Sonntag, 01. August 2021

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Theatrical Landscape of Belgium

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Theatrical Landscape of Belgium
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The language of others

by Georg Weinand

Going to the cinema to watch a Hollywood production is a multi linguistic experience in Brussels. All American films are shown in English and are double-subtitled: In French and in Dutch. The Belgian capital is bi-cultural and double-jointed, due to the fact that two great cultural societies of Brussels are present: The French-Romanic culture of the Walloons and the Dutch-Germanic culture of the Flemish.

Because of the double-subtitles the text changes quickly, which doesn't cause any problems for the visually trained Belgian (film-) theatre visitor: The (spoken) language is only one of many resources (occasionally a political one). As naturally as Shakespeare, Goldoni or Schiller are used as cultural references in other countries, visual artists such as the painter brothers Van Eyck or the comic artistes Hergé and René Magritte are referred to here.

"Belgian" doesn’t exist
Belgium was founded in 1830 as either an outcome of an opera performance followed by a "national uprising" or calculated European politics: A geographic buffer was to be created between the rivalling Great Powers. Until today Belgium is a country without a unified language. "Belgian" doesn't exist.

The inhabitants of the three cultural communities (There are round about 6 million Flemish, 4,5 million Walloons and a small German-speaking community in the eastern part of the country with only about 70.000 inhabitants) speak Dutch, French and German. The Belgian government structure is so complicated because the country is divided into three cultural communities by language and at the same time geographically divided into regions: The Flemish region, the Walloon region and the region of Brussels ("regions", "communities" and the nation state each have their own parliament with different fields of duty; only Flanders has pragmatically merged "region" and "community" officially). The political alliance of different cultural groups created an institutional mayhem due to ongoing simmering conflicts. This becomes especially clear in Brussels, which is francophone to 80 per cent, yet lies in the middle of a Flemish region...

The roots of the kingdom's inhabitants are different when it comes to anything that goes back further than the 19th century. In the country's schools the first official foreign language is English and no longer one of the confederate's languages. They regularly watch the neighbouring country's television. This explains why politics believes that culture is something worth investing in. One of the results is the "Flemish wave" of the eighties and nineties with innovate dancing and other dramatic combinations.

Open cooperation form
In the course of several state reforms the responsibility for 'personal spheres' (including education and culture) was directly given to the cultural communities of Flanders, Wallonia and the small German community in 1975. In Flanders the different expert commissions regularly evaluate the plans of the sectors' artists and cultural institutions and then give advice to the minister, who determines the amount of the project-linked benefits for two or four years. This procedure is based on the Dutch example, whereby the granting of funds has meanwhile been decentralised there