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Letter from UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova to ADL Condemning Holocaust Mockery at the Aalst Carnival in Belgium

February 13, 2013

Thank you for your letter of 11 February last, which brought to my attention the unacceptable mockery of the Holocaust at the Aalst Carnival in Belgium, where a fake Nazi rail car was included in the parade, accompanied by men dressed in Nazi SS officer uniforms. 

I am deeply shocked by this display, which is an insult to the memory of the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.  This goes against the spirit of the Aalst Carnival, which is inscribed as part of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage, and whose tradition of satire cannot possibly justify the recourse to anti-Semitic stereotypes. 

This act is an offense also to the values of UNESCO, whose mandate is to promote mutual understanding, tolerance and peace.  Holocaust education is a core part of this work, and UNESCO will not rest while discriminations in any form, including anti-Semitism and racism, remain prevalent in our societies.  The history of the Holocaust must not be trivialized for the purposes of a local, political situation or to fuel hatred, belittling one of the darkest pages of the history of humanity.

I have condemned publicly this act as a violation of the spirit of the Aalst Carnival and the values that underpin UNESCO.  Moreover, I contacted immediately the authorities of Belgium, as foreseen in the Directives of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Article 2 of which stipulates that UNESCO will give consideration solely to “such intangible cultural heritage as is compatible with existing international human rights instruments, as well as with the requirements of mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals, and of sustainable development.” 

In ending, allow me to assure you that the Organization will never be associated with any declaration or position that goes against its fundamental principles, or its the objective of promoting tolerance and mutual understanding on the basis of human rights and human dignity.  This is my firm determination and commitment.

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