Several Get The Trolls Out! partners submitted a joint complaint letter to the city of Aalst, in Belgium. The complaint was regarding the annual Carnival parade which occurred on the 21st to the 26th of February this year. Last year, the event drew a large number of complaints from Jewish organisations and public institutions due to the antisemitic stereotypical dresses and costumes exposed during the parade. As we covered through the Get The Trolls Out! project at the time, the discussion in 2019 reached the United Nations, with UNESCO officially removing Aalst Carnival from the UNESCO Intangible World Heritage list.
Unfortunately, this year saw no changes. The Carnival parade featured even more blatant antisemitism, with the participants not changing but instead only increasing the presence and severity of "Jewish-themed" costumes. There were paraders dressed as Orthodox Jews but represented as insects; Orthodox Jews with fake big hooked noses; Orthodox Jews with gold bars and Diamonds; Orthodox Jews with Red arm-bands labeled UNESCO (parallel to Nazi red arm-bands); Paraders dressed as SS - corps of Nazi Party - enjoying a drink. The "Jewish-themed" costumes clearly portrayed stereotypes used in Nazi propaganda in the 1930s, carrying with them not only an extremely painful history but a very dangerous narrative. Additionally, the parade included several participants dressed in costumes featuring racist tropes and donning blackface.
In the formal letter of complaint, which was submitted by the Media Diversity Institute and co-signed by the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung, the European Union of Jewish Students, the European Network on Religion and Belief and Media Diversity Institute Global (based in Belgium), stated:
"We have seen some claims that Aalst Carnival, and specifically it’s antisemitic elements, are actually meant to be subversive in nature and therefore should not be taken as an offence to Jewish people. However, if the paraders are indeed aiming for a subversive message, they have missed the mark. It is totally possible to be subversive and speak truth to power without being antisemitic; the two do not cancel each other out. Aalst Carnival included undeniable antisemitic and racist elements, which is unacceptable in any space, especially such a large public event.
We know that Carnival is a big celebration in Aalst and that it is a time for enjoyment. It is unfortunate that the antisemitic and racist elements of Aalst Carnival take the fun out of this event for many, turning what is meant to be an enjoyable event into one of hatred. This does not need to be the case, in fact, there were several parades who this year used the opportunity to spread a message of inclusion and unity against hate. Carnival does not, and should not, ever be associated with hate and division."
The letter was address to the Mayor of Aalst, Christoph D'Haese. We have so far not received any comment from D'Haese but we will update this page if and when we do.