The European Commission stated that the parade in Aalst, Belgium, on Sunday that featured anti-Semitic floats and stereotypical caricatures of Jews were “incompatible” with EU values.
The festival has a tradition of mocking world events of the past year. The 600-year-old ritual draws thousands of spectators and is an important symbol of the town’s identity in the region. However, over many years there have been complaints about the use of antisemitic tropes.
The Aalst carnival, a centuries-old event in central Belgium long known for mocking public figures, has in recent years been accused of parading insulting and derogatory depictions of Jews.
Last year it lost its place on a UNESCO heritage list because of anti-Semitism.
On Sunday, the parade in the Belgian city, located 30 kms east of Brussels, included caricatures of Jews with hooked noses, obsessed with money and dressed up like insects. Participants were also dressed as Nazi SS officers and as Orthodox Jews depicted as insects.
“It should indeed be self-evident that such images as what we’ve seen should not parade European streets, 75 years after the Shoah,” said a European Commission spokesman, Adalbert Jahnz, during the dailyu briefing.
He said the European Union executive had received “a number of complaints” over the Aalst event, but that it was up to Belgian national authorities to take action.
As far as the European Commission was concerned, Jahnz said, “we stand firmly against all forms of anti-Semitism” and view the parade’s floats as “incompatible with the values and principles in which the EU is founded”.
The European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas, who has the fight against antisemitism in his attributions, said the Aalst carnival was a “shame”.
“It needs to stop. No place for this in Europe,” Schinas wrote on Twitter.
Last year, the European Commission already condemned the antisemitic floats display at the precession.
Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès also reacted to the antisemitic representations of Jews at the carnival. She said that her government “is sensitive to the reactions to certain floats and carnival costumes.”
She said that these representations “were causing damage to our values and the reputation of our country.”
The parade came just weeks after the EU marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. In her speech, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, said: “We have a duty to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jewish communities as they feel again threatened across Europe. All EU member states stand united in the determination that any form of racism, antisemitism and hatred have no place in Europe and we will do whatever it takes to counter them. State authorities, as well as actors from across all sectors of civil society should unite to reaffirm Europe’s unfaltering vigilance whenever and wherever democratic values are threatened.”
In December 2018, under the Austrian presidency of the EU, the European Council approved a declaration on the fight against antisemitism and the development of a common security approach to better protect Jewish communities and institutions in Europe. The declaration was meant to reassure Jewish communities who feel threatened by an increase in violent antisemitic incidents.
Last December, UNESCO, the UN body for education and culture, removed the Aalst carnival from its “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” over the “recurring repetition of racist and antisemitic representations.”