The statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen will stay for now, pending popular decision later, Source: duimdog on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Why did this Dutch town refuse to apologize for its role in slavery?

Why did this Dutch town refuse to apologize for its role in slavery?

The Hoorn city council is also delaying a decision on whether to remove the statue of a 17th-century colonizer

The city council of Hoorn has garnered attention in Dutch media these days as it announced that it will delay making a decision on whether to remove the statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, a 17th-century Governor-General of the VOC (the Dutch East India Company), who led colonizing efforts in Indonesia and was known for his ruthlessness. The refusal to act decisively was justified by saying that the city wanted to give its residents the choice to make the final decision - hinting at a possible referendum.

These are heady days for Hoorn, as last December, deeper research showed that the city had been instrumental in its role in both the VOC and WIC, the two companies that had engaged in the business of slave trading and were responsible for the fates of 1.5 million people sold into servitude.

Yet, the town council declined to issue a formal apology. Its spokesperson explained that while councillors recognized the dark history of the town, they also did not feel in any way connected to the past people who played a role in it. According to Dutch News, their argument went that back in those days the town councils were not democratically elected thus their decisions did not necessarily reflect the popular will of the town’s inhabitants.

Controversial statue in Hoorn

The statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who was born in Hoorn, was placed in 1893 to commemorate his legacy. Thus, the monument itself dates back to times when the Netherlands was still a colonial power. It remained such until the 1950s.

Although there have been demonstrations against the statue since the 1960s, and it has been attacked with paint on several occasions, councillors have so far resisted calls to remove it. The council did put up a plaque next to the statue outlining Coen’s deeds in 2011, and many officials say that is going far enough.



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