The Carnival Charisma

The FECC World Carnival City Congress – from 2008 Ploermel, France to the 29th 2009 Kotor-Budva, Montenegro

by AAA-Alegre

With a spectacle of color, smiles, festivities and upbeat music, carnivals can be quickly dismissed as a lavish celebration not to be taken seriously. After all, it is very easy to look at the flamboyant masquerades, circus atmosphere and public street parties and simply think carnivals are dedicated solely for merry-making.

Carnivals are fun –– no question about it. However, their significance goes beyond plain entertainment. More than anything, carnivals are living monuments to the historical heritage of a country. They signify the blood, sweat and tears offered by a people to secure their own distinct cultural identity. As President Henk Van der Kroon of the Federation of European Carnival Cities (FECC) put it, there is nothing trivial about these carnivals.

Peace Advocacy

If there is anyone who can speak about carnivals, it has to be President Van der Kroon. He has dedicated his whole life for this advocacy, believing that carnivals are the most potent ambassadors of good will, culture and peace. He was very instrumental in the creation of the FECC in 1980 and has been its President since day one.

As of 2009, the FECC has over 500 members representing Carnival organizations from 52 countries. It is the organization’s goal to inspire discussion and reflection of the various ways carnivals are celebrated all over the globe. The FECC relishes diversity, above all.

The efforts of the FECC culminate in an annual international assembly: the World Carnival City Congress. This week-long convention has been celebrated in mid-May or mid-June without fail since the first convention in Greece in 1981 (the Patras Carnival).

In 2007, President Henk turned the World Carnival City Congress into a major peace initiative when it was conducted in Sousse, Tunisia. This move was very historic in its cultural significance as it was the first visit of the FECC in an African and Arab country. President Henk was optimistic that this was a sign of brighter things to come between the cultures of Europe and the Middle East.

Under the patronage of His Excellency President Ben Ali, the Sousse, Tunisia World Carnival City Congress from April 21 to 29, 2007 was a huge success with more than 2,000 participants from different backgrounds, religions and cultures. After the week-long festivities, Tunisia turned over the World Carnival City Congress to Ploermel, France for the year 2008.

Roots in France

Ploermel is a community city in France under the county of Moribund and the region of Brittany. 2008 marked the first time that the World Carnival City Congress was held in France. This is an irony given the fact that the carnival tradition has its beginnings deeply rooted in France.

Carnivals began from pagan feasts. However, it is during the rise of the Roman Catholic Empire in the Middle Ages when these festivals were incorporated in religious festivities. During the Dark Ages, the fasting of Lent was strictly observed. Thus European Catholic countries gave themselves a chance to indulge in food, festivities and merry-making before fasting. The term carnival was derived from the Latin phrase carnem levare which means “to put away meat.”

The carnival tradition flourished in France during the Middle Ages. The Mardi Gras carnival became entrenched into public consciousness as they provided an escape for the harsh conditions brought about by war, feudalism and the plague. Peasants used the masquerades of carnivals as fronts for their mass protests and often ended in bloodbath as other masked government officers would foil their plans. The French elite also conducted grand masked balls in their royal court during the emergence of the age of Renaissance.

When France, along with other European powers Spain and Portugal, went on their exploration spree particularly in the region of the Americas, they brought the carnival tradition to the New World. During that time, West African slaves were allowed to carry on with their tradition of drumming and dance. In time, a fusion of carnival influences ensued. When slavery was abolished, these carnival celebrations became a symbol of the freedom of the slaves.

France has an excellent collection of annual carnivals to celebrate its cultural and historical heritage. The carnivals of Dunkerque, Granville, Biarnés and Nice are eagerly awaited during the pre-Lent months of January to March. However, the flagship carnival of France still remains in Paris. For many centuries, the Carnaval of Paris is considered one of the most important celebrations in the world. Its main attraction is Pimprenelle, a Limousine breed cow.

The 2008 Ploermel World Carnival City Congress in France from May 24 to June 1, 2008 was a rousing success highlighted by the Carnival City Summit and the Carnival Parade. Ploermel is famous in mythologies for its proximity to the enchanted Paimpont forest where the wizard Merlin was supposed to live.

Kotor-Budva, Montenegro

After offering a tribute to the humble beginnings of the carnival tradition in Ploermel, France, President Henk and the FECC set their sights to the future by declaring the country of Montenegro – the pearl of the Mediterranean – as the latest stop of the 29th World Carnival Congress in 2009. As one of the newest attractions in the tourist map, the country of Montenegro shall provide a spectacle to the world’s premier carnival cities and organizations through its two host cities Kotor and Budva from May 23-31, 2009.


Since Montenegro achieved independence in 2006, its tourism has depended primarily on the coastal city of Budva. With its panoramic landscapes and picturesque beaches, Budva has been described as the “Montenegrin Miami.” Now a vibrant tourism hotspot, Budva has always been a favorite vacation destination for celebrities, movie stars and even royalties. Prince Charles and Princess Diana once planned their honeymoon here in Budva until it was discovered by the media.

Beyond surreal sceneries, Montenegro has a rich historical heritage which is best exhibited by the city of Kotor. Now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Kotor prides itself with its mighty brick walls and its intricate streets and alleys. Not to be outdone though, the city has the Bay of Kotor and the spiritual sanctuary of Mount Lovcen.

The People of Montenegro look up to the Lady of Philerimos for divine providence. Most of their carnivals such as the International Summer Carnival of Kotor and the Bokeljska Noc are religious festivities done in honor of the Qeovtoko Filevremou (The Mother of God of Philerimos). Religious lore has it that Saint Luke himself painted the image of the Lady of Philerimos in Jerusalem and brought it to Rhodes in the year 2000.

The FECC Foresight

The Federation of European Carnival Cities (FECC) is resolute in their belief that carnivals have the ability to spread harmony among countries. This is why they have more plans in place after this year’s Kotor-Budva, Montenegro World Carnival Congress. Cartagena, Spain has been tapped as the 2010 host while Vrnjacaka Banka, Serbia will do the honor in 2011. Aruba will take center stage in 2012

The FECC believes that the world should have no time for war – just the next carnival. As President Henk beautifully said “if ideologies fail to create a better world, the cultural and the human sense can bring people closer and push away conflicts between civilization and religions.”



“Carnivals are not about jokes but about heritage”
President Hendrikus Ferdinandus Maria Van der Kroon, Federation of European Carnival Cities, February 2004.