Belgium’s culture world demonstrated on Sunday at the Mont des Arts in Brussels against the decision announced on Wednesday by the Consultative Committee to close cultural venues, against the background of widespread support for their protest.
The demonstration coincided with the entry into effect of the Committee’s decision, aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus. It was to have been held at the Place de la Monnaie, but the organisers switched the venue to the Mont des Arts, after seeing the success of the mobilization call.
They announced on Sunday morning that they expected over 5,000 people, including artists like Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker’s, bent on placing their talent at the service of the protest.
Heavyweights of the national culture scene who attended the event included the Director General of La Monnaie, Peter De Caluwe, the Director of Charleroi Danse, Annie Bozzini, and the Artistic Director of the Flemish Royal Theatre, KVS, Michael De Cock.
“The demonstration is aimed at pointing out the injustice and irrationality of the measures,” artist Katrien Vermeire said as she explained her decision to take part. “After two years of silence, it’s an important message. We’ve already invested and developed a lot so as to be able to open. We really feel targeted.”
The organisers said they wanted a peaceful rally and called on all participants to wear facemasks and respect social distancing.
After the measures were made public on Wednesday, many cinemas, theatres and other cultural venues announced that they would resist the ban and stick to their programme of events. The “resisters” included the National Theatre, while the Bouglione Circus said it would open its tent at the Place Flagey in Brussels at the usual time “in solidarity with the culture sector” although it would limit its intake to 200 persons.
Support for the protest has been pouring in from all sides, according to Belga News Agency. The National Cinema Press Union, expressed anger at the measure, as did the Francophone University Rectors’ Council, CReF.
“Culture is not the problem but the solution,” the CReF said in a press release. “It is at the heart of our lives. You could even say it’s a vital necessity since it helps to give meaning to our lives, especially when they are shaken."
Some “resisters” said they had decided to join the protest in agreement with public authorities. A case in point was the Uccle Cultural Centre, located in a commune whose mayor, Boris Dilliès, hails from a party - Mouvement Réformateur (MR) - that is in the Federal, Francophone and Walloon governments, while Alderwoman for Culture Perrine Ledan, comes from fellow coalition partner Ecolo.
Even authorities linked to parties associated with Wednesday’s decision have shown no appetite for taking sanctions against the resisters. In a message he sent out on Twitter on Sunday, Open Vld President Egbert Lachaert seemed to admit that the ban on opening cultural venues was a step too far.
The Omicron variant had led to "uncertainty in the management” of the pandemic, leading the Consultative Committee to decide on additional measures “as a precaution,” he noted. “It’s true that the fact that they affect a single sector was very hard. Governments need to talk with the sector in the next few days to assess and possibly adapt the measures," he added, without giving any details.