Unesco condemns Aalst Carnival for ‘anti-Semitic representations’


The Unesco-recognised Aalst Carnival has been called to order by the organisation, which said that one of its floats flouted the ‘values of respect and dignity’

Mayor meets with Unia

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has condemned the carnival celebrations in Aalst for “anti-Semitic representations’ during the annual parade last Sunday.

The carnival has come under fire from local and international Jewish organisations, as well as the European Commission, for one of the floats, which depicted extreme stereotypes of Jewish men. The carnival has been Unesco-protected heritage since 2010.

“We call on the Belgian authorities to react to the recent transgressions that occurred at the Aalst Carnival,” said Unesco in a press statement, “an element inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”

Unesco director-general for culture said that “the satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred. These indecent caricatures go against the values of respect and dignity embodied by Unesco and are counter to the principles that underpin the intangible heritage of humanity.”

Death threats

It is not the first time that Unesco has called Flanders’ biggest carnival celebration to order. In 2013 its general-director issued a statement decrying the appearance of a group dressed in SS uniforms.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global human rights organisation researching the Holocaust and hate, with European headquarters in Paris, also responded to the float, which was put together by carnival group Vismooil’n. “We are disgusted by the images of the parade during the Carnival in Aalst on 3 March,” the organisation said in a letter to federal interior minister Pieter De Crem. “These stereotypical and hate-mongering figures of Jews with sacks full of money and hooked noses recalls a Nazi-collaborating Belgium.”

The organisation asked De Crem to publicly condemn the carnival group responsible for the float and threatened to pull its interests out of the Antwerp diamond industry. De Crem told De Standaard that he was not planning to make a statement at this time.

“We understand that the mayor of Aalst is bringing all the parties around the table. That discussion is what’s important right now.” That discussion was scheduled to happen today, together with Belgium’s equal rights agency Unia.

The City of Aalst, meanwhile, has reported that it has received a number of hate mails and death threats directed at the mayor. Vismooil’n has also received threats, the group said.