In 2016, one out of five inhabitants of the Flemish Region is of ‘foreign’ origin. In the Brussels-Capital Region, this amounts to seven out of ten. In the Flemish Region, the foreign origin lies in most cases (23%) in one of the neighbouring countries. EU-citizens make up 45% of inhabitants of foreign origin. In the Brussels-Capital Region, people with roots in another EU country represent 40%. When looking at the countries of origin, links can be made with historical and recent labour migration (e.g. Italy, Morocco, Turkey, Poland, Romania), Brussels as capital of Europe and as headquarters of NATO (attracting expats from the EU and the rest of the world), and Belgium’s colonialism (Congo, Burundi, Rwanda).
These statistics indicate that society in Flanders and Brussels is very culturally diverse. Debates on topics such as structural racism — recently reinvigorated by cases of police brutality in Belgium and the international Black Lives Matter movement —, the role of Belgians and Flemings in colonial repression and its repercussions — especially in light of the sixtieth anniversary of the independence of the former Belgian Colony that gave birth to the Democratic Republic of the Congo —, or migration — elections in 2019 were (again) a success for the radical right — have demonstrated that the position of people with culturally diverse backgrounds in Flemish society is a far from uncontested matter. Cultural affairs are central to these debates, as is shown by, for example, the controversies surrounding the ubiquitous public monuments of Leopold II, museums with collections of looted art (see 3.1), or a number of recent books, documentaries, and theatre plays on the colonial history of Belgium.
Equal opportunities policies in Belgium (see also 2.5.5, 2.5.6, and 2.6) include strategies towards equality for citizens with a culturally diverse background. (Coordinated) actions are taken from within different levels and areas, including the Flemish policy field of Equal Opportunities. In the area of Culture, ministers have recurrently devised policies on the related topic of interculturalisation (‘interculturaliseren’). These have focused on making participation, personnel, and programming more culturally diverse. Bert Anciaux (2004-2009) launched an Action Plan for interculturalisation in Culture, Youth, and Sport (2006) with a top-down approach that made use of quotas and the earmarking of resources. During Anciaux’s term, the Participation Decree also came into effect (see 6.1). By contrast, Joke Schauvliege (2009-2014) took a bottom-up approach by encouraging cultural organisations to sign a declaration of commitment to cultural diversity. In 2013, cultural diversity was embedded in the Arts Decree as criterion for funding (see esp. art. 28 and 88) — something which was also applied in other cultural decrees. Successor Sven Gatz (2014-2019) acknowledged the importance of cultural diversity in his policy memorandum. No specific policy frameworks were developed: for Gatz, attention for people with a culturally diverse background was rather a principle that permeated different policy matters.
A number of (funded) organisations in the field of Culture devise projects on intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity in participation, personnel, and programming. These include Dēmos (see 6.1), the Minority Forum — who will change their vision and name in 2021 —, socio-cultural organisations working on topics related to social and cultural diversity (see 6.4), the centres of expertise (see 7.2.1), and the funds for subsistence security (see 7.2.2).
There are few numbers available on the diversity of the labour force and public of arts and culture in Flanders and Brussels. However, a range of voices have uttered critiques of both being predominantly white and definitely not free of (structural) racism. One of the issues in the debate centres around the notion of ‘interculturalisation’ and the (outcome of the) strategies used to achieve it. Critics point out that interculturalisation often means that people with a culturally diverse background are viewed as ‘the Other’, for whom a special place in the regular workings of the sector is reserved, but who is at the same time recuperated in a dominant discourse, pigeonholed, and silenced. The (predominantly white) power structures that existed before remain unchallenged. In this context, the notion of ‘decolonisation’ is now frequently used, as a way to challenge the dominant narrative and denote that power and resources should be righteously shared with or ceded to artists and cultural workers with a culturally diverse background.
“Meerstemmigheid” (‘multivocality’) is another notion that has popped up in the debate. It calls for a dominant (white) cultural discourse to be replaced by a multitude of voices being represented. “Meerstemmigheid” is also a topic in the Strategic Vision Statement of minister Jan Jambon (2019-2024), which stated that “all voices should be heard, […] also those deemed unacceptable”. Though applicable to the debate on diversity and decolonisation, cultural policy documents of the current term are — in contrast to previous terms — largely devoid of direct references to these subjects.
Some recent discussions have revealed frictions in the relation between the (cultural) policy makers in power and the topic of cultural diversity. One example is the controversy surrounding the Carnival of Aalst, an annual satirical carnival parade in the city of Aalst that was removed from the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The UNESCO Secretariat received complaints on an act of a carnival group, which was considered anti-Semitic, and judged by UNESCO as ‘crossing the red line’. After drafting a decision for removal, the Secretariat received an official announcement from Belgium — on the initiative of the City of Aalst (whose mayor is a political compatriot of Jambon) — with the wish to withdraw the carnival parade from the List itself. They stated that Aalst carnival prefers to retain their freedom of expression over having an UNESCO listing.
Another example of recent frictions between policy makers and cultural workers concerns the funding of socio-cultural organisations. Following Jambon’s policy memorandum on Culture, a proposal was handed in for changing the Decree that arranges the support schemes for these organisations. The change implied that organisations that “withdraw in ethnic-cultural identity” (“terugplooien op etnisch-culturele identiteit”) could no longer be eligible for funding. Though no specific names were mentioned, some organisations felt targeted and the socio-cultural sector and opposition parties protested against the proposed changes and the short period in which these were to be implemented. This event led to a special procedure via the Federal Parliament. The proposal was eventually adopted, but the implementation will take longer than first envisioned.
 Noppe, Jo, Myriam Vanweddingen, Gerlinde Doyen, Karen Stuyck, Yinte Feys, and Philippe Buysschaert. 2018. ‘Migratie- en integratiemonitor 2018’. Brussel: Agentschap Binnenlands Bestuur van de Vlaamse Overheid/Statistiek Vlaanderen, 131-148. “Persons of foreign origin” here denotes people with a non-Belgian nationality, Belgians born abroad, and Belgians with one or more parents with foreign birth nationality. Note that third generation descendants of people with foreign origin are not included.
 See, for example, Aziz, Rachida. 2017. Niemand zal hier slapen vannacht. Berchem: EPO; and Lamrabet, Rachida. 2017. Zwijg, allochtoon! Berchem: EPO. For an overview of research and debate on cultural diversity in the arts in Flanders and Brussels, see: Kunstenpunt, ed. 2019. Landschapstekening Kunsten: Ontwikkelingsperspectieven voor de kunsten anno 2019. Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 127-133.
 See, for example, the issue of cultural magazine Rekto:Verso on “Dekolonisering”; the brochure of Dēmos on “resdistributing power”; or the writings of Joachim Ben Yakoub (e.g. Ben Yakoub, Joachim, and Wouter Hillaert. 2018. ‘(Witte) instellingen: van congolisering naar dekolonisering’. rektoverso.be. 23 March 2018).