‘By bread alone’ – update

The revolt of cultural institutions rolls on. Today, 28 December, twenty major French-speaking and Flemish speaking associations issued a press release on their meeting earlier in the day with federal Minister of Health and Social Affairs Franck Vandenbroucke regarding the decision to close all venues of the performing arts taken by the committee coordinating Covid policy in Belgium on the 22nd.

The associations cover the full range of performing arts, including professionals in the fairground arts and street circuses, classical music, stage directors, theaters for children and young people, composers, artists’ agents, professional story-tellers, cinema and audiovisual personnel, marionette theaters, stage arts producers, choreographers, stage artists, employers of stage performers, organizers of concerts. Other signatories to the press release represent practitioners of the plastic arts and comic book illustrators.

The signatories note that since the start of the Covid crisis, they have met regularly with Minister Vandenbroucke and his associates to agree on measures ensuring safety of all cultural activities.  However, they have now concluded that their sector has not been listened to nor has it been respected.

Consequently at their morning meeting with the Minister on the 28th the signatory associations set out their common position:

-calling for an immediate convocation of the Covid coordinating committee (CODECO) to cancel the decision on closing cultural venues before they will enter into any further discussion with his office

-calling for reopening the cultural sector under conditions similar to those prevailing in November 2021

They go on to say that they take note of the refusal of Minister Vandenbroucke to immediately satisfy the claims clearly expressed during the demonstration on the Mont des Arts on 26 December and have drawn the following conclusions:

-all consultations with the office of the Minister are halted until formal announcement that the closing of cultural establishments is revoked

-certain cultural establishments will continue their acts of resistance and resume activities with public participation

-the lawsuits brought before the Tribunal of First Instance and the Council of State will be pursued

This press release, the challenge to the authority, competence and good will of the Ministry is astounding. To be sure, the signatories are focusing solely on the rationality of the federal government’s action, without a hint of the north-south, Flemish-French speaking divides that constitute the fabric of Belgian political life.  But their fight necessarily impinges on these bigger issues.

First, Minister Vandenbrouck is ‘damaged goods’.  He is an economist by training and has had an academic career in alternation with political life as a Flemish Socialist going back decades. In 1996 he was forced to resign as Foreign Minister over his role in the Augusta bribery scandal relating to military procurement.  Nonetheless, he has been ‘one of the boys,’ always in circulation, brought into commissions on pension reform and other special assignments at the top federal levels. His appointment in 2020 to his present ministerial post had no base in democratic politics: he held no position in parliament at the time.

More to the point, Belgian reporting on the conflict is silent about the elephant in the room: the prohibition on the performing arts was imposed by the Minister President of Flanders. The willingness of prime minister Alexander De Croo to accede to the Flemish wishes in this case and to defy the scientific evidence in their favor which the cultural establishments had long ago produced suggests that he is, like his predecessor at the head of last federal government, Charles Michel, just a front man for the separatist-leaning N-VA, the largest party in Flanders.

The something that is rotten in the Kingdom of Belgium is now floating to the surface for all to see, in a way reminiscent of the public scandal of October 1996 that brought down the government of Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene. That scandal was about the rottenness of Belgian police and courts which made possible the horrors perpetrated by pedophile Dutroux. In the end, the massive “White March” on the streets of Brussels was later called a ‘failed revolution.’  Will this one succeed?

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021

PS – BREAKING NEWS, Tuesday evening, 28 December

The Belgian Council of State has decided to suspend with immediate effect the royal decree of 22 December closing cultural venues. This ruling was a response to an appeal by one cultural center in the commune of Auderghem and applies directly to theaters and local cultural centers, but does not mention movie theaters, concert halls or other institutions. Clarifications are awaited, but it appears likely that total government capitulation to the leaders of the Belgian “cultural revolution” will follow. What political fall-out there will be from this capitulation is uncertain.

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