Combating racism the duty of all, not the gov't alone: Rutte

Thousands in Amsterdam turn out in support of Black Lives Matter after the death of George Floyd in America. June 1, 2020
Thousands in Amsterdam turn out in support of Black Lives Matter after the death of George Floyd in America. June 1, 2020NL Times / Byron MühlbergNL Times

Issues concerning racism and other forms of discrimination should be tackled collectively, as a society, and not by the government alone, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday. Speaking at a press conference after convening with the cabinet, Rutte was taken to task on a number of issues around racial discrimination following a week of protest action in the Netherlands and abroad.

"In this society there are a number of underlying factors of discrimination and racism. If then everyone's first reaction is, 'what does the government do? Because then I have no further problems with it, Rutte and the cabinet will sort it out'—forget it," asserted Rutte, adding that people should instead hold one another accountable in order to bring about change.

In light of such issues coming to the fore in recent days, Rutte also addressed the topic of Zwarte Piet, stating that Netherlands residents who continue to embrace the Sinterklaas tradition, including the controversial character alongside him, should not be regarded as racist. "It is a folk culture, it is a tradition, so absolutely not racist. But I do realize that there are people who are in pain," said the Prime Minister.

This comes a day after he acknowledged that his personal views on the issue had shifted, and that the country as a whole should begin to rethink the tradition. The comments were welcomed by Kick Out Zwarte Piet leader and community activist Jerry Afriyie, who tweeted on Thursday that Rutte's statements had come "better late than never".

Reiterating his view that affecting change remains up to the society at large, rather than the cabinet, Rutte argued that Zwarte Piet should also be regarded in such a light. "You also see thinking changing in society, but you don't need a Cabinet for that," he said with regards to the controversial Christmas figure.

The Prime Minister's comments come after a rocky week of protests across several cities the Netherlands, which drew thousands of demonstrators in support of Black Lives Matter to Amsterdam on Monday, Groningen and The Hague on Tuesday, and Rotterdam on Wednesday.

Similar protests in Utrecht, Enschede and Nijmegen are set to kick off on Friday evening, according to Black Lives Matter organizers.