Confessions of a fake Marxist

As leader of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Netherlands, Pieter Boevé was fêted by the world's communist dictators for 40 years. What they didn't know was that he was an undercover agent. Finally unmasked, he tells all to Stephen Castle   There was one catch: the leader of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Netherlands wasn't really a communist at all. Stephen Castle reports

Once Pieter Boevé called the masses to the barricades. Today, he waggles his walking stick at his local train station in the Netherlands. As the founder of a political party for the elderly, he is calling for an escalator to be installed. There's no stopping some people. For Mr Boevé spent much of the Cold War preaching the word of Mao and Marx in the West. He was fêted in Beijing, toasted in Moscow and met the leaders of the Communist world.

Once Pieter Boevé called the masses to the barricades. Today, he waggles his walking stick at his local train station in the Netherlands. As the founder of a political party for the elderly, he is calling for an escalator to be installed. There's no stopping some people. For Mr Boevé spent much of the Cold War preaching the word of Mao and Marx in the West. He was fêted in Beijing, toasted in Moscow and met the leaders of the Communist world.

Yet now, Mr Boevé peruses a menu at a café in the Dutch seaside town of Zandvoort. He muses over a Chinese option - "Chicken Beijing Lunch" - and rejects it. And then he confirms a secret that fooled the Communist world for generations. He was no lover of the red flag. He was, in fact, a spy all along.

Through the years of the Cultural Revolution and Nixon's visit to China, he made regular trips behind the bamboo curtain. The then Mr Petersen skilfully navigated his way through the ideological lurches of his Communist hosts and visited places off limits to almost everyone else in the West as the leader

of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Netherlands (MLPN). Mr Boevé's incredible story has made him something of a celebrity in this town of 17,000, where he is greeted in the supermarket as the "James Bond of Zandvoort".

Over 35 years Mr Boevé met Nikita Kruschev in Moscow, Enver Hoxha in Tirana, and shook hands with Chairman Mao. But the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Netherlands he led was a sham, staffed mainly by Dutch agents.

The revelation of his extraordinary life has left left-wing activists across Europe wondering whether their comrades through the 1970s and 1980s were all they seemed to be. As a 25-year-old student and part time mathematics teacher, Mr Boevé was always an unlikely recruit to the cause of Communism. True, he was a political campaigner but his allegiance was to the Dutch liberal party, the forerunner of today's centre-right VVD, which was instinctively capitalist in outlook.

As an increasingly confident Soviet Union sought to project its image in the West, the authorities in Moscow began preparations for a youth festival to be held in the country's capital in 1955. Bizarrely, a request for candidates to go to Moscow for the token price of 150 guilders was sent to the Dutch liberals among other political parties. A friend in the party who worked for the Dutch secret service (BVD) approached Mr Boevé and asked if he would be willing to go to Moscow and report back to the service. Yes, said Mr Boevé, not knowing that he was embarking on a 35-year adventure of deceit and double-dealing that would give him access to some of the most senior figures of Communist Cold-War politics.

Even now, 50 years on, sipping a cola next to the fire in the Café Neuf in Zandvoort, Mr Boevé seems a little vague about why he opted for such a life. He was, he insists, never paid by the BVD though it later provided a car big enough to transport reams of Communist propaganda, and stepped in to make up his salary when he took time off between jobs to attend a lengthy indoctrination course in Beijing.

He says he retained a strong aversion to the Communist system and believes he helped, in some small way, to win the Cold War. But Mr Boevé's main motivation may have been the intoxicating excitement of leading such an exotic double life. At one point in our conversation he turns to me and says: "Wouldn't you have liked the chance to do something like that?" Multilingual and, by his own admission a good actor, Mr Boevé managed to blag his way into becoming the leader of the Dutch organising committee for the Moscow youth festival, vetting those who applied to go to Moscow. His BVD controllers could not believe their luck as a list of Communist sympathisers fell in their lap.

While the rest of the 700 Dutch delegation took the train to Moscow, Mr Boevé was flown there, met Mr Kruschev ("a nice man") and made a broadcast in Dutch on Radio Moscow. In 1958, China organised its own youth festival and Mr Boevé was invited. Initial Chinese suspicious of the young Dutch liberal were overcome and he embarked on a five-day journey from Amsterdam to Beijing.

That was followed by regular visits to the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands which led to an invitation to shed his "bourgeois ideas" and join the Dutch Communist Party. As a teacher, membership of the CP was impossible, so Mr Boevé's new political allegiance was a secret to everyone except the BVD. Then came the Sino-Soviet split which also divided Communist sympathisers. Dutch intelligence saw a chance to split the far left and prompted Mr Boevé to help set up the MLNP to follow Beijing's line. Its propaganda may have been funded by the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands, but the organisation was controlled by seven or eight BVD agents including Mr Boevé, who adopted the pseudonym Chris Petersen.

By 1963 he was back in Beijing, this time for a formal Communist education. He was put up at the best hotel and treated as a VIP but the hospitality came with a price tag: lengthy study of the thought of Mao. "I learnt how to think in the Chinese way. It even became possible for me to make a speech in a Mao style," he recalls. Meanwhile, Mr Boevé held down a job as director of a technical school in Schoonhoven near Rotterdam.

With financial backing from the Chinese, what became known as Operation Mongol did not even cost any money. "In fact it made a profit", says Mr Boevé. "The Chinese always paid in dollars." By virtue of his party position and links with the Chinese, Mr Petersen was introduced to Communists in a host of countries, travelling extensively around Europe and beyond. The Albanian embassy in Paris fixed up a visit to Tirana where Mr Boevé met Mr Hoxha (who "seemed a nice man though we know he was not" and who spoke "excellent French").

More trips to Bejing followed with audiences with Deng Xiaoping, Chou En-lai (a "clever, educated man who spoke German and French"), and even Mao himself. Though this was only a handshake, it afforded much celebration at the BVD, which had never had any agent so close to the Chinese leader.

Back at home, Chinese diplomats in the Netherlands were told the MLPN had a membership of about 500 but the party was really made of "about 25 agents and about 15 people stupid enough to join us", says Mr Boevé.

The Chinese were not the only ones to be fooled: one Dutch academic even donated 20 per cent of his salary to the party, money he now wants refunded by the BVD. Meanwhile, Dutch secret service agents became experts in Maoist ideology, denouncing the evils of their capitalist government. Although the Chinese knew Mr Petersen's real name, they did not bother to monitor his movements or, if they did, failed to spot regular meetings with a BVD controller. Other clues were overlooked, including one occasion when Mr Boevé spoke publicly about how to manage the tax system in order to pay less - not usually a Maoist preoccupation.

Mr Boevé told his wife (from whom is he now separated) and two sons about his double life and seems phlegmatic about the risks. He says: "I was told, 'if you make a mistake. If you are put in prison and you admit that you are an agent, we cannot help you. You will be on your own, and you know what that means in those countries.' But I was never afraid, I was so sure that everything was so well organised here."

Didn't all the lying and deceit get him down? On the contrary, he says: "I am a little proud of what I have done. I have led a good life and I have added something to humanity." Mr Boevé only revealed his role after being exposed in a book written by a former BVD agent, Frits Hoekstra. The revelation has placed the spotlight on his new political party for the elderly. But he still faces a struggle to make a group of three local councillors into a real political force.

But all that time in Beijing has left him prepared for the battle to come. He might just get his escalator. As Chairman Mao once put it: "A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step."

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