Violence Erupts In the Netherlands Over Controversial Holiday Character ‘Black Pete’

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Annual parades marking the start of the Christmas holiday in The Netherlands were mired by violent clashes as far-right activists chucked eggs, beer bottles and racist chants at far-left protesters there to oppose the controversial Dutch character known as “Black Pete.”

According to the NL Times, dozens of people were arrested after protesters were physically and verbally attacked during events celebrating the arrival of Sinterklass, or St. Nicholas, in Eindhoven, Groningen and Leeuwarden over the weekend.

Black Pete
Dozens of “trouble makers” were arrested after trying to pick fights with anti-racism activists there to protest Zwarte Piet. (Photo by AP)

Anti-racism groups like “Kick Out Zwarte Piet” have criticized local officials’ handling of the violence, saying not enough was done to protect them from attacks by pro-Piet activists.

“We were humiliated, scolded and threatened,” Jerry Afriyie, a leading figure in KOZP, told the newspaper. “Children rose up with raised middle fingers and sang racist chants … while the people around them clapped along.”

As Santa’s little helper, Black Pete or “Zwarte Piet” is a character that accompanies ‘Ol St. Nick as he shimmies down chimneys to deliver presents to children. The holiday character sparks protests across The Netherlands every year, however, with critics condemning the getup as racist and a distasteful play on negative racial stereotypes rooted in the country’s not-so-distant ties to slavery and colonialism.

Folks dressing up as Zwarte Piet typically put on blackface makeup to darken their skin and wear colorful, vibrant clothing. The look is topped off with a curly afro wig, large gold hoop earrings and bright red lips.

Though the tradition has become increasingly controversial, many people in the Netherlands still support it.

During a Sinterklaas event in the city of Hoorn, two parade-goers were arrested for making the Nazi salute, the NL Times reported. Meanwhile, in Eindhoven, six people were arrested, some of them charged for violent crimes after police said the “troublemakers … sought out confrontation with demonstrators from activist group Kick Out Zwarte Piet.”

Things were less tense over in Tilburg, however, where nearly 50 people were detained ahead of the protests in an effort to prevent further violence.

“[The anti-Zwarte Piet activists] reported to us in advance and presented a peaceful demonstration in which they have kept to the agreements made,” Tilburg mayor Theo Weterings said in a statement. “It is a pity that another group wanted to disrupt this. The police intervened forcefully so that irregularities are prevented.”

Weterings added: “Today we have made many children happy in Tilburg, and celebrated a beautiful and festive Sinterklaas walk, and at the same time we’ve given people the freedom to express their opinions freely.”

The clashes come one month after Dutch TV broadcaster NTR announced that “Black Pete” would no longer appear in Blackface in its annual children’s program depicting the holiday character’s arrival.

“The NTR makes Het Sinterklaas news with respect for tradition and with an eye for developments in society,” the broadcaster said. “Changes in tradition are reflected in the Sinterklaas news. Those who follow the Sinterklaas news year in, year out, see that we advocate a gradual change. Tradition and change go hand in hand.”

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