Netherlands: Discussions over the future face of Zwarte Piet ‘could run for years’

Last year a simmering debate over the appearance and tradition of St Nicholas’s helpers, played by white actors in blackface make-up, spilled over into a series of angry demonstrations and exchanges on social media.

Ineke Strouken, of the Dutch Centre for Indigenous Culture and Heritage (VIE), told De Volkskrant that groups on both sides of the argument had been in discussion since October.

They include Quinsy Gario, an Amsterdam-based artist who was arrested two years at the Sinterklaas welcome parade for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: “Zwarte Piet is Racisme”.

Also taking part are the St Nicholas Society (Sint Nicolaas Genootschap), which sees Zwarte Piet as an essential Dutch tradition, and Dehlia Timman, of Amsterdam’s largest political party D66.

Children from the Bijlmer, one of Amsterdam’s poorest and most diverse residential districts, and the town of Enschede, near the German border, are being consulted as part of the exercise.

Strouken warned the discussions could run for years. “The different sides are pretty well entrenched,” she said. “The opponents of Zwarte Piet feel they have finally breached the front. And the supporters in turn have the sense that they have millions of people behind them.”