The Troll of the Month is an incident we choose every month to expose racist and anti-religious haters and to show positive outcomes in the fight against intolerance in Europe.
From the 21st to the 26th of February, the annual Carnival parade took place in Aalst, Belgium. 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. In response to criticism at the time, the mayor of Aalst stated that he believes the group when they say there was no malicious intent with the float, and that the city does not want to impose censure on the carnival.
Before the parade started this year, several organisations and institutions (including the European Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism, who wrote an open letter) urged the Mayor of Aalst to take action and make sure that the same scenario would not happen again, a task which the Mayor failed. This year's 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.
Talking to the BBC, the Aalst mayor's spokesman Peter Van den Bossche said about the parade: "it's our humour... just fun. [...] There isn't a movement behind it. [...] We don't wish harm to anyone. It's our parade, our humour, people can do whatever they want. It's a weekend of freedom of speech." Some have claimed 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.
Carnival is a big celebration in several countries around Europe, many of which showed this year that the parade does not need to include antisemitism or racism to be enjoyable. In fact, there were several parades who this year used the opportunity to spread a message of inclusion and unity against hate. Aalst Carnival included undeniable antisemitic and racist elements, which is unacceptable in any space, especially such a large public event.