Tunnel name change is a matter for Amsterdammers, says mayor

A portrait of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, part of the Rijksmuseum collection
A portrait of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, part of the Rijksmuseum collection

Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema has said she will not rename the Coen tunnel under the city’s IJ waterway but will ‘leave it to the Amsterdammers’ to decide if action should be taken against representations of the capital’s colonial past, the Parool reports.

The Coen tunnel is named after Jan Pieterszoon Coen  (1587-1629) who, as VOC trader in the Dutch East Indies ordered the killing of the population of the Banda Islands in an attempt to gain the monopoly on the trade in nutmeg. It earned him the name of the ‘Banda butcher’.

Parties Denk and GroenLinks have long campaigned for a name change, with the support of the PvdD and the SP but do not have a majority in the council.

Halsema said she agrees with the historical judgement on Coen but does not want the discussion to centre on a single issue. ‘We must have a more comprehensive discussion, not based on incidental references or monuments in the city,’ Halsema said following a debate on Wednesday.

The mayor announced she would be holding stadgesprekken or consultations with locals, organisations and institutions about the subject ‘so Amsterdammers can make up their own minds’.

The fact that Halsema is willing to let the people decide on a name change is a departure from the policy of her predecessor Eberhard van der Laan who said that it would be ‘unwise because the tunnel is an important orientation point for road and water traffic’.

Denk group chairman Mourad Taimouni said he wants individual council members to ‘show their true colours’ and has called for a roll call vote on the matter on Thursday.

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