by Nicolò di Bernardo


Two weeks later the anti-Zwarte Piet made it to Dokkum; two weeks after the successful attempt by some groups of residents to block protesters on the way to the “intocht”, “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” and “Stop Blackface” have made it last Saturday.

This time, however, the government preferred not to run risks and opted for a massive deployment of forces: at the time of departure, waiting for the 3 coaches of the activists there was a “presidential style”  escort: 7 trucks and  motorcycles, all collected ad hoc from various regions of the Netherlands followed the buses all the way to Frisland. Police might have considered so real the risk that local might have tried again to stop the demonstrators that two trucks for car removals were also deployed.

“It’s strange to have the police here with us,” explains Redouane, one of the protesters, at the first stop “but I really wish it was not something so unusual. What they do today is what they should always do: protect citizens right to express their opinion. Many activists have called me saying they would not come; they were afraid of clashes and violence ”

The situation is in fact surreal, even for those who have long experience with demonstrations. At the Zurich motorway, police and demonstrators had a coffee together and joked about each other. But only 100 kilometers further north of Amsterdam, the atmosphere out there was tense. A cashier warned some guys “Here everyone supports Zwarte Piet. It is our tradition, not racism. ”

Extremists from Pegida, meanwhile the NOS portal, are trying to put in place an unauthorized demonstration. A coordinator takes the microphone and advises us to stay calm: they will try in every way to provoke us. But they must be ignored.

At around 2 pm the caravan of demonstrators and police arrived at their destination, and it seems that the circus has arrived in the village. Dokkum, 12,000 inhabitants and a Christian Democratic mayor (CDA) is almost forced to receive anti-racist Amsterdam.

The first to welcome us is him: Zwarte Piet. As we enter it we find him standing between the cars in the queue, who greets us with his middle finger raised. But Sinterklaas’s friendly helper is not alone. Other men, women and elderly send us to that country along the way. For every tick that comes, passengers burst into a laugh of amazement and greet, as tourists, for a guided tour. Beyond the glass of the coach they too are a bit ‘circus for us: actors of an explicit and grotesque racist show for those who live in a city. Someone jokes: “apparently they have never seen a live black!”

You do not need to know the details of the debate about Zwarte Piet to understand that the warm welcome has little to do with the disappearance of Sinterklaas’s friendly helper. Rather, the two sides contend for something deeper and less perceptible, that is the recognition or not of allochtoon as full-fledged Dutch citizens, people who embody and represent the “Dutch” society, with full rights on a par with fellow citizens ” whites”. Including the right to change a tradition born in the colonial era.

And this is a theme that sparkles, especially in a region like Dokkum because many of the protesters will also be born in Holland from parents born in the Netherlands, but still have the skin of a color that is rarely seen in Friesland, if that color is not combined with the white laces of a funny Zwarte Piet.

Coming down from the bus we find as many police officers waiting for us. They have crossed the street that leads to the center as needed to do for unpopular and dangerous ideas. The square designated for the protest has only one authorized entrance, guarded by the police: the other accesses are blocked by the trucks and by officers on horseback, who keep a group of children from a distance watching. Other premises authorized to enter the square, keep their distance from the demonstrators while they listen to the speeches of the guests called on the stage. A lady asks a policeman to get a young man to raise the sign so he can read it better.

The interventions of “Zwarte Piet is Racisme”, “Stop Blackface” and other organizations follow each other; they speak not only of the Sinterklaas auxiliary but also of the colonialism from which he was born, of institutionalized racism and of mechanisms
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