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COVID-19 | Cultural places riot in Belgium

(Brussels) They can’t take it anymore and decided to take big measures.



Jean-Christophe Lawrence
Jean-Christophe Lawrence
Click on

After six months of closure, 130 Belgian cultural institutions have decided to overcome health limitations by resuming their programs. Since Friday, cinemas have resumed their opening despite the bans, and we still don’t know when the sector will be able to resume its activities.

This operation of civil disobedience, which must take place before May 8, has led to strange situations. While most city halls have played the tolerance card, some have opted to enforce the law more strictly.

This was especially true on Saturday at the Brussels Atelier 210 concert hall, where the police obstructed François Breut’s concert.

PHOTO BY JEAN-CHRISTOPH LAURENCE, PRESS

The police kept Atelier 210 closed.

The Belgian songwriter was supposed to perform songs from her new album (Blurred flow of the crowd) in front of a small audience of 50 people, in strict sanitary conditions, with reduced tonnage and distance measures.

But law enforcement blocked access to the room, forcing the audience to stay on the sidewalk while the singer and her band performed inside, and sound was broadcast through speakers located in the windows.

This absurd theater did not fail to shock the concert organizers, who said they were “disappointed” and “angry” with the zeal of the authorities, who, in their opinion, should have shown more sympathy.

François Breut, who returned to the stage after more than a year’s forced hiatus, looked just as displeased.

PHOTO BY JEAN-CHRISTOPH LAURENCE, PRESS

We are annoyed, hands are falling. We were ready to share something. We are looking for solutions. I believe that politicians do not understand what the cultural environment is going through. I don’t know what era we are living in.

Françoiz Breut in Click on, a few minutes before the performance

Fortunately, his audience is not aggressive.

Turning to the entrance, the audience listened politely from the sidewalk, while three police officers continued to guard the entrance. But there was a form of despondency in the air.

“I never thought that one day I would experience this. I think it’s a little shocking and scary, ”summed up Cedric Castus, the musician himself.

PHOTO BY JEAN-CHRISTOPH LAURENCE, PRESS

Cedric Castus

“Our first impulse was to leave, the conditions are really not terrible,” added Mathieu Safatli, asking a question a little later.

Atelier 210 was not the only cultural center to get hit on the fingers.

On Saturday, the Nova repertory cinema, located in the center of Brussels, was emptied by police ahead of a performance.

Police also blocked the entrance to the Monti Theater in Jenappe on Friday. The few spectators who managed to enter the room through the back door were evacuated and fined.

The rest of the confrontation did not wait. Thus, the theater of Namur decided to retreat after receiving warnings from the city. In most other cases, the demonstrations could continue as planned, as the authorities chose to turn a blind eye to this.

Ideological choice

This resistance movement arises when certain cultural sites begin to re-open in Europe within well-defined boundaries.

On Thursday and Saturday, 6,000 clubbers were able to dance without a mask at a Liverpool nightclub after being presented with a negative test and subject to another after the evening. It is true that the vaccination campaign is successful in the UK with more than half of the population already receiving their first dose.

The rock “test concert” was also held in Barcelona on March 27 in front of a masked audience, not aloof, although strategically distributed.

Among the 5,000 spectators in attendance, only six cases of COVID-19 were reported, but “no signs” of infection or evidence that the transmission took place in this context, according to the organizers.

This is what upsets the figures of the Belgian cultural environment. Programmer for the Kinograph cinema in Brussels, which also opened this weekend, Thibaut Quirinen does not understand that theaters remain closed while science is calling for the opposite.

“There is research every week that says cultural places are some of the safest places,” he says.

As elsewhere, a sense of injustice prevails in this sector. And the “misunderstanding” of the inconsistency of political choices. Why close theaters when businesses can stay open? Isn’t art an important service? What is the danger if the rules are followed?

PHOTO BY JEAN-CHRISTOPH LAURENCE, PRESS

This is not a public health choice, it is an ideological choice.

Colin Bitten, member of the Still Standing for Culture collective that oversees the room opening operation.

“Politicians have to talk about the environment and the services we unravel. I’m shocked that culture is being criminalized, ”said Lea Drouet, programmer for the Atelier 210, minutes before François Breut’s concert from a concert hall window.

The Belgian cultural community is even more desperate as the opening date for the events inside has yet to be announced. We are talking about the month of June, nothing more.

But the community is trying to challenge the legality of the restrictions. A month ago, the Brussels court of first instance ruled that the government’s decisions to combat COVID-19 did not have a sufficient legal basis. The case is on appeal, but the violation has been discovered.

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