Over a dozen complaints were made to Belgium’s anti-discrimination centre after attendants at Aalst’s carnival donned costumes deemed antisemitic, in a step-up of similar displays during last year’s parade.
Unia said it received a total of 25 complaints about the displays in the Flemish city’s carnival on Sunday, which will be studied to determine whether legal action will be taken.
Unia director Patrick Charlier referred to the festivities as a “chronicle of an announced polemic,” noting that roughly half of the complaints had been made just ahead of the event, De Standaard reports.
“The city council of Aalst, and in particular the mayor, have not taken their responsibility to anticipate risks and excesses,” Charlier said.
The mayor’s decision to give up the carnival’s UNESCO credentials could have been interpreted as a sign that “anything could and should be done,” according to Charlier.
For the second consecutive year, the Flemish city drew criticism from observers in Belgium and abroad after going all out on carnival displays, costumes and floats, which depicted Jews in stereotypical and controversial fashion.
The festivities on Sunday were under particular scrutiny following the presence of a float in the 2019 edition of the carnival which prompted UNESCO to call for its removal over concerns and accusations that it was of an antisemitic nature.
In a show of what the mayor called the city’s defence of its “right to mockery and satire,” several carnival-goers on Sunday paraded through the streets donning oversized shtreimels, donning fake masks and hooked noses as well as dangling, chest-length sideburns.
Charlier said that a group of carnival-goers who showed up to the parade in full-body insect suits and oversized shtreimels was of some concern, especially for external observers.
“Certainly the stereotype of the Jew as an ant (…) is not understandable in a national and international context and is clearly antisemitic. It is a reference to the destruction of the Jews by the Nazis, who depicted them as a form of vermin,” he said.
Following criticism from a wide range of observers, including Belgium’s interim prime minister and EU officials, the mayor of Aalst doubled down on its defence of the carnival, saying the event “could not be labelled as antisemitic.”