“Are the people in the Baltic states able to have empathy for Italy and Greece, the challenges they face with the humanitarian crisis? Are the people in Portugal and Spain, for instance, able to understand the implications of living so close to Russia? Are we in Brussels able to picture the situation in Poland and Hungary, and are they able to have empathy for what happens elsewhere in Europe, in the world?”
These were the words of Cristina Nord, director of cultural programming at the Goethe Institute Brussels in the context of the initiative called Freiraum, which could be translated as the space for exercising freedom, as well as liberty of action.
“At the Goethe Institute it’s important to go out there and engage,” she said. “Are we able to find a cultural project that could answer these questions? That’s our constant motivation.”
Last December, the Goethe Institute and its partners (EUNIC, Alliance Française, Istituto Italiano di Cultura) organized a two-day conference, European Angst, at Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, where talks on the rise in populism, extremism and Euroscepticism were held. Though the elections in the Netherlands and France showed positive signs for the EU, it would be naïve, perhaps even dangerous, to assume that the sentiments of frustration and discontent among those who feel and perceive themselves as disenfranchised have been dissolved. And on September 24th, German voters will determine what path they want to take.
“The numbers show that the AfD has the support of about 12% of the people,” said Miss Nord. “Why is the AfD so attractive to a segment of the German population? We want and need to understand that. This is part of our initiative. Knowledge collection and knowledge reflection. Without these efforts, we can’t bridge the differences that exist today.”
Stemming from the European Angst conference, the Goethe Institute has decided to extend this kind of initiative to other geographies. Forty-three Goethe institutes all over Europe will participate in Freiraum.
“On September 21st there will be an event at Beursschouwburg, our local partner, and everyone is welcome to join,” said Miss Nord. “Each city will involve a local institution. We believe that’s very important, too.”
During that evening, four questions linked to the value of freedom will be presented to the people in Brussels. Those four questions will be previously selected by a committee at an internal meeting held on September 20th. The committee is formed by a wide variety of experts in different fields and disciplines: Cultural Philosopher Eric Corijn (VUB, Cosmopolis, Brussels Academy), Economics Professor Philippe Van Parijs (UCL, KU Leuven, Oxford), Beursschouwburg’s Director Tom Bonte, Rajae Maouane (Adviser to Sarah Turine, charged of youth and intercultural dialogue at Molenbeek’s municipality), Event Coordinators Sophie Alexandre and Leen de Spiegelaere (Réseaux des arts – Brussels Kunstenoverleg), Programing leader of Enter Festival Bie Vancraeynest (Demos), Event Coordinator An Descheemaeker (BRAL), Sociologist Fatima Zibouh (Center for studies on enthnicity and migration/ULG), and Director of Cultural Programing Cristina Nord (Goethe-Institut Brüssel)
At Beursschouwburg, on the 21st, the public will vote for the most relevant question, the one they see as most critical, and it will be taken to a two-day conference in Warsaw on December 4th and 5th, where representatives from every location will be present.
“That’s where the lottery and swap will take place,” said Miss Nord. “We might get the question selected from the people in Bratislava or Riga, or Budapest, we don’t know. And that’s the whole point. To what degree are we willing to engage and focus on some else’s problems? We also want to bring in people who might disagree with you, who might argue with you. But at least there’s an open discussion. That’s what we aim for.”
18h00 – 21h00
Beursschouwburg Café (Rue Auguste Orts 20-28, 1000 Bruxelles)