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Angry callers berate anti-Sinterklaas march by foreign artists

Exhibit exposes limits to tolerance

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

EINDHOVEN - A scheduled demonstration by two politically correct foreign participants in an exhibit on integration in the Netherlands, received a quick lesson in tolerance levels in Dutch society. Organizers of a march against the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition were inundated with angry calls, in support of Sinterklaas and opposing the demonstration.

The Sinterklaas protest march was scheduled for Eindhoven’s city centre, to be held on an August Saturday. The far left organization Doorbraak, one of the organizers, called off the demonstration due to "numerous threats from extreme rightwing sources."

The march was planned as part of an exhibit on identity, nationality and social cohesion, hosted by the city’s Van Abbe Museum. Entitled 'Be(com)ing Dutch,' two artists from Sweden and Germany produced a work to show that in their opinion the annual Sinterklaas event is a racist celebration.

The North American Santa Claus is thought to have its roots in the Sinterklaas tradition, which was introduced on the continent by Dutch settlers and popularized into a new character by early 19th century American fiction writers.


In the Netherlands, the ageless bishop is welcomed in a different city each year. Aided by black helpers, in Dutch known as Zwarte Pieten (or Black Peters), St. Nicolaas (also affectionally called Sinterklaas) arrives by steamboat from Spain in November, and drops presents down chimneys on the eve of December 6 after which he mysteriously disappears from sight for another eleven months.

Dutch children are made to believe that Zwarte Pieten are black from the soot in chimneys but the artists had intended to make their project a demonstration against "the racist structure behind this tradition.”

Van Abbe Museum and Eindhoven’s city council, which initially gave permission for the demonstration, were not prepared for the reaction against what seems to be have been perceived as another attack on a cherished Dutch tradition. Doorbraak dismissed the protests by claiming that "the museum and the council have now given way to threats from racist and nationalist elements, which are winning more and more support in society."