Cultural Venues In Belgium Plan To Defy Government Ban, Reopen Early
Open sign hanging on window glass at coffee shop - stock photo Open sign hanging on window glass at coffee shop Virojt Changyencham via Getty Images
Virojt Changyencham via Getty Images

Cultural venues throughout Belgium have announced that they will start their services on Friday in defiance of government-ordered restrictions after being shuttered for six months.

The “Still Standing For Culture” collective will not follow government orders between April 30 and May 8 by offering many activities while following health guidelines, as reported by The Brussels Times. 

“There is no evidence that culture should take second place to supermarkets, zoos or any other activity that generates social contact,” owners taking part in the collective said, per The Associated Press. “The health situation does not explain why the fate of cultural venues has been systematically ignored for months, nor why new conditions are pulled out of the government’s hat when their reopening is finally discussed.” 

Owners said that the government’s continuing ban on cultural events held indoors is evidence of “an unacceptable inequality of treatment.”

“This action is less about civil disobedience but rather about questioning the principles of non-discrimination, democracy, and proportionality of what is imposed,” the organizers said.

French-speaking culture minister Bénédicte Linard was asked if she would punish those who are planning to defy the government orders. Linard said the cultural organizations that reopen will still receive their subsidies. 

“It is out of the question to withdraw subsidies from cultural operators. They are right to make themselves heard,” Linard said on Bel-RTL, a commercial radio network.

In February, the group pushed back against government restrictions as people came together to protest. The Brussels Times reported, “In Brussels, dozens of people gathered at Flagey in the commune of Ixelles following ‘a call for spontaneous or programmed actions, collective or individual, but above all lively and expressing the diversity of practices in the cultural field.’”

“We are as essential as transport or hairdressers,” said one of the protesters at the time, adding that “culture is a human need.” 

Last Friday, around 80 cultural venues told a Consultative Committee that they planned to reopen and continue their programs without waiting for the government’s approval.

The Brussels Times reported, “In light of the actions announced, many local authorities have called the participating institutions to order by insisting on the ban on opening, according to Belga News Agency.”

Belgium is planning to hold 30 test events in May and June in order to decide what dangers exist in reopening and controlling the coronavirus during events and gatherings. 

According to The Associated Press, Belgian officials are also concerned about an event that is scheduled for this weekend in one of Brussels’ largest parks. A party for April Fools’ Day previously had thousands of people attend in the Bois de la Cambre park and resulted in confrontations with law enforcement. A group called the Abyss is reportedly sending out information about a second edition of the party scheduled for Saturday. 

The prosecutor’s office in Brussels said that people who are going against COVID-19 restrictions could be met with charges. In a joint statement, the prosecutor’s office, local government, and city’s police department pressed people who would potentially attend the party to keep away and abide by the health guidelines on the size of gatherings, per the AP. 

“If necessary, the police will intervene, You risk a fine or administrative arrest,” the statement said. 

Earlier this month, The Brussels Times reported that “582,829 people – or 6.3% of the adult population – have been fully vaccinated. The reproduction rate, meanwhile, now stands at 0.99, meaning that one person with coronavirus infects on average less than one other person and that the epidemic is slowly declining in Belgium.”

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