Opinion: Terminal City

POSTED: 04/3/14 2:47 PM

The initiative by the St. Eustatius Empowerment and Liberty Force (Self) to change the name of the island’s capital from Oranjestad into something else is an interesting one. Self wants to break with the island’s colonial past and with the royal family.

A petition to change the name however is not more than a first step. In the end, Statia’s Island Council will have to take a decision. Is it gonna be Statiatown or (oil) Terminal City?

Changing the name of a municipality is legally possible. Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Plasterk made this clear last year when a bunch of towns and villages in the province of Friesland found themselves saddled with the name Friese Meren. Article 158 of the constitution states: 1, “The municipal council can change the name of the municipality,” and 2. “The decision is made known to Our Minister.”

The Friese Meren came into existence on January 1 of this year. It includes the formerly independent municipalities of Gaasterland-Sloten, Lemsterland, Skarsterlân and a part of Boornsterhem around a place called Terhorne. The Friese Meren has 51,200 inhabitants. Places like Sloten, Balk, Joure and Lemmer fall within the boundaries of the new municipality.

Frysians are particular about the minority language and the creation of a municipality with a Dutch name did not sit well with everybody. Many Frysians wanted the place to be called Fryske Marren. In a referendum, 42.4 percent opted to keep Friese Meren, 41.6 percent wanted Fryske Marren and the rest came up with other names in Frysian.

So the name is now Friese Meren? Wrong. The two political parties that form a coalition in the municipal council had already decided before the referendum that they would choose the name Fryske Marren. The municipal council still has to approve the name-change. Starting in 2015, the Frysian name could become official.

All this to show that the people had a right to have their say, but that politicians will always bend the results to satisfy their own point of view.

This could also happen in Statia. The Self-initiative for a petition is interesting, but the results offer no guarantees. Maybe this will give politicians in St. Maarten the idea to change the name of its capital Philipsburg into something with a more local feeling. After all, Governor John Philips was a Scot and what historical ties does the island have with Scotland apart from whisky?

In the same vein, Curacao may want to do away with Willemstad, Bonaire with Kralendijk (if that is not colonial, we don’t know what is) and Aruba with another Oranjestad.

Remember: the people may get a say in all this but as usual, those darn politicians will have the last word.

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