City of Amsterdam decision subsequent to court ruling on Sinterklaas parade

City of Amsterdam decision subsequent to court ruling on Sinterklaas parade

The City of Amsterdam is to lodge an appeal against the court ruling regarding the granting of a permit for the Sinterklaas parade in 2013. The Administrative Judge in Amsterdam ruled on 3 July 2014 that granting the permit may contravene the right to respect private and family life, as outlined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). As such, the mayor of Amsterdam was obliged to reconsider his decision.

However, the mayor believes that the court ruling was based on an incorrect assessment framework and plans to appeal on grounds of legal principles. He is also of the opinion that the discussion of the figure of ‘Zwarte Piet’ (literally: Black Pete) shouldn’t be held in the courts, but instead is a matter that should be addressed by society as a whole. The mayor has met with the various involved parties on numerous occasions in recent years. As was the case in 2013, the Sinterklaas Committee will be closely following the social developments. The mayor firmly believes that these discussions will form the basis for another open and enjoyable Sinterklaas parade.

The mayor of Amsterdam is appealing against the court decision on grounds of legal principles. A mayor is not permitted to make decisions about event permits with regard to the actual programme of the event. A mayor can only base his decision to grant a permit for an event on grounds of public order and safety. This restricted assessment framework is an essential element of our constitutional state. We need to ensure that the mayor is not placed in the position of having to decide upon the content of events, thereby forcing him into the role of a moralist.

Should the court’s decision remain in place, the mayor would consequently be required to assess the content of events prior to them being held. The decision may therefore also affect future editions of other events in Amsterdam, such as King’s Day and Gay Pride. In addition, Sinterklaas is a phenomenon that reaches far beyond the municipal boundaries. Parades are organised in numerous cities and towns, while television programmes are frequently aired. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet products line shop shelves and the figures themselves visit homes and schools across the country. Sinterklaas is celebrated throughout the Netherlands, with the festivities spanning several weeks. As such, the mayor believes that a national judge should be the one to address this matter.

Although the mayor is lodging an appeal, he is still required to reconsider his decision regarding the objections against the granting of a permit to allow the Sinterklaas parade in 2013. As part of this reconsideration, notwithstanding the appeal, the mayor had to assume a potential violation of Article 8 of the ECHR. The Complaints Commission has indicated their view that the mayor successfully balanced the interests of the objectors and that of the common good. A gradual approach to change is preferable to governmental interference in the tradition. Sinterklaas is a national tradition which manifests itself in multiple ways. Such a tradition isn’t open to drastic change, and certainly not from above. It’s for this reason that the mayor has initiated and is facilitating changes to the parade in Amsterdam. Adopting this advice, after reconsideration, the mayor still declares the objections against the permit for the Sinterklaas parade of 2013 unfounded.

Social dialogue
Away from this legal dispute, the social dialogue is in full swing. The parade in Amsterdam is an annual celebratory event enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people. However, for other Amsterdammers, the figure of Zwarte Piet is a grievous subject due to the associations with slavery. The City of Amsterdam is dedicated to ensuring that Sinterklaas remains an event for everyone to enjoy.

The Amsterdam Sinterklaas Committee is taking a considered approach to organising the 2014 parade, working together with hundreds of volunteers to ensure that the event is open to all. For example, since last year, the Zwarte Piet figures no longer wear golden hoop earrings and any subservient behaviour or associations are a thing of the past. And Zwarte Piet is set to undergo further changes.

In Amsterdam, Mayor Van der Laan mediated discussions between the Sinterklaas Committee and those in favour of introducing more changes to the figure of Zwarte Piet. Dutch public service broadcaster NTR also sat in on the discussions, whilst maintaining its editorial independence. Deputy Prime Minister Asscher was also present in light of the national context of the debate. The discussions between the mayor and those who indicated concerns about the Negroid stereotyping of Zwarte Piet with the Sinterklaas Committee have inspired confidence that the Sinterklaas parade will indeed be an event open to all.


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