The new name for the Flemish socialist party, hitherto known as sp.a, has made the Ghent culture house Vooruit “furious,” according to reports. The reason: the new name of the party is Vooruit, meaning ‘forward’.
The change was announced yesterday by the president of the party, Conner Rousseau, who said it was part of a reform of the party “towards a movement of today”.
Rousseau’s political career dates back to 2019, when he was elected to the Flemish parliament, and immediately chosen as the socialists’ fraction leader there. He was elected president of the party in November with 72% of the vote, succeeding John Crombez.
The party adopted its former name, sp.a – meaning Socialistische Partij Anders or Socialist Party Otherwise – in 2001, an update on the previous name, SP (Socialistische Partij).
According to Rousseau, who will turn 28 in November, the change has been some time in the making.
“Since I became president, we have been working to renew the party, to make it a socialist movement,” he said.
“Behind the scenes, we have been working hard for months to renew and professionalise our organisation. To turn a classic party into a real movement, which fights against stagnation in politics and unites people in a positive, ambitious and hopeful project for the future. It will become visible, with a new name.”
But the change has not pleased the management of the Vooruit cultural centre in Ghent. Not that their sympathies are not socialist in origin.
The majestic cultural centre on the Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat was opened in 1913 with the official name that translates as Function Hall Vooruit, the name taken from the socialist cooperative Vooruit created in 1891.
The building was intended to house cultural activities of all sorts, organised by the city’s workers movement, with tickets, food and drinks on offer at low prices.
Now run by the non-profit Arts Centre Vooruit vzw, it comprises four main halls and a cafe.
“We knew, like many other people, that the Flemish socialists were looking for a new name,” said coordinator Mieke Dumont. “But we didn’t know it would be this name.”
The arts centre, she said, will address the party leadership about the decision, and particularly what they intend for their branding and corporate identity under the new name.
“We have to see how we can protect our name. This will lead to a lot of confusion,” she said.
“This is not good news, and it damages our independence and our image.”
The arts organisation is not for the present ruling out the possibility of legal action.