Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The "Zwarte Piet" debate - Identity Conflict in the Netherlands 

At this time of year in the Netherlands there is an ongoing debate and protests about "Zwarte Piet" a traditional blackface character in Dutch SinterKlaas processions that take place in many cities and towns.

There have been protests and counter protests on this in the last few years and this year again it will be a bone of contention. See here :
"Anti-Zwarte Piet group Kick Out Zwarte Piet (KOZP) is planning on protesting Sinterklaas’ black-faced helpers during Sinterklaas arrival events in mid-November in 12 different Dutch municipalities. The group feels that the traditional form of Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) is a racist caricature. ” 
"Recently, the municipality of Deventer announced that at least a third of the Piets at the coming arrival event have to be sooty Piets, so with soot marks on their faces instead of full black makeup. Should this not be the case, the event would not be subsidised. However, this plan was met with so much dissent that the municipality withdrew it. Around 80 people and 15 Black Piets protested the sooty Piet rules at the city hall, calling it blackmail, as the subsidy was conditional, based on the proportion of sooty Piets in the event.  
The municipality has now made alternative agreements, regarding the Piets, with the Sinterklaas arrival organisation. However, neither party will disclose what the new plans entail. The group protesting, Zonder Zwarte Piet geen Sinterklaas (Without Black Piet no Sinterklaas), wants Black Piet to stay fully black in Deventer.” 
This kind of issue where the protest outside the big cities with a large immigrant community is coming from small pressure groups as above is just the kind of thing that inflames mainstream opinion about a loss of traditional cultural values and fans the flames of Right Wing populism. It is the kind of thing that leads to continual conflict between identities on the basis of symbols of tradition. Look at Northern Ireland for example where flags and symbols are used by both sides as mustering points for sectarian conflict.

In instances like this where Leftist identity groups continuously protest on what should surely be a relatively minor issue, there is a real danger that they are just inviting a backlash from the middle of the road population. In the Netherlands now Geert Wilders party is the second biggest party in parliament and in the last provincial elections a new populist party the Forum for Democracy won most seats.

This is what this kind of identity politics does unfortunately, it leads (by definition) to conflict on the lines of identity which is why it is becoming so corrosive in Western politics.

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