made him well known to the locals.
Had-je-me-maar took to his Scum Party candidacy with pride, and he adopted a concise political agenda. Although only a short list, it demonstrates that he had very lucid ideas about what this society needed. Given a seat at the city council, he would lower the prices of brandy, bread and butter. He would also clean up the public urinals around the Butter Markt and, to top it all off, there would be free hunting and fishing in the Vondel Park.
The Dadaists and anti-capitalists who had created the Scum Party ran a concerted and organized propaganda campaign, using incredibly progressive posters and advertising material, in order to project Had-je-me-maar even further into the public consciousness. Some argue that this was the first time media had played such a role in literally ‘creating’ a politician. Thanks to this effort, Had-je-me-maar was duly elected to the city council with more than 14,000 votes.
Such was the unexpected nature of his success that the acting Burgomaster had to scurry off to The Hague, looking to the national government for some legal solution to this huge problem. Fortunately, those in The Hague had remained apprised of Had-je-me-maar’s campaign, and had already prepared an emergency law, which would disallow him from taking his seat.In some ways, this further consolidated the views of the Scum
Party organisers; that the whole system was, indeed, a farce.
As it turned out however, this emergency law became unnecessary. A few days before the election, Had-je-me-maar had been arrested for being drunk outside and, unable to take his seat in the allotted time to do so, was disqualified from sitting on the council. So ended one of the most brief, random and colourful political careers in Dutch history.
So as we prepare to usher in a new government this month, in whatever shape, form or fashion it takes place, we at AmsterDO wish all contestants happy campaigning and politicking.Remember that, if uncertain of what stance to take, free fishing and hunting in the park may very well remain a viable option.
Nelis de Gelder (Hadjememaar) Leader of the Scum Party Joe Wegecsanyi,