Art is solidary

By Jan Busselen

With the rise of the extreme right and other forms of authoritarian politics, political tensions in Belgium noticeably increased in recent years. More than ever, art organisations, artists and other cultural workers risk becoming victims of further institutional division and further curtailment of artistic freedom and freedom of speech. What to do?

After six Belgian state reforms, a seventh announces itself in the corridors of the elections in 2024.1 Three scenarios seem to be emerging:

  1. Re-federalisation of certain competencies.
  2. Confederalism, in which certain matters are further split.
  3. Independence of Flanders, the objective still pursued by Vlaams Belang and N-VA.

How realistic is this third scenario? Perhaps not much. However, international political reality shows us that the impossible becomes possible with surprising brutality. The storming of the Capitol and the Brazilian parliament happened. Nothing is certain.

What we do know is that the largest Flemish party will remain committed to promoting a Flemish identity. Its strong commitment to a Flemish canon fits the bill perfectly. So are the permanent attacks on subsidies for artists and civil society organisations in general, the skimping on structural funding, the contempt for progressive voices, such as those of the Antwerp city poets. A strategy of confusion, uncertainty and fear can be effective to tame a sector that is all too often critical of the prevailing discourse.

The nightmare for Flemish nationalists would be a reverse state reform. One toward a coherent and efficient country, with a shift toward socio-economic issues, rather than identity only. It is within this political landscape that the voice of arts and culture can move and have an impact. Given the rise of artist-driven initiatives in recent years, solidarity could be a serum in the fight against far-rightism, authoritarianism and more austerity and narrow-minded nationalism in the years to come.

  1. Belgium elections 2024. European, federal and regional elections will be held in May, provincial, municipal and district council elections in October. It will be the first time that all these elections coincide in the same year.