In the first decade of this millennium, a number of cross-border projects concerning intercultural dialogue were set up by Flemish governments. A “Local Cultural Policy Project” (2003-2005) was set up in 6 municipalities in South Africa in order to develop a local cultural policy. In the period 2007-2010, a project was set up in South Africa. The project called “Batsha” (Youth) was built around the “adoption” of four community centres, focusing on youth development through arts education, heritage, the performing and visual arts and sports.
In 2007-2008, steps were taken to stimulate Flemish-Congolese cultural cooperation. In February 2008, a declaration was signed by both Ministers of Culture. The possibilities were explored for setting up a “space” with socio-cultural programming in Kinshasa. At the same time, the idea emerged to develop a Flemish-Congolese culture house in Brussels, to stimulate durable and creative cooperation with Congo.
In May 2006, the Flemish Community and Morocco signed an agreement to set up “Daarkom”, a Flemish-Moroccan House for Culture in Brussels, with a focus on intercultural dialogue. In 2011, Daarkom became operational, but only for a few years. In 2016, the Flemish and Moroccan Culture ministers announced the closing of Daarkom, and the opening of a new culture centre, Darna (scheduled for autumn 2017).
In the last and current legislative term however, cultural policy documents mention no current specific initiatives concerning the development of cross-border intercultural dialogue (apart from this discussion about the collaboration between the Flemish Community and the Kingdom of Morocco). At the same time, initiatives from the field are increasing. For instance, an increasing number of arts organisations are developing projects and strategies to connect with different and diverse regions, countries and continents. One example is KVS (the Flemish City Theatre in Brussels) which has been engaging in collaboration projects with Palestine and Congo. Moussem is a nomadic arts centre focusing on exchange with artists and organisations from the MENA region. 0090 is a production and presentation platform stimulating exchange with artists and organisation from Turkey. All these initiatives are supported via the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts, and this is important: their aim is artistic. Rather than to simply present them as initiatives ‘to promote intercultural exchange’, it would be more accurate to frame them as initiatives that wish to stimulate new balances and more diversity in international and transnational collaboration in the arts.
Different actors are playing a role in the stimulation of intercultural dialogue in the arts:
- Minority Forum (Forum van Etnisch-Culturele Minderheden) is recognized as the official representative organization for minorities in Flanders. The Flemish Ministry of Culture gave the assignment to the Minority Forum to build bridges between (cultural) associations of ethnic minorities and the cultural sector and to give advice to the cultural sector about the needs of ethnic minorities for cultural participation.
- Demos is the Flemish expertise center on participation through culture, youth and sports. Their focus concerning the arts is to guide practices in the margin towards the center and to detect innovative practices and make them visible for the cultural sector as a whole.
- Flanders Arts Institute, the Interface organisation and expertise centre for music, performing and visual arts from Flanders & Brussels. One of their key focuses is diversity, urbanity and young artists.
- Het Sociaal Fonds voor de Podiumkunsten (Social Fund Performing Arts) is the officially recognized employer and employee umbrella organization for the performing arts. One of their key assignments is to stimulate equal employment opportunities in the performing arts sector.
The French Community has its own delegation within the summits of French-speaking Heads of State.
The intercultural dimension is systematically incorporated into the programme contracts with the cultural operators: one of the stated aims of cultural policy is to guarantee cultural diversity in all action programmes.
Some units within the Culture Administration and several decrees relying on objectives of cultural participation (youth, continuing education and creativity) focus their support as a priority on actions and projects by associations conducted with an eye to respecting and valuing cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue.
As part of the European year of intercultural dialogue in 2008, a seminar bringing together scientists, teachers, school mediators and cultural players led to the publication in 2012 of ‘Conceptions du dialogue interculturel’. It can be accessed via www.education permanente. cfwb.be/publications.
In 2012, an Anti-racism Platform was set up on an initiative by the Minister of Culture. It has set itself the remit of collating and networking initiatives taken by cultural associations in the French-speaking Community of Belgium which are dedicated to countering racism. The objective is to deliver some proposals for concrete anti-racism actions.
The platform’s main purpose is to work with the players on the ground to identify new forms and expressions of racism in Belgian society and to encourage practices being implemented to combat racism.
Two issues/projects have been given priority: raising awareness of the battle against racism in schools, and respect for different belief systems.
Since 2013, this platform has been managed by an association, the Brussels Intercultural Action Centre. This is an umbrella for sixty or so associations in the French-speaking Community of Belgium.
Other initiatives are testament to the importance attached to this topic in Wallonia and Brussels. For example, in 2014, the ‘Réciprocités’ project is supporting a set of cultural or artistic productions (photo exhibitions, documentary, shows, publications, etc.) valuing the specific cultural features associated with these migrant audiences, and this will lead to a presentation event. The main idea here is to open up the doors to cultural participation to associations of migrants and new arrivals who only rarely respond to calls for projects, and to help the associations, via training, to claim ownership of the conditions for the sound management of a project in light of the needs and expectations of their own target audience, in order to facilitate understanding and awareness of the issues involved in the mechanisms made available by the subsidising authorities. Also in 2014, a seminar has been held on the basis of a selection of youth books about interculturalism and better coexistence promoted by the French-speaking Community of Belgium , which served to raise awareness among the operators involved in the early years, youth and education sectors about the use of youth books in their approach to this topic with their audiences. In addition, as part of the 50th anniversary of Turkish and Moroccan immigration into Belgium , 2014 has seen a string of cultural and citizenship initiatives which have helped to make this historic event into an opportunity to reflect about social cohesion and living together in the French-speaking Community of Belgium.
Finally, the French-speaking Community of Belgium has been actively involved, via the International Youth Bureau, in the ‘No Hate Speech Online’ campaign, the Council of Europe’s movement against h@te speech.
Government’s overall approach to intercultural dialogue