Erasmus University Rotterdam will, for the time being, continue to hold the traditional St Nicholas celebration. This means that, just like last year, a (brown) coloured Zwarte Piet will be present at the staff party. Nevertheless, the university is monitoring the national debate on Zwarte Piet and will take the decision of the Council of State into account.

According to Pieter Kuijt, director of the Department of Marketing and Communications, “We remain careful in how we designate Piet, and his make-up is already brown rather than soot black. We will not make other changes to his appearance for the time being.”

In Kuijt’s view, the multicultural nature of the university’s employees is not a reason to change this year’s celebration for staff members and their families. “The St Nicholas party on the campus is an internal one and we see no reason at present to take an uncompromising position on the matter.”

Objections to Piet

Since a couple of years, there has been a fierce debate about whether or not the fictional charachter of Zwarte Piet refers to slavery. The Council of State will announce its decision regarding the question as to whether the government must set requirements with respect to Zwarte Piet on 12 November. Last year, opponents of Zwarte Piet brought a lawsuit against Mayor Van der Laan of Amsterdam, who allegedly had not taken the objections of those opposed to Zwarte Piet into account when granting a permit for the traditional entry of St Nicholas. Van der Laan’s position is that it is not the place of a mayor to judge the actual content of an event when granting a permit. Zwarte Piet’s appearance may, however, be changed as a result of this lawsuit. In the words of Kuijt, “We will thoroughly review the matter once things have become clearer in this regard.”

Entry into Rotterdam

The Zwarte Pieten who accompany St Nicholas during his festive entry into the municipality will also continue to do so in the traditional colour. The reception on 15 November has been organised by students of the Rotterdam Student Corps and the Rotterdam Female Student Association for over 60 years. Three hundred member assist St Nicholas as volunteers. Dirk de Boer, Erasmus University Rotterdam student and chair of the entry committee, stated that “If the Council of State decides that the current Zwarte Piet is unacceptable, we will probably change his appearance. The party must remain fun for everyone, so some Pieten will appear in a different colour if necessary.” EvR