Culture venues in Belgium defy ban, reopen illegally


BRUSSELS — Dozens of cinemas, theaters and culture venues in Belgium are defying government orders and reopening their doors to protest the country’s ongoing shutdown of cultural activities.

Out of work for more than six months, owners united within the Still Standing For Culture collective said the current ban on indoor cultural events is proof of “an unacceptable inequality of treatment” amid the health crisis.

“There is no evidence that culture should take second place to supermarkets, zoos or any other activity that generates social contact,” they said. “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.”

Belgian authorities are organizing test events in the culture field but have yet to provide clear perspective for the sector’s workers. Culture events can restart outdoors from May 8, with a maximum of 50 mask-wearing people attending, and the federal government has announced that indoor shows could perhaps resume in June with a maximum of 200 people, but only if the pace of the pandemic slows down.

The collective said re-openings starting Friday for a week will take place under the health protocol set up by federal authorities to guarantee artists and attendees are safe.

“The cultural spring has finally arrived,” they said.

Belgium, a country of 11.5-million inhabitants, has been severely hit by the coronavirus, with 24,185 COVID-19-related deaths recorded so far. But infections and hospitalizations have been decreasing over the past week.

Despite their decision to reopen illegally, the venues involved in the collective action will keep receiving aid subsidies. They could, however, be fined by police.

In addition to the cultural action, Belgian authorities are also worried by an unauthorized gathering planned this weekend in one of Brussels’ biggest parks. After an April Fools’ party drew thousands of people to Brussels’ Bois de la Cambre and ended in clashes with police last month, a sequel to the the event has been advertised by a group called the Abyss, for Saturday in the same park. Brussels prosecutor’s office has already announced that anyone breaching COVID-19 restrictions could be prosecuted.

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