Zwarte Piet, or Black Pekka, has been one of the most divisive cultural and political issues among the Dutch in recent years.
For a long time, the celebration of Christmas time for Dutch children, or Sinterklaas, has been primarily a “time of joy” rather than a topic of controversy, reports The Dutch public broadcasting company NOS today is saturday.
The reason is that the Zwarte Piet or Black Pekka controversy is slowly dying down. Almost no topic has been culturally politically as divisive in the Netherlands in recent years as Zwarte Piet.
Zwarte Piets are helpers of Sinterklaas, or Santa Claus of Holland, who participate in festive processions, among other things. Traditionally, they have been portrayed by fair-skinned Dutch people wearing afro wigs and painting their faces black.
Painting the face black, i.e. the blackface tradition, has long been criticized as racist. Over the past decade, public opinion has slowly turned against tradition. A large number of parade organizers and shops, for example, have given up painting their faces black.
The confrontation around the theme has still continued to be strong. In smaller conservative towns, processions have still been organized in which Zwarte Piet helpers have participated. They have attracted both Zwarte Piet defense and anti-Zwarte Piet demonstrations.
Demonstrations against Zwarte Piet and, more broadly, against racism have mostly been peaceful, but their counter-demonstrations have turned violent in many years.
A social anthropologist interviewed by NOS Markus Balkenhol estimates that the violence of the defenders of Zwarte Piet is the main reason for the change in public opinion.
This year, many smaller towns are still at the last minute decided to refuse permission for processions, which would be attended by Zwarte Piet figures with their faces painted black. Municipalities want to avoid demonstrations and the unrest they bring with them.
Zwarte Piet still has its staunch supporters. An agreement has not been reached on the replacement character either. The most popular is “Roetveegpiet” or Noki-Pekka, whose face has been wiped with a little soot. However, this character has also been criticized as racist.
The most important celebration of the year for Dutch children will remain politically divisive.