Aalst where anti-Semitic stereotypes were displayed at its traditional carnival is located only 51 km from Mechelen with its Museum of the Holocaust and Human Rights. From Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen thousands of Jews and hundreds of Roma were transported to their death in Auschwitz. Asked by the Brussels Times to comment on the anti-Semitic carnival float, historian Herman Van Goethem, rector of Antwerp University and the curator of the museum and it first director, said that a whole community, “the Jew”, was targeted and ethnically framed and displayed as caricatures, with racist physical and behavioural features.
“This is reprehensible, repugnant and unacceptable. Especially at a time when anti-Semitism is growing rapidly under the influence of the rough populism propagated by people like Trump and Orban,” he said.
This is not the first time the organizers of the carnival have sparked complaints of racism, bad taste or historical ignorance. In 2013 another group showed a float in the form of a Nazi railway wagon surrounded by people dressed as Nazi officers and Orthodox Jews.
In both cases UNESCO, which in 2010 inscribed the carnival on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, condemned the anti-Semitic displays.
Last week Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Culture, called on the Belgian authorities to react to the recent transgressions that occurred at the Aalst Carnival.
“The satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred,” he said. “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.”
UNESCO declined to respond to a question from The Brussels Times whether the UN organisation will consider to delete the Aalst carnival from its world cultural heritage.
The anti-Semitic display in the carnival was strongly condemned by Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesperson of the European Commission, at a press briefing in Brussels (5 March). “It’s unthinkable that such imagery is paraded on European streets 74 years after the Holocaust. This was one incident of too many.”
“There is no place for anti-Semitism in Europe. We Europeans don’t have the luxury of taking this lightly. We know how it may end,” he added.
In Aalst itself, the organisers of the anti-Semitic float and the carnival appear not to have grasped what they have stirred up. Mayor Christoph D’Haese backs the group which organised the float and told newspapers that it’s not up to the mayor to forbid such displays.
Like most Belgian cities, Aalst receives EU regional development funding to support local businesses and young entrepreneurs, better mobility and energy efficiency measures in housing.
How much was not possible to determine by the Brussels Times. The carnival itself has not received any ear-marked EU-funding according to a source in the European Commission.
The Brussels Times