Aalst Carnival will not take place in February next year
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Aalst Carnival will not take place in February next year

Credit: Belga

Aalst Carnival, which previously made international headlines for its controversial anti-Semitic displays, will not take place in February as usual because of the coronavirus, Aalst mayor Christoph D’Haese announced on Thursday.

“We did not make this decision overnight. There has been consultation with the fire brigade, police, medical experts and communication officers,” D’Haese told reporters. “It is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make.”

If there is a vaccine by then, the mayor would like to organise the carnival in the summer. “That will be unique in 2021, but we are going to try anyway,” D’Haese said, adding that he will consult with inhabitants about the organisation.

The announcement comes a day after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen explicitly condemned the Carnival during her State of the European Union speech, asking “where is the essence of humanity when anti-Semitic carnival costumes parade openly on our streets?”

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In 2019, the city had to answer to the international heritage organisation UNESCO, but ultimately chose to be removed from the list of world heritage sites.

The 2020 edition of the Carnival again made international headlines after the city refused to remove floats depicting Orthodox Jews in a stereotypical way from the parade, and instead doubled down on “its right to mockery and satire.”

In a reaction to von der Leyen’s speech, D’Haese said that the city did not feel like her comment concerned them, saying that “a lot can be said about the people of Aalst, but certainly not that they have a lack of humanity” and that the Commission President “should come down from her ivory tower.”

“Mrs von der Leyen should really inform herself better before making such exaggerated statements about Aalst,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws on Wednesday. “The people of Aalst are very warm people, and we are far removed from hatred and racism.”

He conceded that “within the context of Carnival, a great deal is allowed” but that it is never the intention to pit population groups against each other, but that the festivity is “a celebration of solidarity.”

The mayor of Aalst did not respond to questions from The Brussels Times for an article about the carnival.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times