The new November tradition of furiously debating whether Sinterklaas’ helper ‘Zwarte Piet’ is a racist throwback has begun early this year. There are already some Zwarte Piet protests planned in Groningen.
The Sinterklaas celebrations take place each year in the Netherlands on December 5. Sinterklaas, the bearded and red-wearing jolly bringer of presents and sweets is most often accompanied by ‘Zwarte Piet’. Piet is almost always portrayed as dark-skinned thanks to having climbed up and down chimneys, however often he is played by people in full black-face make up, with oversized red lips.
The historical connotations of this symbol are clear, and as a result, more and more light, colored or white Petes are walking around everywhere in the Netherlands.
But in the North the switch to light-coloured or rainbow Petes is taking somewhat longer. Indeed, groups critical of the fully-black-makeup Pete have applied for a license to demonstrate in Groningen.
Entry of Sinterklaas
Two groups asked the municipality of Groningen on Tuesday for permission to demonstrate during the entry of Sinterklaas into Groningen on Saturday, November 16. Both a protest and a counter-demonstration have been proposed, according to a spokesperson for the municipality.
The municipality will soon meet with the two groups. It is then up to the ‘triangle’ – the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the mayor – to determine whether it is safe for the public to demonstrate and, if so, where the demonstrations can be held.
It was not confirmed whether the group that had applied to protest is Kick Out Zwarte Piet (KOZP), but the organisation has already made clear that they would be present during Sinterklaas’ entry in Groningen.
Last year there were also protests from both supporters and opponents, including the KOZP. The atmosphere turned ugly, and one arrest was made.
During this year’s national Sinterklaas entry, only soot-wiped Piets will join in, so National television and the municipality of Apeldoorn decided. For the time being, the Piets in the north often remain black. “We are keeping an eye on developments, but we will celebrate the party as traditionally as possible”, says Laurens Meijer of the Stichting Sinterklaas Emmen, which organises the festivities in the Drents city.
For Stichting Sinterklaasintocht Assen, the decision is not that clear-cut. The organisation is still busy with the municipality about how the entry will be shaped this year, whilst the municipality of Groningen is striving to ensure that the traditionally blacked-up Piet will no longer be visible within a period of a few years.
The Association for Popular Entertainment, organisers of Sinterklaas’ entry into Groningen, indicates that there will be no changes this year: “We are in line with what is happening in the rest of the country,” says Harrie van Ham. But just like last year, not all Petes are completely black in Groningen, Van Ham says: “There are also rainbow Piets and light-white helpers.”