First former Unesco Intangible Heritage, Aalst carnival promises to be the safest in 2023

After three years of Covid-19, carnival in Aalst is allowed again without restrictions. Today, February 19, Monday and Tuesday, the city of East Flanders will be in celebration.

“Aalst residents and non-residents alike have a strong desire (to party), but we do it safely,” says Mayor Christoph D'Haese (N-VA) with enthusiasm. Over three days, the city will deploy 1,000 officers, and the medical and fire services will also bring additional staff. Naval police keep an eye on the Dender river and police services monitor social media. “The challenges get bigger and tougher every year. People with bad intentions are not welcome. We act immediately when necessary,” said D'Haese.

In addition, the party zone was closed off for vehicle access. Concrete blocks and city services trucks will block the way and the police will carry out systematic identity checks. “We know from the nightlife that some are armed with knives. We've suffered stabbings in the past and we want to avoid that,” clarifies Mayor D'Haese. “This is the safest carnival ever.”

The city cooperates with the transport company De Lijn and offers free transport and night buses. In addition, there are also extra buses (shuttles) for the procession on Sunday. Aalst is also easily accessible by train from other Belgian cities.

Aalst mockery tradition and Unesco controversy

The Aalst carnival has its origins in the Middle Ages and from 1923 onwards, its city hall started to officially organize the parade. It starts on Sunday with a procession through the city. The parade this year is made up of 71 carnival groups and about 200 individual groups. 

On Monday's parade, an annual Broom Dance by the Gilles de Aalst takes place, followed by the "onion throwing": Prince Carnival and members of the party committee throw sweets the size of onions from the balcony of the town hall. Some of them bring numbers for a special prize: a golden onion, designed exclusively for that year's Carnival. 

In 2010, the traditional event won the status of Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. But in December 2019, D'Haese petitioned Unesco to remove his city's carnival from the Representative List. He anticipated that the city would be removed anyway due to the public's freedom to mock any subject on the carnival, including wearing anti-Semitic stereotypes that year and in 2005.

Unesco followed the request and it was the first time that something was removed from Unesco's Intangible Heritage of Humanity.



#FlandersNewsService | President of the European Council and former Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, and Aalst mayor, Christoph D'Haese, during Aalst carnival, 16 February 2015 © BELGA PHOTO (LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ)


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