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Biography Jelle Zijlstra

Jelle Zijlstra
Jelle Zijlstra

During Jelle Zijlstra’s (1918-2001) career the Frisian economist acted as minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, senator, prime minster and finally became president of the Dutch national bank (DNB). Even though Zijlstra was active in politics for over fifteen years between 1952 and 1967, he never regarded himself as a politician. Zijlstra labeled the academic world of the Vrije Universiteit as his ‘paradise lost’ and only when he became president of De Nederlandsche Bank he felt in place. In his memoires Zijlstra pointed out that the reason for this was he had never been a homo politicus and had always remained a homo economicus.

Nevertheless, Zijlstra’s departure from the political stage took a long period and several of his attempts to withdraw from The Hague failed or were short-lived. Seemingly unwilling Zijlstra stayed on as minister, leader of the Antirevolutionary Party (ARP ) and ultimately even became prime minister.

Trained as an economist, Zijlstra distanced himself from political routines and preferred a professional, businesslike style, favoring consensus and the long term above devout phrases and idealism. On the level of both national and party politics Zijlstra represented pragmatism, earning him popularity as well as fierce criticism. Zijlstra held a prominent role within the modernization of the ARP and the rapidly changing landscape of Dutch politics in general; where the importance of national reconstruction and governing on a broad basis began to fade.

This research aims at the life and work of Jelle Zijlstra in which the following questions play a significant role: What was the influence of the crisis and the Second World War on the development of Zijlstra as a person, politician and economist? What was Zijlstra’s role within the Antirevolutionary Party and Dutch politics? This research will contribute to the historiography of Dutch post-war politics.

Jonne Harmsma started this research in April 2013 at the Biography Institute. His research is supervised by Prof. Hans Renders and Prof. Jan Marc Berk.

On 29 November 2018, Jonne Harmsma will defend his biography Jelle zal wel zien. Jelle Zijlstra, een eigenzinnig leven tussen politiek en economie as a PhD thesis before the University of Groningen. The ceremony will start at 14.30 in the aula of the Academy building.


Interview television broadcast Bynt (Omrop Fryslân), 14 November 2014

Invitation for seminar W aar we heen gaan, Jelle zal wel zien. Het kabinet-Zijlstra (1966-1967) na vijftig jaar (22 november, VU Amsterdam).

Presentation biography Jelle zal wel zien. Jelle Zijlstra, een eigenzinnig leven tussen politiek en economie at Prometheus publishers.

Harmsma's biography was nominated for the dissertation prize of the Premium Erasmianum Foundation, Prinsjesboekenprijs and the Libris Geschiedenis Prijs.

Last modified:24 January 2020 11.42 a.m.
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