EU reacts to anti-Semitic celebrations

epa08243299 A float depicting German far-right AfD politician Bjoern Hoecke, whose arm is raised by CDU politician Mike Mohring and FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich from a brown swamp at the Thuringa elections, is moved into position prior to the annual Rose Monday parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, 24 February 20120 Rose Monday is the traditional highlight of the carnival season in many German cities. EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH

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 This article by Denise Grech was published on Diplomatique.Expert International Affairs eJournal.

In Malta and all across Europe, carnival is known as a time for celebration and satire.

But this year, the Belgian city of Aalst attracted criticism from the EU, the UN and even the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, when floats appeared mocking Jewish people.

The Carnival was known for making fun of key political figures. But it attracted controversy when it became known for mocking ethnic and religious minorities. This, Aalst carnival-goers insist, is not to offend anyone. Instead, it is meant to show that no one should be exempt from their ridicule and satire.

Last year, they had floats depicting Jewish men using classic anti-Semitic imagery. This led to the town being stripped of its place as a UNESCO world heritage site.

This year, Aalst carnival-goers decided to respond to that by revelling in the international media attention. In an attempt to show contempt to the decision, hundreds of people decided to wear clothing associated with Jewish communities.

They insisted that the issue was one of freedom of speech, and that it was up to them to decide where the line could be crossed. One man, wearing blackface and a clown costume, told Politico that “if you try to stop us, we just expand. I hope that I can see my city in the international papers in graceful situations. We know it’s not the purpose of it.”

They have come under fire from people in the Brussels bubble and EU leaders but they insist they are the arbiters of offensiveness. The major line of defence is that in carnival, everyone should get mocked.

13 University academics from Brussels spoke out and said this was putting Belgium to shame. The country’s Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès also spoke out saying that the event was an affront to the values and reputation of Belgium.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas also slammed the Aalst carnival. “The #aalstcarnival is a shame. It needs to stop. No place for this in Europe,” tweeted Schinas, whose portfolio of “promoting our European way of life” includes fighting anti-Semitism.

A Commission spokesperson said: “It should indeed be self-evident that such images as what we’ve seen should not parade European streets, 75 years after the Shoah [the Hebrew term for the Holocaust].”

 This article by Denise Grech was published on Diplomatique.Expert International Affairs eJournal.

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