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Aalst anti-littering poster removed after racism complaints

15:18 15/07/2023

Posters depicting three young black men surrounded by hundreds of cigarette butts that were part of an anti-littering campaign in the town of Aalst in East Flanders have been taken down following criticism for being racist.

The image of the three young men was captioned with “in every cool spot in Aalst… lies a filthy fun-lover”.

The poster drew widespread criticism and racist comments, VRT reports, and Aalst mayor Christoph D'Haese (N-VA) has since intervened. The posters will no longer be visible on the streets.

“The focus should be on cigarette butts,” D'Haese said.

“The intention was also to run a confrontational campaign, because the amount of rubbish has increased by 60% in the last year.

"In itself, there's nothing wrong with the images and text – it all depends on how you look at them.

"But I realise that images can be taken out of context. It's certainly not intended to stigmatise any particular population group, quite the opposite."

The Flemish municipality wanted to use the posters to raise awareness among its residents of the importance of combating litter, but reactions on social media have been particularly strong.

“First of all, I want to stress that I did not see the images beforehand,” mayor D'Haese said.

“It is the communication services and the environment department that are responsible.

"I will also speak to them about this, because although I am sure it was not their intention, I can understand that the message could be completely misinterpreted.”

The posters will be taken down in response to the backlash.

“In order not to cause more commotion, the poster will no longer be seen in the streets,” D'Haese explained.

“However, it had already been circulated on social media. I fully realise it was delicate, and that people with less good intentions tried to hang an image of Aalst on it. It's a pity, because we are a very inclusive city.”

Photo: Chris Bosseloo/Radio 2 East Flanders

Written by Helen Lyons