Dutch Prime Minister speaks about racism and Black Pete during week of anti-racism protests
Anti-racism protests took place in many Dutch cities between June 1-7. Meanwhile, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte delivered his stance on Black Pete and systemic racism in the Netherlands.
“Racism is a problem in the Netherlands” Mark Rutte said on Wednesday, June 3, answering a question about racism and police brutality, underpinned by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. A day later, he announced that his stance on Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) has been altered in the wake of recent events.
Mark Rutte changed his views on Black Pete
During a parliament debate on Thursday, June 4, in The Hague, the prime minister said that his views on Black Pete, the helper of Sinterklaas, who is frequently portrayed as a blackface character, have undergone “major changes”. He said of the Sinterklaas tradition: “This is a folk culture which changes in time under pressure from debate in society.”
“I was part of the group that said Black Pete is black.” Rutte said. “I’ve said it often enough here.” The prime minister said that he had met many people “with dark skin” who feel discriminated against because Black Pete is black. “And that is the last thing that we want during the Sinterklaas celebrations,” Rutte said.
On the other hand, he reasoned that there are people who do not want to be forced to change and that it is not the government’s job to make this happen.
“Racism is a problem in the Netherlands”
In Rutte’s statement about racism in the Netherlands, he said: “There are people in the Netherlands too who are judged not on their future but on their past, their background, who are spoken to not as individuals but because of the group they come from, not for their behaviour but for their religious beliefs. It happens in the Netherlands as well. It affects a lot of people in this country.”
Anti-racism protests in many Dutch cities
There were many peaceful protests in the Netherlands, in response to the Black Lives Matter protests across the US and many cities in Europe. Besides the protest in Amsterdam, in which 5.000 supporters gathered in Dam Square, there were also anti-racism demonstrations in The Hague, Rotterdam, Groningen, Utrecht, Maastricht, Zwolle, Nijmegen, Tilburg, Eindhoven, Enschede and more.
In The Hague, the protest was planned to take place on Tuesday, June 2 on the extensive Malieveld, so that protesters could stand at a safe distance from each other. This was achieved successfully.
In Utrecht, a protest took place on Friday evening on the massive Jaarbeurs square outside the train station and 3.500 people showed up. It was a peaceful protest, but by 7pm, officials began to take to social media to urge people to stay away because the crowds were filling the space to capacity.
In Goffert park in Nijmegen, also on Friday evening, organisers marked out social distancing-friendly spaces in which demonstrators could stand. They expected 750 attendees, but the turn-out was closer to 1.000. In Enschede on Friday night, about 500 demonstrators gathered in Van Heekplein.
In Maastricht on Sunday, organisers had marked spots on the grass in Griend Park so that the approximately 1.400 protesters would know where to place themselves. Protesters sat down, and therefore the protest was a “sit-in” and social distancing measures were adhered to easily.
This echoed the protests in Grote Markt in Groningen a few days earlier, which the Gemeente said they were pleased with and rules were followed. In Wezenlanden Park in Zwolle, around 1.000 protesters gathered and there was reported to have been sufficient space for individuals to keep a safe distance.
Protest in Rotterdam became too crowded
In Rotterdam, on the other hand, the protests last Wednesday had to be put to an end earlier than planned because too many people showed up. A spokesperson for Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, announced that the location of the protest, on and near the famous Erasmus bridge, would have to be vacated because social distancing would not have been possible due to the 4.000 people who showed up.
The protest on June 1 in Amsterdam also attracted thousands of protesters and social distancing rules were disregarded, leading to criticism by officials. Amsterdam is due to have its second anti-racism demonstration on Wednesday, June 10, this time in the Bijlmer district.