Zwarte Piet, Malieveld The Hague (English)

Voorstander (R) van Zwarte Piet duldt geen tegenspraak

Voorstander (R) van Zwarte Piet duldt geen tegenspraak

There she stands. A small black woman in a big white sweatshirt. Alone on a quiet patch of Malieveld (The Hague). Proudly she puts a flag in the air, the flag of West Papua where her roots lie, the flag that’s banned in Indonesia.
She demonstrates against the Indonesia that annexed West Papua. “Since that conflict, 400,000 Papuans killed.” And she demonstrates against the United Nations, the organization that does nothing to stop it.

Zwarte Piet

A few hundred meters further it looks a lot happier. People dancing and singing Sinterklaas songs. These people are also demonstrating against the UN, but for the preservation of Zwarte Piet. Also important.
When a small group of Zwarte Piet sympathizers sees the woman with the flag, the mood changes. A small group closes in on her. A blonde woman with black face paint starts screaming: “So you’re against Zwarte Piet? Go back to your own country!”
The woman stammers that she is not against Zwarte Piet, in fact she’s also protesting the UN. She thinks it’s important that the UN spend time and money into research in West Papua and that research into Zwarte Piet is nonsense and a waste of money. But the group doesn’t hear, or doesn’t want to hear. “She is against Zwarte Piet!”


More and more bystanders get involved. They yell at her and if she tries to speak, they drown her out with Sinterklaas songs.
The little woman is enclosed like the prey of a group of Hyenas. In the blue eyes of the black made-up faces the hatred seems visible. The eyes of the woman betrayed nothing but fear.


But when a man tries to take her flag, she fights like a lion to keep it. Bystanders are now laughing at her. The woman tries to escape the melee, but an older man comes behind her as if he is pursuing the worst kind of criminal. He grabs her and it looks like he wants to hit her. At that moment someone from the crowd holds his arm and pulls him away from the woman, who is now in panic.


The second time she is trapped, the police arrive. An officer asks the woman to come along “For your safety, ma’am.”
As the woman is walked to the waiting police van, a crowd of bystanders cheers. “She’s being arrested,” says a woman in tracksuit. “Rightly so,” notes her husband.


As (photo) journalist one must be objective. It’s my job to report what happens. Yet that is not always easy. Today I witnessed a group of people that picked a person out of a crowd to attack her. I stood by and took pictures. It felt uncomfortable, I felt guilty.
One time today I did interfere with the proceedings. A man grabbed the woman by the shoulder, and in a reflex I pulled his hand away. But in fact that is not my job; it’s my job to photograph. Yet I’m glad it did not get out of hand. The woman was not beaten. She was “only” threatened, harassed, insulted and “kindly” asked to adapt Dutch ways or to “piss off to her own country.”


For the Zwarte Piet sympathizers the demonstration was a great success. The ‘Pietitie’ on Facebook has received over 2 million ‘likes,’ and according to police the demonstration was a big party.
For the small black woman, who had a good reason to stand there, it was less pleasant. But, well. You shouldn’t say you’re against Zwarte Piet.


Unfortunately I could not speak to the woman afterward. I don’t know where she comes from or how her day ended. However, I would like to do something for her.
On the internet I came across a petition “Stop the ‘slow motion’ genocide in West Papua.”
It seems more sensible to sign this petition – than a ‘Pietitie’ for a non-existent fairy tale figure.

Translation Google / Greg Shapiro

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