The U.N.’s cultural agency said Friday it is considering whether to remove its recognition of a Belgium carnival as a valuable piece of cultural heritage following accusations of anti-Semitism during a parade.

UNESCO, Jewish organizations and European authorities have condemned the supposed anti-Semitic and racist nature of a parade float at the Aalst Carnival that featured puppets of Jews earlier this month. Another group paraded in Ku Klux Klan hoods and robes.

“It’s not the first time that these racist and anti-Semitic floats parade in this festival,” the agency’s director-general Audrey Azoulay said, adding that its duty is “to be vigilant and uncompromising regarding such occurrences.”

A few days after the March 3 parade, European Commission spokesman 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 representatives have decided to put the issue on the agenda of the next meeting of the Committee that makes decisions on the cultural heritage list in December in Colombia. A removal decision would be a first since the 2003 Convention that created the label.

The Aalst Carnival has been on the UNESCO cultural heritage list since 2010, an inscription which doesn’t entail financial support.

UNESCO said the move also aims at sending a message of “tolerance zero” to all other elements inscribed on the list.

Aalst is one of Belgium’s most famous carnivals and it is celebration unbridled, no-holds-barred humor and satire. Politicians, religious leaders and the rich and famous are relentlessly ridiculed during the three-day festival and imposing limits on that would take away the essence of its carnival, according to Aalst mayor Christophe D’haese who has seen puppets of his N-VA party leadership go around in Nazi uniforms.

“You cannot impose any censorship,” he told the VRT television and radio station. “We are game for everything, without a single exception. It means political, social and religious life. It has been our tradition for years.”

“In Aalst we don’t want to be told what we can laugh at and what not,” D’haese said, though he acknowledged that overall “we need respect for the wounds of history.”


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