Just like in 2012 Arnold Lubbers has compiled a selection of zwarte piet articles. To note the changes that happened from week to week Arnold decided to hand us his 20 page compilation to us in sections. And he only focused on the coverage and debate within the Dutch discourse. This is week 2.
Monday October 14 Pauw & Witteman invited Robert Vuijsje and his youth friend, Arnie Heinze, to explain their positions on the late night talkshow. This again elicited a stream of racist slurs on social media. Also, several Facebook-pages that were created to safeguard Zwarte Piet were either founded or became more popular, quickly attracting tens of thousands of likes.
Arnold-Jan Scheer, a research reporter who researched annual Sinterklaas – and similar – festivities internationally, published an article in de Volkskrant on Tuesday October 15. According to him, because the traditions have a longer history, Zwarte Piet ‘has never been a slave’. Egbert Martina wrote a blogpost about the consumption of racism in the Netherlands.
The discussion intensified, when on Wednesday October 16, the Council of Europe published a report, criticizing The Netherlands for lack in effort of combating racism. Some of the points that were picked up by the media, were the racism that minority youth encounters on the labour market, racist songs being sang in football-stadiums and the complaint site that the Dutch political party PVV founded where people could complain about Eastern Europeans.
All of the above was just a prelude to Thursday October 17, the day of the public hearing in Amsterdam, where 21 complainants – amongst which Gario, Patricia Schor and documentary maker Sunny Bergman – were allowed to elucidate on their complaints to a committee of the municipality of Amsterdam. The public hearing was televised and received a lot of media attention. Hundreds of people arrived to attend the meeting, in support of the complainants. An additional room was opened for them to be able to watch the hearing on a huge screen, but most people had to remain outdoors.
On Friday the 18th, the day after the hearing, mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan, expressed his willingness to alter the appearance of (some of the) Zwarte Piet(s) during the annual arrival. He mentioned that part of the Zwarte Piet attire, like the wig, earrings and lips, could be left out and instead of a complete blackface, soot smudges could be applied. The same day several major organizations in The Netherlands that coordinate the arrival of Sinterklaas, including the televised national arrival, expressed their willingness to (gradually) alter the appearance of Zwarte Piet. Later that day, prime minister Mark Rutte, during a weekly press conference, was asked what his opinion on the matter was. Rutte replied: ‘Zwarte Piet is black, there’s nothing I can do about that’.
Events again took a turn, when early in the morning on Saturday October 19, another leading national newspaper, NRC Handelsblad, published two letters. The first was a letter written by a Working Group of the United Nations, which independently investigates culture, racism and the rights of minorities. The letter was dated January 17 2013 and in it, the working group members asked the Dutch government to respond to several questions, that were raised after the United Nations had received complaints about Zwarte Piet from representatives of Dutch minorities.
The second letter was a response of the Dutch government in on July 10 2013. The usual response time is within 6 weeks and the Dutch ambassador took 6 months. The Working Group mentioned they would research the caricature and take into account during their research the claim launched by several Caribbean countries, including Suriname, for reparations for the trans-Atlantic slavery. The news spread quickly and received an enormous amount of attention. The general feelings that were expressed in the backlash to this news, was that the United Nations was attacking a Dutch tradition.
And on Sunday October 20, the Dutch National Ombudsman, the civil servant appointed to impartially weigh complaints about the Dutch government and bureaucracy, criticized The Netherlands in a leading current affairs program, Buitenhof. He labelled the Dutch politics as racist.