Black Pete & Politics

Since my first post about the “Black Pete debate” in 2013, things have not gotten any better. This week protesters from both sides of the debate were arrested for instigating violence and it looks like this was only the beginning.

Actually, the real beginning of when Black Pete entered the political arena was years ago. 

Black Pete & the UN

I remember that I was kind of confused when I heard the United Nations was asking questions about every Dutch persons favorite holiday. This was in 2013 and I don’t remember ever having questioned anything related to Sinterklaas until then. Maybe I did, but if so then it must have been in a dismissive fashion, laughing it off with a “yeah, I guess it is a bit weird” kind of remark. But as I said, I don’t remember ever feeling guilty about celebrating Sinterklaas or seeing my friends paint their faces black to scare their nephews and nieces at the family celebration.

When the world started pointing fingers at us, making it official when the UN report was thrown in our faces in 2015, I was one of the first to say that it was a ridiculous waste of time and resources. Why would the United Nations have an opinion about something so harmless and so exclusively Dutch (and let’s face it, we are a puny country). And how could they possibly be against it??

It wasn’t the UN report itself that changed my mind (which I don’t think I ever actually read). It was my fellow countrymen. Hearing and reading their reactions to being called “racist” convinced me at once that that was precisely what we had been all along, and I was SHOCKED by the extent of it.

All though I haven’t lived anywhere but the Netherlands since my teenage years I suddenly felt like an outsider again. 

Since that moment I have made a vow to myself to never hold back my words about this topic, as I noticed that friends with similar opinions as mine were doing precisely that. This meant that it was only the knowingly racist and the harmfully ignorant that were doing all the talking, which I find unacceptable.

If you want to know how to make the temperature in a room drop from “pleasant” to “icy” in a heartbeat, try bringing up eliminating Black Pete from the Sinterklaas celebration in a room full of Dutch adults. If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be kind of funny… 

Black Pete & Dutch politics

All though the United Nations’ accusing finger did stir up a debate in Dutch society I don’t really recall any of our politicians ever daring to take a stance in any of this.

Instead of expressing disapproval for the harmful atmosphere being created, they just smile and wave like idiots. I imagine they sit in their cars and point at their constituency as they drive by, saying: “Isn’t this nice? The people are really getting involved”.

All comments made in public have been luke warm and evasive, with the exception of one horrible occasion 2 years ago, which I wish never happened, but does explain why other politicians hadn’t ventured into the topic until (and since) then…

Our prime minister made a complete and utter fool of himself when he was asked about Black Pete at an international summit, by saying something along the lines of “Black Pete is Black, there is nothing I can do about that, since his name is, after all, Black Pete and not Green Pete or Brown Pete”.

If you are into cringe-worthy English and oblivious white men saying blatantly racist things, go ahead and press play below (skip to 1:10 and stick around until the very end if you are not afraid to bleed from your eyes, ears and/or heart).

Yepp, he actually said that (and on behalf of the good half of the country, my apologies).

As you can imagine, his leadership (or lack there of) has done us very little good. Events in recent days have demonstrated how wounds will fester if they are not tended to properly. 

Once again, peaceful protests were blocked by nimwits and hooligans, ending in senseless violence and 60 arrests throughout the country. Our prime minister said something along the lines of “there were fine people on both sides” and then washed his hands in innocence.

He also stated that the problem is one society needs to fix on its own and that politics can play no role in it.

So, as you can see, the wounds in Dutch society are not only pungent and painful, it seems we are now heading towards a zombie apocalypse. We need to start cutting off some limbs if we want to survive.

I watched Evil Dead. I know what to do. 

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Black Pete & Childhood

This is one of those blogs that has been in the making for months and I was convinced today would be the day I’d share the whole thing with the world.

However, as I previewed it just now I realized it was turning into a lengthy thesis, rather than something easy-to-read-while-sitting-on-the-toilet (which is one of the best places to catch up on blog updates and news events, and you know it).

So I decided to pull a JK Rowling.

Instead of one massive text, I will now be publishing 5 Black Pete related posts, spread over 5 days. The fifth one will contain a meaningful conclusion to tie it all together, which I hope to come up with any minute now…

So, without further ado, let me introduce to you episode number one, in which I take you back to my own personal childhood memories of Zwarte Piet, aka Black Pete.

Childhood celebration

Growing up as a privileged Dutch kid in South America, I remember feeling sorry for my non- Dutch classmates who did not know about Sinterklaas. At the international schools I went to, it was mostly Christmas that was celebrated in the holiday season, and I remember it made total sense to me that Santa Claus did not exist, but that Sinterklaas absolutely did. I was a true believer.

Sinterklaas and Black Pete arriving from Spain.

It was a well known fact that Sinterklaas arrived in the Netherlands from Spain every year by boat. This steamboat carried all our gifts, Sinterklaas’ horse and his loyal companions: the black Petes. 

For kids, the Petes are often quiet scary, and this is kind of the point. As the
(literal and figurative) “dark element” in the Sinterklaas celebration, the Black Petes were always used as a threat to keep children in line throughout the year. Nowadays this is less common, but Pete’s disciplinary character still shines through every now and then.

Black Pete and Sinterklaas stuff the naughty kids in jute bags to be taken back to Spain, where they are to be put to work.

Sinterklaas’ arrival, which is referred to as “de intocht van Sinterklaas” is celebrated every year in a different Dutch city. Kids from all over the country count down the days for his arrival, as this is when they can start leaving out their shoe (usually in the windowsill or by the fireplace).

With a small gift or snack for Sinterklaas’ horse (usually a carrot) tucked safely in the shoe, each child sings one (or several) traditional Sinterklaas song(s) and then heads off to bed. The next morning the carrot is gone (eaten by the horse, of course) and traces of Sinterklaas’ visit may be seen around the house. Most importantly though: the shoes are filled with traditional seasonal candy and a small gift. They get to repeat this ritual several times until December the 5th, which is Sinterklaas’ birthday.

On the day of his birthday, Sinterklaas and the Petes go door to door handing out gifts to all the good kids, in a tradition packed evening called “pakjesavond” or “gift evening”. It is said that naughty kids receive a lump of salt instead of a toy (no idea why) and that repeat offenders may end up being taken back to Spain in the jute bag as Pete trainees. 

Upon their arrival, the black Petes barge in, making a big ruckus, doing cartwheels and jumping on the furniture. Sinterklaas enters after them, slowly and solemnly, waving at the kids and winking at the parents. I never recognized any of them, all though they probably were parents, uncles and aunts of my friends and classmates. 

How he managed to arrive in Bolivia on the same day he was busy handing out gifts in the Netherlands never raised any questions. Living in a landlocked country I should perhaps have been worried about the fact that his preferred means of transportation was an old steam boat.

I was satisfied with the idea that he probably sailed up the Amazon river and had ridden the rest of the way up the Andes mountains by horse. How the Petes had made their way to my home is a question I ask myself for the very first time today… I wasn’t a great critical thinker at the age of 6, apparently.

Even as I grew older I continued to look forward to the Sinterklaas celebration. Of course I no longer believed he was anything other than a man in a costume, but I still got jitters when the Black Petes made their entrance, throwing sweets through the classroom and later in the offices where I worked.

All though kids usually stop believing in Sinterklaas around the age of 8, most families continue to celebrate “pakjes-avond”. The shoe-element disappears to the background as children grow up and a new element is introduced: poetry.

Adult celebration

The adult version of the Sinterklaas celebration still revolves around giving each other gifts, but more than that, it is about praising, reprimanding and teasing each other with cheeky rhymes.

Contrary to Christmas (which obviously has some common traits and historical origins) Sinterklaas-for-adults is not exclusively a family celebration but something people also often celebrate among friends.

Celebrating Sinterklaas with friends, drinks and games

All though there are many ways these get-togethers can take shape, the most common one can be summarized as follows:

  1. Establish gift-budget with the people you will be celebrating with.
  2. Write your name + wishlist (within budget range) on a piece of paper. and put it into a box or bag along with everyone else’s.
  3. Everybody picks a name from the box, Secret-Santa-style, and buys that person a gift.
  4. The gift is presented or wrapped in a “surprising” way (for example stuffed in a big jar of gunk or hidden in a papier-maché sculpture). 
  5. Along with the gift every person must make a poem for the other, in which gossip and old grudges about the receiver can be put into rhyme. The poem is usually written from the point of view of either Sinterklaas or Pete.
  6. On pakjes-avond each person reads their (sometimes quite embarrassing) poem out loud to the rest, before unpacking their present (and hopefully having a great laugh about it all).

If you are interested in reading more about the many different ways in which adults celebrate Sinterklaas I recommend the following blogs and articles:

During most of my lifetime, I had never thought of the Black Pete element in this whole celebration as wrong or discriminatory in any way. I can’t even remember anyone ever telling me it wasn’t ok, not even any of my international friends. If someone did, it didn’t really make an impression.

The racist character of Black Pete is a real problem however, and one that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. I will go into different elements of this matter in upcoming posts and hope I will be able to rid myself of some personal frustrations along the way.

Amsterdamdamdidam

This morning, while driving back from Friesland to Leiden, I heard one of Nothing but Thieves’ new songs:

The song is called Amsterdam. I don’t think the videoclip was actually shot anywhere near our nation’s capital though… or maybe he left his heart in the Amsterdam in New York state…?

I realized I had heard another song named Amsterdam just a week ago, by the Danish band Nephew:

I was looking into Nephew as they were one of the big names starring on the Roskilde Festival 2018 poster. Amsterdam was obviously one of the first songs I clicked on and I must say I was very pleasantly surprised! I really like their sound and am looking forward to seeing them play @ RF18. All I have to do is brush up on my Danish… :s

Sadly for me, a band that will not be present at Roskilde but is very high on my wanna-see-live-bucketlist, is Coldplay. Did you know thay also have a song called Amsterdam?

Oh! And I just learnt that Imagine Dragons, another fave of mine, also has one!

None of these songs seem to have a lot to do with the city they’re named after.

Want to know more about Amsterdam?

Read about the (slightly cliché) must-sees here, look into a list of free tours here or watch these 14 (very accurate!) YouTube tips below:

My tip: leave Amsterdam at least one day during your stay and visit another city in the Netherlands to get a feel of the non-Disney version of the low lands!

Non – Amsterdam tips:

  • Leiden
  • Rotterdam
    • Modern by default > bombed to bits during WWII
    • Cool, edgy and innovative
    • Colorful melting pot
  • Maastricht
    • Most southern city of the Netherlands
    • Feels like France on a sunny day
    • Cool caverns and beautiful river landscapes
    • Hills! Believe me, that’s a big deal here…

I can name several other out-of-A’dam tips but I’ll leave it at this for now. Fellow WP blogger bitterballen bruid has put together an awesome list though. Read it here!

Enjoy your time in the Netherlands!

Dutch nationalism: Je maintiendrai

Those who have ever been to the Netherlands and / or have read some of my blogs must already know this: we are not big on nationalism.

Sure, we have our symbols.

Tulips-in-Holland.jpgAs far as our flower goes, I suppose it must be the tulip, all though I don’t think that’s actually official. But the rest of the world associates us with it, and we carry it with pride.

Our national bird is somewhat of a mystery to me. I think we might not have one. All the cool birds of prey were already taken, I guess, and claiming a bird of paradise didn’t fit with our Calvinist attitude, even though we could’ve adopted one from our colonies

Our coat of arms looks like this:

wapen-van-nederland-met-motto-je-maintiendrai-2622a3-1024.jpg

….which brings me to our motto: Je maintiendrai, which is French for We will hold on

Yes, you heard me: French.

If we speak French in the Netherlands, you ask? Not a word! We speak Dutch, and if anything else it would be Frisian. Our English is pretty good on average, followed by German. Our French; deplorable.

I guess our founders decided it was better for PR to avoid the guttural sounds that are inherent to our own language when presenting ourselves abroad. And French is sexy enough, non?

But let’s proceed… Because let’s be honest, the choice of language is not the only thing that’s off…

Let’s look at some other country’s mottos:

  • Ordem e progresso; it may not be a very accurate description of the current state of the country, but it’s something to strive for: Order and Progress. You can do it, Brazil!
  • We’ve all heard of Cuba‘s: Patria o Muerte: Country or Death! A bit over the top maybe, but I’m definitely fired up! (no cigar and or rum pun intended)
  • And what to think of Egypt‘s: Ankh, uza, seneb, which translates to Life, health, well-being. Beautiful!!! Makes me want to move there.

Now, back to the Dutch motto: We will hold on.

crickets chirping.gif

Are you inspired yet? No, me neither….

It sounds like the motto of a slightly apathetic and bored teenager at her great-aunt’s 97th birthday.

I’m still hoping there is some historically interesting and motivational story behind it, but I think that what it all boils down to is a peoples that has struggled to make a living on a marshy bit of land that keeps flooding.

I mean, I get it. It’s super demoralizing to have to keep rebuilding your house and loosing all your livestock and all… But maybe that wasn’t the time to design that coat of arms…

Because look at us now! We battled the elements, built ourselves some pretty sturdy structures and have kept our fields dry ever since (*knocks on wood*), making it possible to feed and breed the best bloody dairy cows IN THE WORLD. And don’t forget the tulips!

So, we didn’t merely “hold on”, we whooped the sea’s ass! How about we write THAT at the feet of those fierce looking lions??

*pushing my luck here, knocking on wood again*

One of the Dutch provinces that we pumped dry, for example, has Luctor et emergo as a motto, which is Latin for “I struggled and emerged”. Something to be proud of, no?

I suggest we update our motto, as it was clearly written by the same people who thought our national anthem should ignore all things Dutch, and focus on some German guy, loyal to another king, as explained in a previous post.

First contender: If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much.

Still open for suggestions…

Dutch nationalism – the anthem

The Dutch National Anthem, aka “the Wilhelmus” is said to “date back to at least 1572, making it the oldest known national anthem in the world”.

Noteworthy! Something to make a mental note of in case you ever end up at some random pub quiz.

So the anthem is basically a poem, written from the perspective of our founding father, William of Orange.

The lyrics however, sound bizarrely unpatriotic. The first line is:

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe ben ik, van Duitsen bloed.

This translates to:

William of Nassau am I, of a German bloodline

I’m all for knowing and honoring your heritage but did you really have to put it in the very first line, mr of Nassau?? It kind of feels like talking about your awesome Ukranian ex and her super fit body on your first date with me… How about we talk about ME?

(LOL, that never happened to me, no worries)

 I dedicate undying faith to this land of mine.

Ok then. The second line is better, all though I am not sure which land you are speaking of exactly, as you thought it necessary to start out by emphasizing you weren’t from here, originally.

I am a Prince of Orange and quite fearless

Yes, sir William, you are indeed a prince of Orange; a title you inherited after your cousin died. Well done.

The king of Spain I have always honoured.

WHAT THE HELL? Why would you bring that up, WILHELMUS????

I’m just sort of getting over your shady mention of your German blood and now you straight out tell me in my face you are actually loyal to another bloody king?? That’s fucked up, Willy, I’m not gonna lie…

Yah, I know they grow oranges down there, but that’s not what your title means!!! (Not sure what it DOES mean, but that’s for a different day.)

The End

I kid you not, that’s it.

Or no, not true. There are actually 14 verses more, in which he mostly praises god and his family. A sort of Oscars acceptance speech, I suppose…

But yah, the part we Dutchies sing before international soccer matches and after winning medals at the Olympic games, is just this:

William of Nassau am I, of a German bloodline
I dedicate undying faith to this land of mine.
I am a Prince of Orange and quite fearless
The king of Spain I have always honoured.

Needless to say, the Dutch are not very attached to their national anthem… I dare to say that more than half of people under 30 would struggle reciting it correctly off the top of their heads. 

So you can imagine the whole US discussion about dishonoring the country, by dishonoring the anthem, by kneeling in silence, is pretty hard for us to grasp…

 

Rutte III: a new government for the Dutch

My country has been without an official government since the March 15 parliamentary election, after several attempts to form a Cabinet failed.

In the last week week though, it seems an agreement has finally been reached. The coalition will consist of the current prime minister’s center-right VVD, the conservative Christian party CDA, the liberals of D66 and the slightly creepy Christian Union. It is expected that Rutte will remain prime minister.

D66 is the party my parents support and, all though my vote did not go their way in this last general election, I have voted for them in the past as well. They are known to be the ultimate middle of almost everything. The party leader, Alexander Pechtold, is a great debater, with a friendly face and a conflict free attitude. He is the personification of the Dutch polder model.

Critics describe D66 as wishy-washy and spineless.

All though I wouldn’t go that far, I did choose to vote for a party with a stronger and clearer set of ideals, this time around. I felt it was necessary to oppose the growing right wing unequivocally. Also, I felt the environment needed to be clearly and prominently represented in a party’s program in order for it to deserve my vote.

So, I voted for Groen Links, which is a green, left-wing party with progressive ideas and a growing base of members and politicians with “true grit”, which is what I missed in D66.

What could’ve been

d66 vvd gl cda
Left to right: D66’s Alexander Pechtold, VVD’s Mark Rutte, Groen Links’ Jesse Klaver, CDA’s Sybrand van Haersma Buma

Right after the elections, the country was getting ready for a coalition of VVD, D66, CDA and Groen Links. The parties agreed on many matters but in the end, Groen Links’ leader Jesse Klaver left the negotiating table. The harsh attitude the other parties were pushing to adopt on immigration was unacceptable to Klaver.

A lot of people said he should have made a bigger effort, perhaps temporarily adopt a more flexible attitude in order to get in the control room and then work on changing the system from the inside out. I for one, do feel Klaver did the right thing here. He did not sell out on his ideals, which makes me happy I chose to vote for his party.

Rutte III – VVD, D66, CDA, CU

The slightly fragile coalition that presented its plans this last week, will have a more rightwing character than the outgoing government.

Among the most important plans of the new coalition is a large tax overhaul, with a cut in income taxes and corporate taxes, aiming on making the Netherlands more attractive for international companies.

The coalition’s answer to the refugee crisis is to allow access to several hundred refugees more than the current government does. At the same time financial allowances for asylum seekers in the first two years of their stay will be lowered.

In the environmental agenda, higher taxes for polluters have been included and our five coal-fired energy plants will be shut down by 2030.

All though I hardly feel connected with this new government at all, I do wish them all the best. Our little country below sea level is counting on them….

I have a little rebel in me

John Oliver’s recent “last week tonight” episode reminded me of a blog idea that has been in the back of my mind for a long time now. Let’s start with the clip that triggered this:

At the 7:07 mark, a man steps up to defend confederate statues by speaking about his family heritage at a community meeting in North Carolina. He says he always felt proud of his great grandfather’s involvement in the American civil war. His ancestor had stood up for his rights and was willing to fight and die for them. The man says it reminds him that he has “a little rebel” in him. You can tell he feels he is being robbed of this feeling now that the confederate statues are being shown in a different light.

As much as this makes me giggle, roll my eyes and shake my head, I do get it. Profoundly more so than I may care to admit, at first glance.

My own heritage is filled with adventurous globetrotters, standing for what they believed was right in the context of their time.

inleiding_01

My great grandfather, for example, was a preacher from the rural North of the Netherlands who travelled to the Dutch colonies (in current day Indonesia) at the beginning of the twentieth century for what I imagine would’ve been missionary work. I know very little about him or what he did there exactly, but as a colonizing power, you can imagine we Dutchies do not have clean hands in every aspect.

I hope to be able to find out more about him and what he did, some day. I am proud to be a descendant of a man willing to venture into the unknown. I can only hope he did more good than bad for the people of Magelang.

The preacher had a son, my grandfather, who was born in Palembang, Indonesia in 1915. All though I’m not sure about when exactly they returned to the Netherlands, I do know my grandfather was attending University  in the Dutch city of Delft, when  the Second World War was at its peak.

I can imagine his international upbringing made him more conscious of global issues and the miles he must have made at sea as a child traveling from Indonesia to the Netherlands, would have tempered his fear of open water. So, when faced with a possible Nazi labor deployment, he decided to flee the country by boat with two companions and his Belarussian wife, who refused to leave his side. Across the North Sea, in England, they joined our queen and the allied forces to fight fascism across the globe.

Foto+van+de+Dag++vaarkrant+2As I wrote a few years ago after my own tribute to their voyage, the so called “Engelandvaarders“, or England sailers, are an important part of Dutch WWII history and even have their own museum in the seaside town of Noordwijk to commemorate them. So yes, I am proud to be able to call myself a descendant of theirs.

At the same time, I know my grandparents chose to join the KNIL, or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, a military division that is not without controversy. As with my great grandfather’s deeds and position, I do not know the details of my grandparents’ role here (yet). What I do know is that following World War II, “the KNIL was used in two large military campaigns in 1947 and 1948 to re-establish Dutch control of Indonesia. The KNIL and its Ambonese auxiliaries have been accused of committing war crimes during this “police action”.”

So yes, still proud… but very conscious of the fact that the reality they were facing and that facts they were presented with at the time, must have made them feel the cause they were fighting for was a just one. If this is still the case today, now that we can zoom out and look at the end results, remains to be seen.

Next in line is my father, who was born in Indonesia in 1947 himself and has travelled the world during much of his life, doing development work in South America and the Middle East. How many people’s lives has he actually improved? How many people learnt how to fish themselves thanks to the projects he led and how many “merely” received a charity fish? How much money was wasted on corruption and how much was actually spent effectively? How many projects brought people what they really needed on the long term and how many were merely set up as short term tools in the Dutch political agenda?

So… I guess my point is, I am proud to say that I come from a lineage of adventurers and people wanting to make a difference in the world. If their cause or methods were always good, is up to debate. A debate I am willing to engage in.