If he were in England, Zwarte Piet would be considered part of the Christmas Pantomime tradition. According to Dutch folklore, he was the black servant or companion of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas), and he appears in many Christmas season programs in full blackface, a feathered cap, a white ruffled collar, and a brightly-colored velvet doublet.
I went looking for Zwarte Piet photos today, and there were thousands to choose from. I picked three representative samples from the many available to make the layout above. I can tell you from looking at all those photos, and without knowing any Dutch at all, that Zwarte Piet is much loved by children — and pretty much everyone else in the Netherlands, for that matter.
Except, of course, for the hard-core Multiculturalists who planned the protest against the “racist and colonial” tradition of Black Peter. As it happens, the two artists behind the event are not Dutch — one is a Swede and the other a German. But no matter — Zwarte Piet had to go!
Unfortunately for the artists and the Van Abbemuseum, the Dutch people don’t agree. They’ve put up with a lot of Multiculturalism over the last few decades, but abolishing Zwarte Piet — that’s a bridge too far.
The latest word is that the planned protest has sparked a massive public outcry. VH has translated some additional material from Elsevier on the crisis. First, an article from this morning:
Crisis Meeting in Eindhoven on Anti-Black Peter Rally- - - - - - - - -
The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven has received dozens of angry e-mails and phone calls about its protest rally against the “racist” Zwarte Piet that is to be held in the museum this Saturday. A possibility is that the event will be called off altogether.
Tomorrow it will be decided whether action against Black Peter continues, a spokesman for the Eindhoven museum for modern art today told the ANP news service.
According to two foreign artists (Petra Bauer from Sweden and Annette Kraus from Germany) and “Doorbraak” [Breakthrough], known for protests during meetings of Rita Verdonk [of the Proud of the Netherlands Party] — this typical Dutch tradition is full of racism and colonialism.
In a response the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven said it only wanted to offer a platform to these artists. The museum has received a storm of criticism.
Those involved in the anti-Black Peter rally have also received threats over the internet. The police, the city council and the museum have today held consultations on possible “security risks”. Tomorrow it will be decided whether the rally will be called off or not.
And here’s the latest from tonight’s news (early morning in the Netherlands):
Anti-Black Peter demo cancelled
The protest march, initiated by two artists [and the Van Abbemuseum] against Zwarte Piet, which would be held this Saturday in Eindhoven, has been cancelled. Zwarte Piet can be relieved. The Van Abbemuseum announced the organization of a public debate in which the “artistic project and the reactions to it” can be discussed.
In a statement to the Elsevier.nl the museum says it is “very shocked” by the “extreme negativism and threatened violence in the reactions arising from the announcement of this rally.”
And here’s a quote from the letter written by the Van Abbemuseum to Elsevier:
“We received a lot of vehement reactions. Those responses, with threats of violence, steer the debate more and more away towards one about subsidies, freedom of expression and the public order. This only detracts from what we want to address. A march will only strengthen that effect. Therefore we feel obliged to cancel the march.
“We fully support the artists. The cancellation is in the interest of the artists and art in general. Art can add a major contribution to the rethinking of current topics, provided they are recognized as art.”
So the straw that broke the Multicultural camel’s back was Black Peter — how fitting!
It’s unfortunate that outraged people were moved to threaten violence against the museum and the artists. But maybe Dutch “racists” are taking a page from the Islamic playbook. After the events of recent years, everyone in the Netherlands must have noticed that the best way to get what you want is to threaten violence and then follow up on it if your demands are not immediately met.
It’s depressing to think that this method of doing business may become politics-as-usual in the Low Countries.