Updated December 07, 2015 20:41:05

Three men wore traditional Black Pete dress at the Dutch Embassy. Photo: 3 men wore standard Black Pete dress at the Dutch Embassy on Sunday. (ABC News: Ross Nerdal)
Connected Story: Dozens arrested as protests mar children’s Christmas fete
Map: Canberra 2600

The Dutch Embassy has hosted traditional Saint Nicholas Day celebrations in Canberra, which includes three white males with blackened faces dressed as the controversial character Schwarte Piet.

The festivities held on Sunday had been organised by the Canberra Dutch Club and have taken spot at the embassy for a number of years.

Black Pete protesters in Gouda, Netherlands Photo: 90 individuals were arrested at a fete in the Netherlands last year throughout a protest over Black Pete. (AFP Photo: Remko de Waal)

This year there had been 3 guys dressed as Schwarte Piet, who the Embassy mentioned was “quite much component of Dutch culture”.

The debate around Schwarte Piet, or Black Pete, has divided the Netherlands and sparked protests in the nation in recent years.

In Dutch tradition, Schwarte Piet is the helper of Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, and is usually depicted in a medieval costume with a blackened face, red lips and a curly wig.

Opponents argue the character is a racist stereotype dating back to colonial times.

Others say he is black from coming down the chimney, and argue there is no racist element to the character.

Last year 90 men and women have been arrested for protesting against the controversial figure at a children’s Christmas festival in the Netherlands

Embassy requires ‘no position’ on debate

Arthur Den Hartog, the deputy head of mission for the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, mentioned the Dutch government had “no position” in the debate about Schwarte Piet.

He mentioned the occasion at the embassy was organised by Canberra’s Dutch neighborhood, and this year much more than 60 kids and their families came along.

Black Pete characters make an appearance alongside the Dutch Saint Nicholas at the Dutch Embassy. Photo: The controversial Black Pete characters produced an appearance alongside the Dutch Saint Nicholas at the Dutch Embassy in Canberra on Sunday. (ABC News: Ross Nerdal)

“It is a tradition which goes back in the Netherlands over centuries … we saw no cause not to enable that to take place. Since the Dutch government does not take any position on that, we could not,” he mentioned.

Mr Den Hartog sais there had been “lively” debate more than the concern in recent years, but it was not the government’s function to make a decision how the Dutch community celebrated the long-standing tradition.

“It is quite a lot element of Dutch culture. Public opinion in the Netherlands differs on this subject,” he mentioned.

“And it is also portion of Dutch culture actually, to talk about those various opinions, and to be open and to listen to distinct opinions that are becoming voiced.”

The diplomat said there had been those that felt there were damaging connotations to the tradition, but there were others that believed it was critical to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day the way it has been accomplished for several years.

“If somebody would have a complaint about this, we would very carefully listen to them and hope that they join the public debate to make their opinion known,” he said.

‘I’m pretty shocked that it really is occurred here’

But the managing director of anti-racism group All With each other Now, Priscilla Brice, mentioned she was disappointed to hear the Black Pete tradition was becoming celebrated in Canberra.

Anybody who commits blackface, they’re unaware of that history.

Priscilla Brice, All Collectively Now

“I’m fairly shocked that it really is happened right here in Australia and that individuals have brought these issues over to Australia,” she said.

“Anyone who commits blackface, they’re unaware of that history [of slavery and racism against black individuals], they’re disrespectful to the individuals who have been slaves and generally trying to pretend that you’re from an additional culture is offensive anyway regardless of what culture.”

Ms Cost mentioned even though Black Pete was a Dutch tradition, it was still a kind of racism that could have wide-reaching implications.

“We know that men and women who are frequent targets of racism expertise for instance anxiety and depression, and some also knowledge physical problems like diabetes and high blood stress,” she said.

“That goes for men and women that have experienced interpersonal racism and institutionalised racism.

“So it impacts people, but it also affects society as well.”

Sinterklaas and Black Pete tradition may evolve more than time

Mr Den Hartog stated this year’s celebration at the embassy was “very a pleasant occasion”.

Saint Nicholas and Black Pete hand out presents to children at the Dutch Embassy. (7 December 2015) Photo: Saint Nicholas and the 3 Black Petes handed out presents to kids at the Dutch Embassy. (ABC News: Ross Nerdal)

But he mentioned the Sinterklaas tradition was one that evolved continuously.

“There are developments more than time. We have witnessed alterations more than the years as to how the Sinterklaas celebrations are getting celebrated,” he stated.

Mr Den Hartog mentioned last year in the Netherlands, the annual Sinterklaas celebration broadcast on tv included Schwarte Piet-style character with faces of many various colours.

“It may possibly effectively be that in due course it will have a distinct appearance than it has right now but once again that’s for the public to decide,” he stated.

Topics: neighborhood-and-society, discrimination, race-relations, canberra-2600, act, australia, netherlands

First posted December 07, 2015 20:25:52

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