PARIS—UNESCO, the Paris-based United Nations body for education and culture , might decide later this year to de-list the Aalst Carnival in Belgium from its Convention on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity after it displayed racist and anti-Semitic floats.
One of the float, titled “Shabbat Year,” featured two giant puppets, depicting orthodox Jews complete with traditional side-curls, in pink suits, standing amidst bags of money among rats. Despite the outcry among Jewish groups, the Aalst Mayor declined to condemn the display, describing the floats as ”humoristic.”
A decision adopted Thursday in Paris by the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage lays the ground for the Committee to examine at its next meeting in Bogota, Colombia, later this year the “possibility of removing” the Carnival from the lists of the Convention on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
On a proposal from UNESCO’s Secretariat, the decision calls on all States Parties to this Convention to “ensure that elements inscribed on the lists of the Convention respect the ethical principles in safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage.” The Bureau decision condemns “all forms of racism, antisemitism, islamophobia and xenophobia.”
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay welcomed the Member States’ decision.“UNESCO had to be vigilant and uncompromising regarding such occurrences at a festival listed as intangible cultural heritage of humanity while flouting its core values. This is not the first time that these racist and anti-Semitic floats parade in this festival,” said Audrey Azoulay.
The Aalst Carnival was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. The Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee inscribes elements on the List on the proposal of States Parties to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Members are elected to the Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee to this end. Inscription does not entail financial support.
Earlier this month, Ernesto Ottone, Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO condemned the Aalst Carnival floats. “The satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred,” he said, adding: “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,” he added.
The European Commission also reacted and called on the Belgian authorities to take action. Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said: “It should be obvious to all that portraying such representations in the streets of Europe is absolutely unthinkable, 74 years after the Holocaust.”
UNESCO has received Friday a petition, initiated by IMPAC (International Moveent for Peace signed by more than 15,000 people, calling for the the Aalst Crnival to be removed from the Intangible Cultural Heritage status from the Aalst Carnival in Belgium.
IMPAC Chief Executive Nigel Goodrich, who discussed the petition with Ernesto Ottone, stated: “I am pleased that UNESCO has listened to the thousands of voices who, by signing our petition, have expressed their outrage and incredulity that such a thing could happen in Europe 70 years after the Holocaust. The organisers of this event, and the Belgian authorities, need to be sent a message that the cause of good community relations and coexistence amongst communities has been severely harmed. Only de-listing will send such a message.”
At UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity Bureau meeting, the Wiesenthal Centre’s Director for International Relations, Shimon Samuels, congratulated Bureau Chair Ambassador of Colombia and the Ambassador of Austria for leading the support for a strong resolution condemning the Aalst Carnival antisemitic float.
According to Samuels, the Ambassador of Belgium indicated that judicial measures are under consideration to penalize the Carnival.