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GENERAL REPRESENTATION OF THE GOVERNMENT OF FLANDERS

EMBASSY OF BELGIUM

GENERAL AFFAIRS

The mission of the General Representation of the Government of Flanders is to promote a better understanding of the region of Flanders and to facilitate cooperation and exchange between stakeholders in Southern Africa and Flanders, amongst others in arts and culture, research and innovation, education, language and youth policy.

 

One of the key functions of the General Representation of the Government of Flanders is to promote Flemish art and culture in Southern Africa and to encourage new and ongoing cultural exchanges between Flanders and the region.

The cultural landscape in Flanders is a fascinating one - both “state of the art” and diverse. Be it in the performing arts, visual arts, music, architecture, design, gastronomy, fashion or literature, Flanders is the home of numerous outstanding artists and high quality art institutes and organisations.

Many prominent artists in Flanders have had a lasting impact on the arts scene and have inspired painters from around the world. One only has to think of artists ranging from Jan Van Eyck, Hans emling, Pieter Bruegel I, Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens to, more recently, James Ensor, Constant Permeke and Magritte to realise the tremendous contribution by Flanders to the cultural heritage of the arts. Contemporary artists such as Luc Tuymans and Jan Fabre paved the way and developed a visual language that strongly influences the visual culture of their and future generations. Today, new generations of artists, curators and museum directors are exhibited worldwide and are omnipresent in museums, art centres and international biennales.

The contemporary performing arts scene in Flanders is a dynamic landscape of high-quality artists and venues creating theatre and dance in all its forms. The driving force behind this dynamism is rooted in the 1980s, when globally influential theatre-makers such as Jan Fabre, Jan Lauwers, Jan Decorte, Ivo Van Hove and Guy Cassiers and choreographers such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Alain Platel and Wim Vandekeybus flooded the field with innovative choreography and theatre, crafting a signature tradition. They inspired new generations of groundbreaking artists. Performing artists in Flanders today create a wealth of hugely diverse performances, from repertory theatre and dance to site-specific performance. They are open to other disciplines and often integrate new media, visual arts, live music and contemporary writing. Their work is rooted in a rich international practice of worldwide presentation and co-operation.

Flanders is also music. More than 280 festivals take place every year in a variety of styles, being it rock (Rock Werchter), dance (Tomorrowland), jazz (Ghent Jazz and Jazz Middelheim) or early and classical music (Laus Polyphoniae). In recent years, many musicians and bands from Flanders have become popular across the borders. The architectural scene of Flanders and Brussels has become one of the most vital in Europe. Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels are high-profile tourist destinations exploiting the international attention for contemporary architecture. Moreover, architects from Flanders are frequently invited by internationally renowned art venues such as the Biennale of Venice and the Oslo Architecture Triënnale to serve as curators or make artistic contributions. Architects from Flanders reveal that architecture’s contribution to contemporary Flanders is not in the provision of iconic buildings, but in the careful, yet imaginative handling of the building programme and construction techniques.

The Literature of Flanders has a proud past and present, and a promising future. Flanders can reference a rich literary heritage and produces some of the finest Dutch-language literature today. The international acclaim for translations of prose, poetry, (illustrated) youth and children’s literature, graphic novels, literary non-fiction, and theatre texts has risen sharply over the past decades. In addition to its narrative tradition, comics and illustrated children’s books are a distinct and a well-known art form in Flanders and abroad. Drawing upon the Belgian tradition, (Tintin, Gaston and so forth) comic artists from Flanders are developing their craft into art. This same development applies to illustrators from Flanders, who re-new, adapt and expand techniques established by our world-famous artists since the Middle Ages.

The relatively recent explosion in creativity and production in the Audiovisual sector has been recognised with Oscar nominations, European Film Awards, an Emmy Award, and honours at numerous international festivals. Driving this newly found vitality is a framework of incentives and other mechanisms that nurture local talent and make productions possible that reach a wider, international audience. Creativity in Flanders also benefits from a thriving services sector, with several visual effects and digital post-production houses based in the region becoming significant international players, praised for their craftsmanship and their ability to innovate and to recruit talent from abroad.

Flanders is a prominent player in the world of design, from industrial and graphic to jewellery and ceramics, as well as enjoying a strong representation in applied arts. This rich tradition and excellence of design in Flanders is found in its various academies, design exhibitions and organisations, as well as design museums and centres such as those in Antwerp and Ghent. Flanders exudes design and demands only the best from its designers.

Belgian fashion design is marked by its quality, innovation and high-level craftsmanship, and is recognised and celebrated around the world. The internationally renowned Antwerp Six, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in the 1980s, are still highly productive, both in Belgium and internationally. Several of the Six are fashion leaders with their own labels, such as Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene. Raf Simons, though he did not study fashion primarily, has become Flanders’ most renowned fashion designer. Younger graduates such as Haider Ackermann and A.F. Vandervorst have also made their mark on the world stage.

The objective of academic diplomacy is on the one hand to support the Flemish universities, university colleges and research institutions in their international activities. On the other hand the Flemish higher education and research institutions are partners in the daily implementation of the Flemish foreign policy, reinforcing the image of Flanders as an innovative and learning region of outstanding quality.

Flemish universities and university colleges have long-standing institutional agreements and cooperation with universities in Southern Africa. The General Representation of the Government of Flanders aims to facilitate and strengthen the contacts between these institutions and between academic expatriates, students, researchers and teachers.

The educational system in Flanders prepares young people to perform optimally in a rapidly changing and increasingly internationally oriented society. The system’s excellence is confirmed by the results of the PISA assessment project – the Program for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD – which measures the scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in 57 countries in reading proficiency, problem-solving skills, and mathematic and scientific knowledge. Flanders’ education system ranks sixth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015. When it comes to maths and science education, the region is in third position in the world.

Flanders has numerous international schools. There are, for example, the Antwerp British School and the Antwerp International School; the International School of Brussels and the British School of Brussels; and the College of Europe in Bruges, which provides university-level courses and houses the international research and training centre of the United Nations University. Ghent opened an international school in 2012, and the city of Leuven, KU Leuven and Imec research centre recently established an international private primary school that offers courses in English.

Flanders has five public universities: Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent, Hasselt and Brussels. KU Leuven, with more than 32,000 students, is the largest and the oldest in the Low Countries, followed by the Ghent University, which has nearly 30,000 students. Three of these universities feature in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016: KU Leuven, Ghent University and the University of Antwerp. Academic excellence is also a core value of Flanders’ business schools and university colleges.

Its location at the heart of Europe, its superb transport infrastructure and unique workforce make Flanders the designated environment for all business purposes. The biggest asset of the Flemish economy is the people of Flanders. They not only rank among the world’s most highly educated and productive workforce, but they are also well-known for their linguistic skills. Because the people of Flanders live at a point where Europe’s three major cultural groups meet, many speak up to four languages, English included. Furthermore, Flanders’ workforce has one of the world’s highest rates of loyalty to an employer.

It’s not just its location at the heart of Europe that makes Flanders the perfect location for businesses; it’s also the quality transport infrastructure that allows for fast transportation of both goods and people. Although Flanders is rather compact, it has four world-class ports, the most concentrated waterway network in northern Europe, three airports for cargo and passengers, and an extensive rail network for national and European destinations. Last but not least, Flanders also has a high density of toll-free roads.

Furthermore, the Government of Flanders is committed to creating an optimal business climate for companies that settle here by offering a wide range of tax benefits and financial grants, ranging from tax exemptions to beneficial tax regimes for R&D and pension funds. Companies using their own capital to finance their activities can lower their effective corporate tax rate even further. In addition, a special ruling commission guides foreign investors through the fiscal aspects of their investment project in Flanders. The sum of these tax incentives leads to one of the lowest effective corporate tax rates in the European Union. And finally, Belgium — and Flanders as a region — has the second most open economy in the world, according to the 2014 KOF Index of Globalization.

Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) promotes international enterprise in Flanders in a sustainable way as a key factor in the social and economic development of our region. FIT does so by supporting the international activities of Flemish companies and by attracting foreign investors to Flanders.

FIT assists, supports and stimulates companies in international business, and offers tailored advice and guidance. Companies can call on its networks of contacts both in Flanders and abroad. FIT also gives financial support and information on a wide range of financial incentives.

The Southern African office of FIT is based in Johannesburg and covers South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland. You can reach the FIT office through the following contact details:

FIT Johannesburg
Marc Schiltz
T: +27 11 783 47 32
E: johannesburg@fitagency.com

Address:

Flanders Investment and Trade
Fredman Towers (8th floor)
13 Fredman Drive
Sandton 2196
Johannesburg
South Africa

Mailing address:

Flanders Investment & Trade
Suite 490
Private Bag X9
Benmore 2010
Johannesburg
South Africa

Flanders has a long tradition of involvement in human rights issues. The premise that the individual can invoke certain rights from the government is enshrined in documents dating back to the region’s medieval charters. This further makes it clear that human rights cannot be imposed upon sovereign states by international law, but have their basis in a variety of constitutional traditions both here and elsewhere in the world. They reflect the fundamental values of a community; values such as justice, equality, dignity, mutual respect and solidarity.

Not only is the Government of Flanders legally bound by a large number of international treaties on human rights to which Belgium is party; within the remit of its international powers, the government also has largely and explicitly approved these agreements as mixed treaties. Flanders has also frequently been involved in the development of new standards. For Flanders, respect for human rights through its own policies is a legal and ethical obligation.

Better respect of human rights by all states contributes to the development of a more democratic, more peaceful and safer international order. After sixty years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is still the best international point of reference when it comes to framing national policy aimed at securing the rights and opportunities of all. The UDHR espouses the principles of human dignity, prosperity and peace that lie at the basis of the Charter of the United Nations (UNCharter). These principles are then further developed in the various human rights conventions concluded in the framework of UN and other organisations.

Therefore, human rights are not just an obligation towards a state’s own citizenry, but a guiding principle for foreign policy. Indeed, all states are bound by the fundamental rights and liberties that have since become enshrined in international common law. Most have signed treaties in this area of their own free will. As a result, they are answerable to other states and international organisations when it comes to respecting these same obligations towards their own populations. Given that respect of human rights undeniably leads to greater peace, security and economic and social progress, a proactive international policy on human rights advances the long term interests of Flanders.

In recent years, the universality of human rights has been under pressure. Flanders realises that the interpretation of international human rights is not straightforward, and that there are many cultural differences between the various continents and nations. Power shifts in the world have meant that support for the traditional interpretation of human rights is losing ground. For Flanders, the universality of all human rights is beyond dispute. The debate stretches only to whether and how there might exist room within the universality principle for a degree of cultural and regional variation when interpreting these rights. When it comes to human rights, relativism needs to be out of the question.

The Government of Flanders is concerned by the fact that respect for human rights is increasingly becoming less of a given. Flanders wishes to take action to counter this trend. By virtue of the constitution, it disposes of several means to this policy which include drafting its own, exclusive international treaties and cooperation agreements, participating in the Belgian coordination of multilateral (human rights) institutions, adopting specific positions towards European Union external policy and formulating its development policy via the Flemish Parliament Act.

In Southern Africa, the Government of Flanders supports several human rights institutions and projects, amongst others the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, the Foundation for Human Rights, the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre and several UN institutions working on human rights in the region.

Public diplomacy is the communication with civil society and the general public to establish a dialogue to inform, engage, exchange and influence. One way of doing this is by organising the annual Flanders Day, a reception to celebrate the 11th of July, the day of the Flemish Community. We also host events such as movie screenings, we participate in the Belgian Market Day (Johannesburg) and A Taste of Belgium (Cape Town), organised by the Belgian Chamber of Commerce for Southern Africa, we engage with the media and you can find us on social media.

In this rapidly changing world public diplomacy is becoming increasingly more important. It is therefore our aim to portray the best of what Flanders has to offer and to honour our baseline: “Flanders, State of the Art”.

Actually, all Flemish people living abroad are 'ambassadors' for our region. Therefore, we maintain close relations with Flemish and Belgian networks and organisations in Southern Africa: the Belgian Chamber of Commerce for Southern Africa, Vlamingen in de Wereld and Flandria.

For more information on these networks, see:

http://belgianchambersa.co.za/
http://www.viw.be

The Flanders Department of Culture, Youth, Sports and Media and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) have a longstanding cooperation on youth volunteering. The project “Promoting and up-scaling youth volunteering in civil society organizations in South Africa” seeks to cultivate an enabling environment for youth volunteering to flourish in civil society organisations in South Africa. The project is intended to help develop the culture of volunteering in South Africa by offering young people a multiplicity of quality volunteering opportunities and strengthening the capacity of civil society organisations who work with youth volunteers. The overall aim is promoting and scaling up quality of youth volunteering in South Africa and the region. The project has five priorities or building blocks: capacity building, funding, knowledge generation, infrastructure building and marketing and advocacy.

Flanders’ strategic position on the European map makes it an ideal region not only for entrepreneurs but also for warmongers and promoters of peace alike. Throughout the centuries, European powers have fought their wars and made peace on Flanders’ soil and in its cities. Most cities have at least some remnants of fortifications used to defend themselves against these acts of war.

Poignant traces of this process of war and peace can be found in Flanders Fields, one of the emblematic sites of the Great War (1914-18). For four long years, while the rest of Belgium was occupied territory and suffered great hardship, the First World War raged over this pastoral westernmost corner of Flanders.

The landscape of Flanders Fields still tells the sorry tale and bears the scars of the war. It contains hundreds of monuments and cemeteries that have great historical significance for the people of many nations. Museums explain in an interactive way all the elements of the conflicts: the personal testimonies of soldiers and civilians, the military aspects, life at the front or in occupied territory... The daily Last Post that has taken place each day at the Menin Gate in Ypres since 1928 is proof that the memories of the fallen are still honoured. Meanwhile, the intense desire for peace thrives as well. From 2014 to 2018, a hundred years on, Flanders will be host to those wanting to commemorate and to learn from the past. As it welcomes guests from more than 50 nations that were involved in the conflict, the Government of Flanders is leading a wide-ranging project of international remembrance, ensuring that Flanders Fields will continue to bear witness to the follies of war for generations to come.

For more information about the commemoration of the Great War, see: http://www.2014-18.be/en

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