Four people are still detained in Emmen, after a protest on Monday, 7 November, during a city council meeting, the Dagblad van het Noorden reports. The protesters stormed the council chamber, demanding the municipal authorities ban Zwarte Piet at its upcoming Sinterklaas party. The identities of the four people are still unknown, and police have not released any information about their genders or ages. Eight others detained individuals have been released.
On 7 November, twelve activists from Extinction Rebellion, a global non-violent movement, disrupted a session of Emmen’s city council to protest against Sinterklaas arrival parties that continue to use Zwarte Piet characters in blackface costume. The protesters entered the council chamber with slogans and banners, and then sat in the middle of the room. Their goal was to cancel the appearance of the Pieten at Sinterklaas parties in Drenthe on Saturday, 12 November. The request has neither been rejected nor approved.
After an hour and a half, and repeated calls to leave the council chamber, police officers dragged the protesters out. The municipality of Emmen decided to close the next meeting to the public to avoid further demonstrations. According to the DVHN, a few Emmen residents announced that they wanted to attend the meeting with their faces painted black.
Zwarte Piet is the aide of Sinterklaas. In the tradition, he has dark skin: in public events, he is often impersonated by white people with faces painted black, a practice known as blackface. In the last ten years, a growing part of public opinion started standing against this representation. Zwarte Piet is considered an old legacy of Dutch colonialism, fostering stereotypes and racial discrimination against people of colour. Protests and actions spark throughout the Netherlands. In the northern regions, the popularity of Zwarte Piet is losing ground; last year, the arrival of Sinterklaas in Leeuwarden was cancelled due to an anti-Piet protest.
In Emmen, the contrast between pro- and anti-Piet is strong. The conflict peaked in 2019 when the two factions protested against each other during the entry of Sinterklaas. On that occasion, many people criticized Mayor Eric van Oorsterhout for not standing against Zwarte Piet.
This year, the municipality organized a meeting with local Sinterklaas committees and supporters and opponents of Zwarte Piet. Almost everyone involved seemed to agree that Zwarte Piet is slowly disappearing from the Emmer street scene, according to people who attended the meeting. The municipality will no longer use images of Zwarte Piet in its own communications from this year. However, the city expects to see more protests during the Sinterklaas event.
Sinterklaas in the North: a calendar
Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas) is a Dutch character loved by children and adults. His arrival (“intocht”) to the Netherlands marks the beginning of Christmas time and is celebrated with events and parades in every city. These are the dates of Sinterklaas arrival in northern Netherlands major cities:
Saturday, 12 November: Assen, Drachten, Dokkum, Emmen, Heerenveen, Meppel
Saturday, 19 November: Groningen
Saturday 5 December: Leeuwarden