Carnival and the limits of freedom of expression

The carnival parades and popular festivities are usually rife with stereotypes (often) of minorities. The aim of this analysis is to approach the subject objectively, detached from the often highly inflamed emotions and intractable differences of opinion.

In Belgium, there is a deeply rooted tradition of carnival parades and other popular festivities. They are often characterised by their caustic mockery and ruthless satire. Carnival is equivalent to anarchy: all inhibitions appear to have been lifted and for several days, in a given location, anyone and anything can be the object of mockery.

Each year, Unia receives reports related to the carnival parades and other popular festivities.

  • On one hand, citizens are offended by the stereotypical, disrespectful depictions (often) of minorities and what they consider to be unacceptable behaviour.
  • On the other hand, citizens do not understand why local traditions, with a long-standing history, are suddenly being questioned by “others” and have all at once become such a touchy subject for certain minorities.

As the same questions and concerns recur in reports made to Unia, Unia felt it would be useful to work out a text in which both the sociological-historical context of carnival and the legal (limits) of freedom of expression in Belgium could be elaborated.

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