Heated exchanges at Zwarte Piet court case

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Dozens of people took to the courthouse in Amsterdam on Thursday to lend support to the initiators of a civil court case against Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), Holland’s blackface tradition that people of African descent in the country find offensive.

It is the third formal attempt opponents have launched since the opposition took mushroomed to unprecedented proportions; 20 complaints that had been filed last year to block Zwarte Piet’s November 17th 2013 parade had been found unfounded by Amsterdam’s city council and a subsequent application for a rule nisi was thrown out of court. The opponents said on Wednesday that even if their latest civil case dismissed by the judge, they would not rest. They argued that the discussion is about more than the nostalgic sentiments surrounding the Sinterklaas, the bearded holy man whose portrayal Zwarte Piet is the helper of. “I am here because Zwarte Piet is an affront against humanity,” said film maker Sunny Bergman, a Caucasian Dutch woman who is one of the initiators of the court case. Another initiator said he was willing to test the matter to the full extent of the law. He disagreed with a statement from the judge that she was not sure if a ruling would even have any merits since there has been a movement toward changing Black Pete into a Pete who has all other colors of the rainbow. He said a “Rainbow Piet” would not change the racist undertone that people of African descent have always seen in the Zwarte Piet tradition. “I want to hear from the judge that Zwarte Piet is racist. Unless he will have blond hair and blue eyes in the future, we will continue. Even if we have to take this to the European High Court,” he said. During the hearing the opponents found much vocal support from the dozens of sympathizers; sitting in the public benches, some brazenly booed and laughed off arguments from the attorneys for Government, and applauded when the Zwarte Piet opponents were making their say. The judge had to admonish them several times. Government’s attorneys repeated earlier statements by Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan who while he seemed sympathetic to the case the opponents were making, has said that his hands are tied as far as forbidding Zwarte Piet appearing in a parade is concerned. Van der Laan said he could only refuse a license for an event if there are indications that said event would threaten the public order. “This mayor has said that this discussion is not one that regards his office. It is a discussion that should be held amongst the community. The community makes traditions and the community can change them,” the lawyers quoted Van der Laan. The court will rule on June 3.