LEIDEN – Chaos was successfully avoided during this year’s arrival of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) in Leiden on Saturday.
Despite the presence of 30 to 40 activists and the tense atmosphere, the event went on in relative peace.
The protest was announced a few days before by anti-Zwarte Piet protest group ‘Stop Zwarte Piet’ and the radical left-wing action committee ‘Doorbraak’.
The police were notified before the event and deployed special crowd control units (ME) to guide the protestors in their march from Leiden Central Station to their protest location at the Harteburgkerk.
The protest location was next to the walking route of Sinterklaas through Leiden, but away from the main event location at the Beestenmarkt. The mayor of Leiden, Henri Lenferink, was also present at the protest location.
Incidents were small in number. Shouting activists attempting to get closer to the crowds were quickly dispersed by the ME. Two men, one of them dressed as Zwarte Piet, were arrested on account of disrupting public order.
As Sinterklaas passed through the streets of Leiden, the protest attracted angry parents who disagreed with the activists’ message. Shortly after Sinterklaas had passed the protest location, the ME decided to disperse the gathered crowd as a preventive measure, as tensions were rising.
Doorbraak, who organised the protest, criticised the police for allegedly having restricted their right to peaceful protest when counter-activists were given free reign. ‘We were surrounded by neo-nazis who called us names,’ activist Hayno Maier writes, and nothing was done to prevent this.’
The discussion surrounding folk hero Zwarte Piet, who some claim is a racist stereotype of colonial origins, has become increasingly intense in the last few years.
Violent clashes between activists and counter-protesters have led to further security measures. Earlier this month, attendees and even children were forced to pass through metal detectors before attending Sinterklaas celebrations in Maassluis. Such measures have sparked criticism by those who consider this the militarisation of what should be an event for children and their parents.
Evidently, the event in Leiden showed that this does not always need to be the situation. As despite high tensions around the protest location, and the occasional shouting counter-protestor attempting to get closer, the event took place without incident.
The protestors were able to demonstrate in a prominent location, without the arrival of Sinterklaas being disturbed too much.
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