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White anti-Zwarte Piet protesters. Wikimedia Commons

Case to ban ‘racist characteristics’ of Zwarte Piet dismissed

Anti-Piet campaigners in the Netherlands have lost their case to ban "racist characteristics" from the Zwarte Piet procession on November 14, 2018.

Published: November 15, 2018, 9:29 am

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    The campaigners lost their attempt to have “all racist characteristics” removed from Saturday’s Sinterklaas parade in Zaandijk, north of Amsterdam.

    A group calling itself the Majority Perspective Foundation went to court on Tuesday to demand that Piet exhibits no racist characteristics, such as earrings, big red lips or slavish and stupid behaviour.

    However, the judge said the foundation, which claims to represent a number of adults and children of African descent, had not consulted Zaandam council, which is organising the procession.

    The council has been “taken by surprise” by the foundation’s demands and has had no time to react, the judge said. He also rejected calls to ban the procession being shown live on television.

    In his verdict, the judge referred to international criticism of Zwarte Piet, in particular a report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2015. The UN body then urged the Dutch government to actively work to change the features of Sinterklaas’ helper Zwarte Piet because he enforces negative stereotypes.

    The case targeted Zaanstad’s mayor Jan Hamming, the public broadcaster which will show the procession live and the event bureau organising it as well as the Dutch media commission and the Dutch state.

    The campaign to get rid of Piet’s curly hair, red lips and blackface makeup has gathered momentum in recent years and in Amsterdam, for example, Piet characters with sooty faces will dominate at the city’s own parade on Sunday.

    The government has always refused to take a stand, although prime minister Mark Rutte was heavily criticised in 2014 when he said that his friends in the Antilleans – the Dutch former colonies in the Caribbean-  “are very happy when it is Sinterklaas because they don’t have to paint their faces”.

    A poll by television show EenVandaag last year showed that 68 percent of the population want to keep Zwarte Piet black. In 2013, the traditional version of Sinterklaas’ helper had 89 percent support.

    Notably, a majority of people under the age of 25 support getting rid of the blackface make-up, the poll last year showed.

    Sinterklaas festivities will be launched leading up to December 5. This year the Kick Out Zwarte Piet campaign has applied for licences to hold demonstrations at 18 other locations including Dokkum, which it was unable to reach last year because of a motorway blockade.

    Last week 34 conservative campaigners who blocked the A7 motorway with cars to stop leftist anti-Zwarte Piet demonstrators reaching Dokkum were sentenced to community service of between 80 and 240 hours and suspended jail terms of one month.

    Activist Jenny Douwes, has meanwhile collected more than 130 000 euros from the internet to pay for a court appeal. Douwes, as lead organiser of the campaign, received 240 hours of community service and a month of probation for the pro-Zwarte Piet action. The 33 people who blocked highway A7 on 18 November last year also received hefty penalties.

    Conservative activist Robin van Prattenburg told Dutch daily De Telegraaf: “That shows that there is much dissatisfaction and anger about the verdict.”

    Some 20 “anti-racism” activists demonstrated in Hilversum at the state broadcaster this week, blocking a bridge, but they however, were not arrested and charged.

    Demonstrators chanted, among other things, “Zwarte Piet is black grief!” Staff were hindered from entering the Media Park. Around 9:00 am the police intervened and the walkway was cleared again.

    According to the campaigners, the small demonstration went very well: “No one has been arrested and some people came late for work today and have an excellent excuse for that,” they tweeted.

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