An overview of the Bewogen Festival in Brussels

By Sara Mariani.

Multiculturalism is what I perceive when I walk through the streets of Brussels, when I sit on its metro and see books in the hands of people of all languages: English, French, Flemish, German.

In Belgium, Brussels-Capital is the region where, in proportion to its population, most foreigners live. In 2017 the total foreigners were 64.799, which was 34,14% of the entire population in Brussels.[1]

But multiculturality is not enough to eliminate inequalities: living in the same territory does not translate into integration, but rather, it happens that it translates into ghettoization, acceptance of the “different from me” without the will to know it, it creates a division by cultures that leads to the formation of an invisible and impassable wall.
Being open and tolerant today is no longer enough, multiculturalism is not enough, today we need interculturalism.

The multicultural policy focuses on public initiatives aimed at taking charge of cultural diversity within society to recognize, tolerate and, if possible, encourage it.

The term interculturalism, instead, has a projected value: it refers to a common commitment that has as its end the active encounter between subjects with different cultures, open to dialogue, willing to change and to be changed. [2] (Morin and Pasqualini 2015:413)

Interculture is oriented towards mutual enrichment aimed at peaceful coexistence and the collective search for appropriate solutions to face the difficulties of multiculturalism.[3](Nanni 1999:42)

From 12 February to 16 February Brussels tried to become intercultural through the Bewogen Festival.[4]

The idea to create this festival was born during the wave of refugees in 2015. During this period, there was uncertainty and intolerance as well as wide-ranging solidarity and the socio-cultural sector in Brussels tried to find ways to get in touch with these new groups of people in the city.

On 13 February 2020, the ‘A cultural migration and climate platform for open dialogue’ was discussed at the University of Benelux (Boulevard Paepsem, Building 22,) organized by AFIIP (African International Institute for Peace).

The conference welcomed 3 main guests: The first to speak was the Belgian poet Karel Sergen, who decided to talk about migration by detaching himself from the political and economic idea but analyzing it from an emotional point of view, through the magical filter of poetry.

The artist imagined he was a refugee, he tried to put himself in their shoes, focusing on the theme of departure, within which you have nothing with you during the journey, only hope and fear. The atmosphere was familiar, people welcomed poetry, cohesion was able to take away all inhibitions and make us open to the emotional part: at that moment we were all migrants and poetry was the means through which to feel those feelings.

The second intervention was by the interpreter and translator Svetlana Saic, who is part of a poetic and musical movement.

Her exposition was based on the comparison between, on the one hand, the irrelevance that people attribute to the thousands of victims in the Mediterranean Sea, people traveling in search of only hope and, on the other hand, the growing fear concerning the deaths caused by the coronavirus.

In fact, according to the actual death figures, coronavirus deaths are extremely low: what should be most frightening, she said, is that sea, now an open-air cemetery.

Her speech ended with a quote from Camus that seems to summarize in a few verses the key idea of the translator’s ideology.

“Ne marche pas devant moi, je ne te suivrai peut-être pas. Ne marche pas derrière moi, je ne te guide peut-être pas. Marche à côté de moi et sois simplement mon amie.”

The last intervention is that of Hassum H., who stopped to analyze how much those who want to help refugees tend to forget the first needs, in favor of a direct integration of the individuals at the expense of their own culture: we try to integrate them into society by teaching them the language but what people need after such a long journey, he emphasizes, is simply water and food: the basis for survival, they ask for nothing else.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived is that very few of the spectators were those who did not belong to African culture. This generated curiosity in the other participants and in the members of the organizing association who, surprised, asked me how I had become aware of that event.

Does the open dialogue on the migration issue really work?

The reality is that at that event everyone knew each other, I was the outsider: I was the minority in a minority group. 

At the end of that conference, the family atmosphere did not dissolve, on the contrary, we tried to keep it alive: the audience expressed the desire to share poems, most of which were recited in Arabic.

At that point, I was the only person who did not speak or understand Arabic. At that moment I understood how important social inclusion was, at that moment I felt the weight of the word integration on my skin.

Me.  Italian girl arrived 3 weeks ago in Brussels for an internship. Me, Italian girl, part of the European citizens. With an average family that supports me financially. Even I felt excluded.

There were attempts to include me, although I could not understand the meaning of their speeches, I was asked if they had to speak in English to make me participate and they also asked me to participate in the photos with their group.

The final question is: does the Bewogen Festival work as a way to raise awareness of interculturality?

What I saw during this conference is a lack of intercultural participation in favor of segregation of people belonging to the different cultures that make up the city of Brussels. There are still ethnic groups and the boundary between keeping the culture you belong to alive and the lack of social integration is very blurred, despite this I think the Bewogen Festival is a good starting point to raise awareness of the inclusive problem.

Does the Bewogen Festival in Brussels work as a way to raise awareness of interculturality?


[2] Morin E. and Pasqualini C. 2005, “Rediscover complex identities”

[3] Nanni A. 1999 “Deconstruction and Interculture”