Refugee jokes banned at Austrian carnivals as organisers work to involve asylum seekers in celebrations

'Hurtful attacks on defenceless people are inappropriate,' a new ethics code says

Lizzie Dearden@lizziedearden
Thursday 28 January 2016 13:57
Costumed participants wearing traditional wooden masks perform in the annual carnival parade on February 12, 2015 in Mittenwald
Costumed participants wearing traditional wooden masks perform in the annual carnival parade on February 12, 2015 in Mittenwald

Austria’s carnival authority has banned jokes targeting asylum seekers, foreigners, minorities and “defenceless people” in the traditional celebrations.

Festivities in the run-up to Lent include parades, costume balls, music and performances across the country, where participants dress up and wear intricate wooden masks.

Comedy is a key part of the period, known as Fasching or Karneval, but the Austrian Carnival Guild (Bund Österreichischer Faschingsgilden) has drawn up a new ethics code on acceptable jokes.

'Fasching' in Austria and Germany sees participants wear costumes and wooden masks for parades and performances

“Hurtful attacks on defenceless people, majorities sneering at minorities, cutting mockery and malice, irony and sarcasm - even if they get roars of laughter from the audience - are inappropriate,” the code reads.

“Laughing at others' expense always leaves a bitter aftertaste.”

The guild said Fasching “is open to social and societal changes over time” and that a current challenge is to ensure the “integration of migrants into traditional events” to secure their future.

In a section on “respecting values and limits”, its code says that although fun is the top priority, “human dignity is inviolable” and people’s feelings should not be hurt.

Costumed participants tossing a so called 'Jackel' perform in the annual carnival parade on February 12, 2015 in Mittenwald, Germany.

“This is especially the case for dealing in religious matters,” it says, adding that all religions should be treated with respect.

The new guidelines are in line with those applied to the carnival period in Germany and Switzerland, The Local reported.

Adi Mittendorfer, the Austrian Carnival Guild’s president, told the website: “People should be aware of the effect of such jokes. Anything which drags human dignity or faith in the dirt is not allowed.”

His deputy, Alfred Kamleitner, said sexist jokes were also frowned upon, adding: “I don’t think it's funny to see scantily clad nuns running around on stage.”

Mocking “the follies of everyday life” and prominent politicians and celebrities is, however, perfectly acceptable.

It comes after German carnival organisers in Cologne and Bonn printed leaflets in Arabic and Farsi instructing refugees not to kiss people without consent or urinate in public.

Austria’s carnival tradition mirrors similar celebrations across historically Catholic parts of Germany and Europe dating back to the 13th Century.

It officially starts on Epiphany (6 January) and celebrations continue until Shrove Tuesday, which will fall on 9 February this year.

Austria expected to receive 80,000 asylum applications last year and is planning to cap the number of new arrivals at 37,500 for 2016.

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