Francis Vachon/National PostA part of an ice sculpture previously on display at Quebec’s Carnaval. The sculpture was pulled after it was deemed to be a racist portrayal of a Jew.
The Quebec City Carnaval is apologizing for an ice sculpture of a traditional Ukrainian Christmas scene after a visitor complained that it included a stereotypical bearded Jew in a skullcap, holding a bag of money.
“We don’t want to agree that we shouldn’t [have included the sculpture], because the fact is we have done that. It was a good intention. It’s a Carnaval. It’s a party, you know?” said Annick Marchand, the Carnaval’s director of marketing.
“But if we had known [about the portrayal of the Jew], probably the committee would have stopped this, would have refused this thing. The thing we have to remember is next year we will pay good attention to this kind of situation… We have to be careful next year. That’s a good lesson for us,” Ms. Marchand said.
Jake Burack, a professor of child psychology and special education at McGill University in Montreal, made the complaint after visiting Carnaval last weekend with his wife and children.
“The face itself was nice enough, but it was so classic, the hunched shoulder, the big crooked nose,” he said. “The kids, they’re 11 and 8, they saw how upset my wife was. We explained to the kids why we were upset, that these depictions of Jews were very detrimental.
“The more I looked at it, the more it just reminded me of the caricatures you see in Germany before the war, this stereotypical European portrayal of Jews,” he said.
He said he immediately asked about it, and the sculptors did not speak English or French, but a Carnaval spokesperson told him the character represented a moneylender who charged unfairly high interest.
According to a description published beside the sculpture, and provided to Carnaval as part of the application process, it represents “a theatrical piece that takes place in our country on Christmas night. The story’s characters, the astrologer, the tzar, the warrior, the Jew, Death and the goat, are divided into heroes and villains. They represent, in an ironic and satirical form, people’s lives.”
All the characters are arranged on a boat, “symbolizing the birth of Goodness.”
The Ukrainian sculptor, whom Ms. Marchand identified as Pitro Romaniuk, was yesterday in Niagara Falls and did not return a message left with a colleague. He was due to appear with colleagues today at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies for a panel discussion on contemporary cultural life in Ukraine.
Larysa Iarovenko, Ukrainian Programs Manager at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the Munk Centre, said the scene represented by the sculpture is called Vertep.
It refers to a type of puppet show, but also to a tradition similar to trick-or-treating, in which revellers “put on different costumes, like a devil, an angel, Saddam Hussein, whoever. And they sing and go from house to house.”
She did not know the significance of the boat.