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Decision to rename Leopold II tunnel after Brussels singer divides opinion
The Leopold II tunnel has been awarded a new name after a public poll but the result has already divided Brussels citizens. People were asked to choose from a list of 15 women whose name would replace that of the colonialist king and of the more than 30,000 votes cast, more than a fifth went for Annie Cordy.
While some have praised the decision to rename the tunnel after the singer and actor from Laeken, who became Léonie, Baroness Cooreman in 2004 after King Albert II bestowed upon her the title in recognition for her life's achievements, others have criticised it. One argument is that the decision is too provincial and that it represents another example of Brussels ignoring the rest of the country, while other people say that naming a “stinking tunnel” after the famous chanteuse is disrespectful and offensive.
The Brussels government has defended the decision, saying that the choice of Annie Cordy has “symbolic power” as it is another small step towards the long-awaited feminisation of the city’s streets, and it also removes the name of the controversial monarch. "The choice is not daring, but anything is better than Leopold II," tweeted former Flemish minister for culture, youth and sport Bert Anciaux.
Yet not everyone is convinced. "A B actress who gets it over Marie Curie?" one opponent wrote on Twitter. "With this, the voters prove once again that they know nothing about the concept of feminism. An iconic woman who left her scientific mark on humanity is passed over for an actress.”
Another wrote: “So many deserving women on the list and still they choose a singer... Allow me to look at that with cynical eyes. I'm really sorry. How many singers have streets been named after? I would have preferred to see (lawyer and early feminist campaigner) Marie Popelin."
Journalist Gie Goris, former editor-in-chief of Flemish magazine Mondiaal Nieuws, wondered if the decision to rename the tunnel in general was a strong enough statement in regard to addressing Belgium’s colonial history. "Perhaps it is more important to face and rectify the past than to switch symbols," he said.
Although the emancipation value of the name change is generally appreciated, some doubt that Annie Cordy is the ideal representative of Brussels' identity. "She was popular with older French speakers in Brussels, but unknown to Dutch speakers, residents under 45 or Brussels citizens with a migration background – the majority of Brussels,” said Joris Pochet, the chairman of the Public Centre for Social Welfare in Jette.
This was a point raised by others on social media, with some saying it was a missed opportunity for Brussels to be more inclusive. "With this name change, it becomes clear again that Brussels can no longer be called the capital of Belgium," one critic said on Twitter. "Making an effort to find a name that every Belgian knows was obviously too tiring. Why not the Eddy Merckx tunnel?”
There are also a lot of people who think that naming a tunnel after Annie Cordy is actually disrespectful, with some suggesting a theatre, a park, square or other inspiring place would be better suited as a commemoration of her life. "Poor old Annie Cordy, being honoured with such a thing," said former Flemish politician Peter Dedecker. "She deserves so much better.”
Dutch journalist Christoph Schmidt agreed. "Is this a great honour for Annie Cordy? A dark car tunnel full of suffocating exhaust fumes? Maybe Leopold II wasn't such a bad name after all..."
The family of Annie Cordy, however, is happy with the result. "It would have been an honour for her," said singer Udo Mechels, Annie Cordy's nephew. "Aunt 'Nini' had a strong connection with Brussels, since she was born in Laeken.”
Cordy’s name will officially replace that of Leopold II in the autumn.