Europe

Wilders prepares law to protect 'Zwarte Piet' holiday blackface

The Dutch version of Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, and his blackface sidekicks "Zwarte Piet" arrive by steamboat in Hoorn, Netherlands Source: AAP

The law is important for the survival of Dutch culture, proponents say.

A month ahead of national elections in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders' far-right Freedom Party will on Friday propose legislation to preserve a traditional Dutch holiday figure, Black Pete, according to local media.

Black Pete - Zwarte Piet in Dutch - is Saint Nicholas' helper in the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, but the blackface portrayal of the character has drawn increasing criticism both at home and abroad.

In recent years, some have sought to alter the tradition by using multi-coloured Petes, non-Caucasian performers, or makeup which depicts the ‘black’ as soot from chimneys.

But such ‘politically correct’ moves are part of a threat to Western culture, according to a senior member of Wilders’ Freedom Party.

MP Martin Bosma will propose the legislation which seeks to codify the appearance of Black Pete.

“The attack on Zwarte Piet is part of a larger story, in which we are constantly trying to define our culture and history along a politically correct yardstick,” Mr Bosma told newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.

“A small group of so called anti-racists are campaigning to undermine our culture.”

Rejecting any associations with the Netherlands’ colonial past, the politician painted the controversy as part of a wider debate about the preservation of Dutch culture.

“Our culture is to capitulate. Take the required halal food in schools: a minority imposes the will of the majority. That's Islamisation,” he told the newspaper.

Mr Bosma said the debate was a fight for “our civilisation, the survival of Europe, and the West.”

Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images
Protesters against Zwarte Piet’s participation in an Amsterdam parade sit inside the City Hall of Amsterdam, on August 28, 2014.
Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images

Last year, a government Children’s Ombudsman called for Black Pete to be stripped of discriminatory and stereotypical characteristics.

“The figure of Zwarte Piet can contribute to bullying, exclusion or discrimination,” the ombudsman found.

“Many coloured children spoken with said they experienced discrimination in their daily lives, and that this is worse around the Sinterklaas time.”

A 2015 report by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations sparked vigorous debate in the Netherlands, stating that the Dutch public had insufficient awareness of the country’s colonial history.

Despite proposing the legislation weeks before voters go to the polls, Mr Bosma denied it was a campaign stunt.

“It is unfortunately not due to my brilliant political insight that this law comes shortly before the election,” he told Algemeen Dagblad.

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