Brussels’ ‘Carnaval Sauvage’ or ‘Wild Carnival’ took place this weekend, bringing together a crowd of masked anarchic revellers in the city centre. Designed to be ‘ungovernable’ but not disrespectful, the carnival is a rebellious tradition in the ‘Marolles’ flea market and antiques district, going back to 1969’s Battle of Marolles.
Back in 1969, the inhabitants of Marolles, mostly vulnerable older citizens and immigrants, received compulsory expulsion letters from the Crown. The area was at that time a poor and rundown district in the south-east of Brussels city centre, comprising five blocks below the Palais de Justice. Many of the inhabitants had a generational memory of being expelled from their original homes when the Palais was first built. Now it was time to expand the Palais, and they were being forced to move again. Naturally, they felt persecuted.
In addition to the resentment about being thrown out of their homes, a growing number of people were becoming aware of the phenomenon known as ‘Bruxellisation’ where beautiful structures and public spaces, as well as working class districts, were being torn down by Brussels town planners and replaced by more functional but soulless buildings.
3. The Battle
The Battle of Marolles was in fact a peaceful protest, led by vicar Jacques Van der Biest who headed up a neighbourhood committee. Faced with posters and banners, TV appearances, and a population who put up a united front against the consumerist pressure to abandon their community in exchange for a more ‘modern’ home, the proposals were abandoned.
The original Carnival was a celebration of the neighbourhood victory. Symbolic burials of the Promotor (real estate agent), his ‘wife’ Bureacracy, and their evil offspring ‘Expropriation’. Participants sang and danced in the streets and around the Palais of Justice.
5. Today’s Carnaval Sauvage
Today, there’s a plaque commemorating the Battle of Marolles in rue Montserrat, but that’s not all. Each year, masked revellers get together with music, parade and make mischief, and re-enact the burial. This took place on Saturday.
Almost disguised among other ‘Farewell to Winter’ fairs happening in Belgium, it’s a fun and secretive affair. There is scant information on a Facebook page about starting times or ‘rules’. While one ‘organiser’ keen not to attract negative attention tried to discourage participants from public urination, another commenter insisted that “the only thing that is forbidden is to forbid!” The spirit is one of joyous cohesion and rebellion against ‘The Man’ and it’s well worth taking part in. Be warned: onlookers are discouraged so bring a mask and join in.