MPs clash with Dutch PM over limiting demonstration right around Sinterklaas arrival

Several parties in the lower house of Dutch parliament voiced strong criticism on Prime Minister Mark Rutte's response to disturbances around various Sinterklaas celebrations in the Netherlands over the weekend. The Prime Minister's call for no demonstrations in the three weeks that Sinterklaas is in the Netherlands in particular led to bewilderment from the D66, GroenLinks, SP, PvdA, ChristenUnie, PvdD and DENK, among others, reports.

"If demonstrators are attacked, you must protect their right to their opinion and not reward racism and violence by saying that you can not hold a demonstration at that place and time", D66 parliamentarian Jan Patternotte said during question time with the Prime Minister on Tuesday. ChristenUnie stressed that the core to the right to demonstration is that you can "demonstrate at any time".

Over the weekend anti-Zwarte Piet demonstrators were pelted with eggs and beer cans. They also faced intimidation from people making the Nazi salute. The day after the disturbances Rutte pleaded for an "appropriate moment" for demonstrations. His party colleague, VVD leader Klaas Dijkhoff, went even further calling for a restriction of the right to demonstrate around the Sinterklaas celebrations.

On Tuesday Rutte rejected the suggestion that he was calling for the curtailment of the right to demonstrate. "Everyone has the right to demonstrate", he said, according to the newspaper. Though he added that he isn't sure that this should happen around the Sinterklaas celebrations, with children present. "A decent discussion can be held throughout the year, also in Sinterklaas time", Rutte said. But added that the extremes seen this weekend can not be allowed, especially when children are enjoying the Sinterklaas celebrations. 

The D66 was not satisfied with this reasoning. "The Prime Minister is doing something strange; he says he stands for the right to demonstrate, but not in the three weeks before Sinterklaas. This is crazy, because the the right to demonstrate is about expressing your feeling about certain moments and places."

When asked who is responsible for the unrest, Rutte said that "extremists on both sides" of the Zwarte Piet issue caused problems, but that the issues were "overwhelmingly" due to "pro-Zwarte Piet demonstrators." 

According to GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver, it was very clear from which side this past weekend's disturbances came. "This is not about extremists from both sides. This was about people who were racist, who threw eggs and cans", he said. On Monday Klaver already denounced Rutte for not mentioning the "racism in the unrest". Rutte also rejected this suggestion. "I hate racism and discrimination. We have to fight it", he said on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday D66 leader Rob Jetten addressed the issue with Zwarte Piet's skin color, the first time the D66 expressed its preference for Piet with sootmarks over Piet with blackface makeup. "I never had problems with Zwarte Piet", Jetten said, according to the newspaper. "But I was told by friends with dark skin and friends from abroad that they find Zwarte Piet a complicated phenomenon." The D66 leader wants Sinterklaas to be a celebration for everyone. "And that also means that Piet has to move with the times, that he has to change."

On Monday ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers also distanced himself from the traditional blackface form of Zwarte Piet. "The Chimney Piet has everything to become the Piet for us all", he said on Facebook. Segers said that he changed his mind about this tradition after conversations with Dutch people with a dark complexion, who made it clear to him how much pain the Sinterklaas celebrations caused through Zwarte Piet for years. "I was never aware of this", he said. "But now that I am, I have to act accordingly and take action."



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