Sociocultural Life in Ypres

Posted: August 14, 2015 in Policy & Organisation
Tags: , ,

… as published in the Vort’n Vis zine, Fifi (#6, August 1995)

(column by Vort’n Vis co-founder Jan Claus)

VV logo''

[translation below]

Sociocultureel Leven & VV (Fifi #6 aug 95) aSociocultureel Leven & VV (Fifi #6 aug 95) b


Summary: This is a message for local people about the local socio-cultural life, the too big influence of the local ccommunity-council and the abuse of power, the repeated waste of money on expensive prestige-projects, the censorship against alternative projects and the prejudices against the Vort’n Vis.

First I want to make clear that this here is my personal opinion. Still, I’m far from the only one who thinks this way. I also want to clarify that I don’t see culture as something separate from the rest of society. It’s also influenced by the establishment and politicians who like to get their picture in the newspaper.

In Ypres there’s too much cheering about the socio-cultural life. Wrongly, because in Ypres there’s only space for the Flemish sausage-culture, prestige-projects and projects of the friends of the city-council. And as we know: these types of activities are usually unimaginative. Don’t get me wrong: there are definitely interesting things in Ypres but they are small and are suppressed by costly prestige-projects of which one can seriously question the common utility, but that cost the inhabitants of Ypres a lot of money.

Just take the new Grand Market e.g. That has costed a 100 million, of which 9 to 12 million francs went to an ugly, tacky fountain that no-one asked for. Some people probably got very rich on that but whether it attracts more tourists is very doubtful. On the contrary: many foreigners (especially from other EU countries) say that this market looks sterile “because there are thousands of markets like that all over Europe”; Ypres, Diksmuide, Bruges,… it all looks very really similar. There’s nothing original to it. It’s the dictatorship of mediocrity. And in the meantime there’s cuts on social welfare and people on benefits are suddenly (after 7 years) getting a reminder for refunds!

The nightlife is getting poorer every year. Ten years ago it wasn’t already that great; now it certainly hasn’t improved. The pubs are also more and more looking alike; increasingly posh, elitist. They are so clean that they don’t have a soul anymore. You don’t get judged on your behaviour but on appearance. (“No sir, you can’t come in here, youre wearing sneakers.”) And then they’re surprised that the Ypres’ nightlife is bleeding to death because more inhabitants go elsewhere, to mega-discos or to the folk-pubs in Dranouter [small village with a yearly folk-festival]. Because these at least haven’t lost their souls and people won’t be staring at you. Students would rather spend their money in the university-towns. And they are right!

Six years ago some people started the Autonomous Meeting Centre, the non-profit association that, among other things, runs the pub the Vort’n Vis. Some wanted rehearsal-rooms, others wanted an alternative pub for alternative youngsters. Still others started it because they no longer approved the official youth-centre, which depends on the city of Ypres. They were constantly being patronised. Alternative concerts were not allowed because that wasn’t goody-goody enough. This was also debarred because politicians constantly interfered with the youth-policy and the will of the subsidising authority (the city of Ypres) is law.

In short: they wanted to get rid of mediocrity and the patronising by the establishment. They wanted more imagination and creativity. They wanted more ‘life in the brewery’ [proverb meaning ‘more activity’]. They didn’t want to have to keep asking the bureaucratic authorities if they could please be allowed to organise something fun. Nowadays the ATC organises 20 to 25 concerts a year at the Vort’n Vis – giving starting and unknown bands who want to play a fair chance. In doing so we’re the most active concert-organiser in the wider area. These concerts are known in alternative circles worldwide. At larger concerts people come from everywhere: Poland, Croatia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Portugal, Canada, USA,… The US, British, Polish,… alternative fanzines write about the concerts at the Vort’n Vis. Sometimes a band that performed at the Vort’n Vis gets famous. Virtually no-one knows e.g. that ‘Green Day’ played at the Vort’n Vis for expenses, in 1991 – when they weren’t known yet. Nowadays you can see them on MTV a lot and they sell millions of CDs. And all this happens without receiving any subsidies during those 6 years. This is indeed a conscious choice for the ATC so that politicians wouldn’t be able to interfere with our policy. Sometimes one wonders where all those subsidies for the socio-cultural sector actually go to. The cultural activities of the ATC do not cost the taxpayers one penny. On the contrary: the ATC pays VAT on the entrance-fees. Also french-fries-shops and grocery-stores in the area make a lot of money during our larger concerts.

But all this is systematically ignored and the citizens of Ypres are hardly aware of all this. Even if ATC staff regularly add press-releases and activity-calendars to the press-kits for the local press, one can hardly ever read anything about it in the regional newspapers. News about card-game-contests is apparently more interesting cultural news in Ypres. Take for instance Ieperaktief, the info-section of the city of Ypres in De Streekkrant [free and widely desitributed paper]: if one asks why there’s nothing about the activities taking place at the Vort’n Vis in Ieperaktief, they pretend they haven’t found anything about it in their press-kit. If one shoves the concert-agenda under their noses so they can’t pretend they haven’t received anything, they come up with all sorts of transparent excuses (long deadlines, no publicity for private organisations,…).

Ieperaktief representative of the socio-cultural life in Ypres? Don’t be daft! The ATC staff already stopped believing fairytales a long time ago. It has as much news-value as stalinist propaganda leaflets. Apparently everyone has to be made believe that Ypres is a paradise on earth and those in the Ypres town-hall are worried that their city becomes known in alternative circles through the unsubsidised ugly duckling, which they have no control over. On the other hand: everyone seems to have an opinion on the Vort’n Vis: supposedly a drug-shack where the tough guys come to fight every week, where girls are raped at the bar and more stories like these. We can even laugh about it because one can’t fight malicious stupidity anyway. Curiously, all those people that know it all so well have never put one foot inside the Vort’n Vis. They only know it from hearsay. Well, when I form myself an opinion on a pub, I’ve at least been ther once in person.

We’ve now started to keep a quarterly low-energy evening at the Vort’n Vis. The intention behind it is threefold: to make people aware of the value of energy, to make a symbolic contribution against the dumping of nuclear waste in the region by not using electricity – originating from a nuclear power plant, and solidarity with the Third World, which can’t afford to use as much energy as we do.

In this context we invited the Department for Developmental Support of the city of Ypres to come over with an information-stall on energy-consumption in the Third World. This wasn’t allowed by the Ypres’ community-council because it was an initiative of the ATC at the Vort’n Vis. However, this council itself organises demonstrations against nuclear waste. Or is this just to win votes in elections? They certainly don’t come to the logical conclusion that they must speak out against nuclear energy and environmentally sane alternatives. Or is it because of the fact that they all have connections with Electrabel [major energy-company that owns the nuclear plants]?

Also some older altemativos were invited to come down with info-stalls on energy-forms that are environment-friendly, sustainable. However, they didn’t show up. Apparently the May ’68 generation is no longer interested in young people who want the promote the power of the imagination, and they’re just as biased as their petty-bourgeois peers. Sometimes we encounter more understanding amongst people working as a manager in a large company. They apparently don’t look beyond their organically grown kitchen-garden. So one doesn’t have to expect much more from these older altemativos anymore either.

Yes, I know, this is a lot of criticism. But this can’t hurt in a city where one pretends nothing’s wrong. Besides: why should I remain friendly towards all these hypocritical and narrow-minded people anyway? If one keeps always silent, nothing ever changes. I can’t tolerate all that false cheering and petty-bourgeois hypocrisy any longer.

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