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Belgian artists slam Flemish funding cuts

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Belgian artists slam Flemish funding cuts
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When Bert decided to become an actor he didn't expect to step into the shoes of a political activist. However, recent government policy changes means he feels his profession now is at risk.

We went to meet him ahead of his latest performance.

The play, a musical about World War One, cost 120,000 euros to produce - two thirds of that figure were covered by public funds which may no longer be available.

"This performance couldn’t have existed without funding," explains Bert. "We wouldn’t perform in this theatre for 250 pupils who can see this for a big discounted price and have important life lessons."

The right-wing Flemish government intends to cut funds for cultural projects by 60%. Culture Minister Jan Jambon at the Flemish Parliament explains that the cuts won’t affect everyone: traditional Flemish cultural heritage will receive more money.

One of those which will receive a cash boost is the Bojirk site. An open-air museum complete with historical buildings and actors who teach visitors about the rural life of the region in the 19th century.

The policy shift by the right-wing Flemish party raises fears of culture becoming a political weapon.

"The government's strategy is to cut funds for subversive cultural actors, let's say, to give those funds to those who pursue the government’s narrative," explains Prof. Anna Morelli, a historian at the ULB University. "So, for example, those who want to celebrate the national identity, race etc prefer to promote folklore and national roots."

It is a cultural battle echoed elsewhere in the EU. In Hungary and Poland, artists claim that the government is trying to take control of theatres and the arts in general.

"I think that Europe should have a subsidiary role to support those cultural actors who, for ideological reasons, are excluded from public subsidies in their countries," argues Professor Morelli.

Meanwhile in Belgium, the battle to save the arts rages on.

At a recent event to celebrate culture, Jan Jambon received a less than warm welcome, being booed as he took the stage, and tomatoes were hurled at him. More protests are scheduled in the coming weeks by artists who don't want to their work to become a casualty of a culture war.

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