UN Criticism of Black Pete Unleashes Mass Protest among Dutch
THE HAGUE, 24/10/13 - The criticism of the Sinterklaas festival, with as its high point a UN plea for its abolition, has led to a mass people’s protest. Nobody can touch our Zwarte Piet (‘Black Pete’’), the message runs.
A United Nations working group is investigating the question of whether Black Pete is a racist concept. On Tuesday, the head of the working group, Verene Shepherd, already had her conclusions drawn. The Jamaican said the Sinterklaas festival should be abolished.
Shepherd’s comments have been very badly received by the Dutch people. Numerous initiatives have sprung up to protest in favour of maintaining the Dutch tradition.
On Facebook, a 'Pietitie' (Pete-ition) was launched Tuesday afternoon. This site had garnered no less than 1.4 million ‘likes’ by Wednesday evening. The initiators say: “Abolish our festival? They are not in their right mind. How could we explain that to our children?”
There has been a Facebook page since 2011 that does actually protest against the festival. This site, 'Zwarte Piet is Racism', however only collected 7,900 likes up to Wednesday evening.
According to the Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas, who formed the basis for Father Christmas, arrives in the Netherlands from Spain every year to give all good children presents on 5 December. His helpers are the always merry Zwarte Pieten.
In recent years, a debate has regularly burst forth around October on the question of whether Zwarte Piet signifies racism. This year, however, it has been hotter than ever.
On Tuesday, UN researcher Shepherd said that Sinterklaas "is a return to slavery and that this festival must stop in the 21st century." Premier Mark Rutte "has the power to exercise his influence on the group that keeps this custom going.”
Premier Rutte does not however appear to be sensitive to complaints. "Zwarte Piet happens to be black, we can do little about that,” he said of the centuries-long tradition last Friday.
PvdA leader Diederik Samsom supported the premier. “I do not particularly like to quote Premier Rutte, but he put it well. Zwarte Piet is simply black,” he said Tuesday evening at a political meeting in Friesland.
According to popular singer Frans Bauer, the debate on Zwarte Piet worries children.” “My son asked me whether Zwarte Piet would still come this year, and that he had been very good. Of course he will come, I said.”
Bauer has composed a song about Zwarte Piet especially for his little son. “The UN does not want him. Therefore Sinterklaas protests with the whole country.” The words also say: “Piet is sweet. So very sweet. He belongs to us, he belongs to the Netherlands.”
Meanwhile, a radio lobby has begun to bring a former hit single about the festival back to the top of the charts. The song, “Sinterklaas and of course, Zwarte Piet” from the band Het Goede Doel (The Good Cause) was a number 1 hit in 1982. DJ Patrick Kicken now wants to repeat this by playing the number all day long on Radio Veronica.
Outside the Netherlands, as well as by Shepherd, there is also less understanding among the media for the Dutch tradition. In a Washington Post blog, writer Erik Voeten says that in the Netherlands, they try to disguise the fact that Zwarte Piet is a negro slave by telling children that he is black because he goes down chimneys to bring presents.
As one of the few in the debate, Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk is in fact in favour of changes in the tradition. “I can live with it if green or blue Petes should also run around between the between the Black Petes. I do not think the children would have less pleasure from this,” he said on TV programme Pauw & Witteman.