Cees Anceaux, the head of the Sinterklaas committee, says that “it’s not for discussion” this year
Translated by Thomas Ansell
Despite its vile historical connotations, and recent polling data showing that support for the practice is declining, the city of Leeuwarden has decided to continue with the tradition of blacked-up Zwarte Piets at Sinteklaas’ arrival in the city this year. As reported by the Omrop Fryslân.
The head of the committee organising the children’s event, Cees Anceaux, said “we still have the feeling that Zwarte Piet is not something to be discussed in Leeuwarden”. As reported by the national TV news digest programme EenVandaag, recent polling data shows that only 47% of Dutch people agree with the statement “the traditional Zwarte Piet must stay”.
PvdA (Labour) councillor for Súdwest-Fryslân, Habtamu de Hoop, says that it really is time for Frisian cities and villages to ditch the ‘traditional’ Zwarte Piet from its winter celebrations. On Saturday, a huge Black Lives Matter protest (with over 2,000 people attending) at the Rengerspark in Leeuwarden also held up signs highlighting that the ‘cultural tradition’ is unfeeling, deeply rooted in historical racism, and completely out of step with the Netherlands’ image.
More and more cities around the Netherlands are also having the discussion with their residents, with similar results: there will be no blacked-up Piets in Wageningen, Groningen, Rotterdam; Amsterdam, Haarlem, Hilversum; Tilburg, and more (a total of 46 Sinterklaas welcomes will feature rainbow-faced or unpainted Piets).
At the moment, Leeuwarden is unwilling to step into the present, however Anceaux has left the possibility open: “we can’t escape it [public sentiment], especially with the protests, so we will take it seriously”, he said, “we will have to make that step, but it certainly won’t be this year.”
According to Anceaux (who is white), there is no need to be hasty: “If we don’t hear from our stakeholders that things need to be done differently, then we will have the discussion at a slower tempo.” Anceaux is also concerned that once his Piets take off the face paint, they will be recognisable again.
However, Anceaux is more concerned with an existential question for his Sinterklaas arrival: with continuing Coronavirus-related social distancing regulations, the intocht may not happen at all.
For more information about the history of Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands, check out the website of NederlandWordtBeter, which has a handy English-language factfile.