Emotions Ran High During City Council Debate at the Amsterdam University College

By Saga Norby

–Nine local politicians came together at the Amsterdam University College on March 5, for a debate that would turn out to be unusually uncivil.

The debate was organised and moderated by Lennart Tiller, a second-year Social Science major, and Jelle Ages, a third-year Social Science major, as a means of calling attention to the fact that international residents are allowed to vote in the upcoming municipal elections. For the political representatives, it was both an opportunity to encourage voting in general, and voting on their respective parties in particular. At least fifty students attended the two hour long event.

The debate was structured around four topics, chosen by the organisers after input from those planning to attend: the housing shortage in Amsterdam; the rights of unregistered immigrants; Amsterdam’s transition to clean energy; and whether to change names of public places named after e.g. colonialists. The moderators asked four debaters at a time to discuss each topic, while standing behind a table on stage in AUC’s cafeteria.

The first topic – Amsterdam’s housing shortage – was discussed with outspoken but formal disagreement, by the four female representatives; Eva Akerboom (Party for the Animals, PvdD), Marijn Bosman (Democrats 1966, D66), Sara Murawski (Socialist Party, SP), and Hala Naoum Nehme (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, VVD).

Tension started building when the representatives sitting beside the table were invited to comment on what had been said so far. “I respect you, but all your political ideas are really boring,” said Jazie Veldhuyzen (Bij1), leaving both debaters and audience seemingly startled and unable to respond.

The next question – the rights of unregistered immigrants – was discussed by Bosman, Caesar Bast (Labour Party, PvdA), Mourad Taimounti (Denk), and Diederik Boomsma (Christian Democratic Appeal, CDA). Taimounti argued it is the Western world’s responsibility to take care of immigrants, since it is the fault of the West that people have had to leave their countries. Boomsma said it was “nonsense” of Taimounti to imply the West has caused all the misery in the world. “It’s called capitalism!”, Veldhuyzen said from the side of the stage, which made parts of the audience cheer. Bast, with support from Taimounti, then said unregistered immigrants in Amsterdam cannot rely on basic healthcare, to which Boomsma responded with “bullshit” and “more lies”.

Later the audience was allowed to ask questions. Jesse Hoogland, a second-year Science major, said he was disappointed by the debaters “shouting at each other”, and asked, “If you can’t get along now, before you’re even in office, then how is it supposed to work?”

In response to Hoogland’s comment, a sober applause and murmur of agreement rose from the audience. The next round of the debate – that concerning Amsterdam’s responsibility toward the climate – was considerably calmer. As it was rounded up, Boomsma looked at Hoogland and asked if he thought the debate had been more civil now – a question which got an affirmative nod from Hoogland and other audience members.

However, the fourth and final round soon had everyone at the edge of their seats again. Discussing whether to change the names of public places named after colonialists, Naoum Nehme said there is more important work to be done than to create “botox history” through the changing of names that are already in place. She said the right way of increasing awareness of the darker pages of Dutch history is through education.

Taimounti then asked how Naoum Nehme, being from Aleppo, would feel if a street would be named after Bashar al-Assad. Naoum Nehme then pointed out the difference between names yet to be given and names given long ago, and said, “Shame on you, Mourad Taimounti, shame on you.”

Before Taimounti could respond, Tiller took the word. He said it was time to move on to the final questions and answers, and that, regarding the revision of street names, “maybe we could agree to disagree?”

The municipal elections will take place on March 21.

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