UNOstamps Malta comments 2009


ILGA-Europe conference 2009 emblemThis special set of comments is a personal report on events taking place during the ILGA Europe conference in St. Julians, Malta, from 27 October to 1 November.


At least one comment is added every day. Please check this page regularly.


More information on the ILGA Europe conference can be found on the conference section of the ILGA Europe website.


My comments from last year, the Vienna Comments, are still available on the website.



UNOstamps Malta comment - 27 October 2009 - Up and away


Hotel roomIt was a strange flight with Air Malta. We thought we had a short stop in Brussels before flying to our final destination. However, Brussels turned out to be the final stop of the flight from Malta. That meant we had to wait in the plane for almost an hour while the fuel tanks were being refilled and ladies with vacuum cleaners walked around. When arriving at Luqa airport, our Maltese friends had arranged for transportation to the hotel. Jan and I from COC The Hague region were not the only conference delegates to arrive from Amsterdam and Brussels. In fact there were some 20 of us from Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and the UK.


The hotel is very luxurious. And when I say very, I mean very. This hotel room is almost as big as my own living room and I have now the pleasure of a real bath in stead of the ordinary shower I have at home. Any complaints? Well yes. Across the water is a discotheque that goes on until 4 in the morning. Well I'll just have to learn to live with it.


And I have left the cable that connects my camera to my computer at home. So for the moment (it is Wednesday afternoon) I can't upload any photos. I hope that someone has the same camera as me or has a computer that accepts my memory card.




UNOstamps Malta comment - 28 October 2009 (morning) - Getting started


Sea view on MaltaWhen leaving home, the temperature was something around 15ºC. Here it is almost 25º! Combine that with palm trees, the sea all around you and all the international guests and you know how this conference has started. After breakfast I attended the first part of the Round Table for Government Focal Points. A gathering of civil servants of various government departments from all over Europe. It is organized by Ben Baks, who works for the Dutch minister of LGBT emancipation. Next year we are hosting the meeting in The Hague as part of the 2010 conference.


Government conferenceAlso, between greeting all those old friends, we had our first discussions on the theme for next year's conference. The ILGA-Europe board has to decide on the theme, on proposal of the local host (that's us). For one reason or another the Swedish delegation has made a proposal to the conference to set a theme. So we have to find a diplomatic way out of this.




UNOstamps Malta comment - 28 October 2009 (evening) - First day over


Believe it or not, but when I write this it is only 22.30 h. and I am dead on my feet. What have you done then, I hear you ask. I really don't know, I hear myself answer. After lunch Ben asked me to take a group picture of all participants of his round table meeting. I got them all out into the blazing sun and took the picture. After that I went to the lobby where there is wireless internet. I got my e-mails and answered some of them.


The government officials and expertsI took part in a discussion on a new article on the web log of D66 Westland, our local political party. It takes too much time to describe the event that lead to this discussion, so if you can read Dutch, just follow the link.


This evening we went to the house of the Netherlands ambassador for drinks. The ambassador invited the government officials, the board and staff of ILGA-Europe, the Maltese hosts and other distinguished guests. Ben put me on the list as distinguished guest, so I could come as well. A coach took us to the ambassador's villa. It was rush hour and I was amazed that there were so many cars on the streets. I always pictured Malta as a quiet island, but there are cars everywhere. The streets are not really made for coaches, but the driver seemed to be very experienced and got us there safely.


Jan and BjörnAfter the reception we got back into the bus and after a short ride into Valetta we joined the rest of the conference participants in the Saint James Cultural Centre for the opening of the transgender photo and audio exhibition. The photos of different transgender people were very nice, but I couldn’t quite understand the audio fragments. I always have trouble understanding modern art.


The Netherlands ambassador giving a speech with Ruth watchingDinner was served in a wine restaurant. Since I don't drink wine (never liked the stuff) it promised to be a long evening. Fortunately I discovered some apple juice and orange juice at the back of the restaurant. The food consisted of bread and several varieties of cheese. At that time my feet were killing me, so when they announced the first bus going back to the hotel, I jumped to it (well, not literally). And here I am, sitting behind the computer, writing this comment.


Tomorrow the conference really starts. The Dutch delegations meet at 8.30 h. for breakfast to discuss the workshop programme, the conference proposals and the candidates for the board.




UNOstamps Malta comment - 29 October 2009 - From beer to eternity


Night view of Malta fortressThis morning saw the official opening of the conference. The first speech was given by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Malta, followed by a member of parliament. What followed was a lengthy explanation of the election process. Maybe we should do that different next year. The whole day long I am making notes of what to do and what not to do next year. One example: make sure there are as many microphones on the table as people behind it.


Tom Bar signAfter two plenary sessions and lunch (I can recommend the chicken) it was time for the first workshops. I attended the ones on ILGA's finances and proposals. These include all kinds of amendments to the constitution and standing orders. As you can imagine lengthy discussions followed.


This evening we went on a harbour cruise and dinner. From the boat we had a perfect view of the Valletta castles and fortifications. Dinner consisted of all kinds of small thingies with rice, chicken, meat and mushrooms. Some people still felt hungry after the cruise. While most delegates returned to the hotels, some of us went up the fortifications to Tom Bar, apparently one of two gay bars in Valletta. The music was very loud, but half a litre of beer for only 2,50 euro made up for it. We were back at the hotel at approximately one o'clock and I fell asleep very quickly.




UNOstamps Malta comment - 30 October 2009 - The black (k)night


Malta busThe problem with ILGA-conference is that you can't please everyone. When looking at the programme every year there are more and less interesting workshops. Unfortunately the two rounds of workshops and the second panel were not useful for the work I do for a local LGBT organization. So I used the morning to answer e-mails, talk to several people about the organization of next year's conference and theme, and at 12.00 I went to Valletta with Ben and Judith. Every year you should take some time off to visit the city where the conference is held.


Malta cathedralMalta is known for its yellow buses that cover almost the whole island. And believe it or not, they run exactly on time. I didn't see much of Valletta apart from the main street, which is Republic Street. We had lunch at one of the local restaurants and afterwards I went shopping for souvenirs. The very special souvenir I bought is a Playmobil figure. It is a Maltese knight with a long black cape and the toy shop in Republic Street is the only place in the world where you can buy it.


The bus that stops at the hotel is a circle line. This meant that the route back went through a different part of the island. I saw huge new buildings, dilapidated neighbourhoods and smashing tourist venues. And miraculously despite the traffic and some diversion, the bus again arrived exactly on time at the hotel. It's amazing.


The afternoon plenary saw the presentation of the ten candidates for the six vacant board seats. Some of them just repeated what was in their written statement, but fortunately one or two made it clear what they wanted to achieve when they became a board member.


Chantal and Lisette voting for a new beardIn the evening we went to Mdina for a short walk through this old monumental city. Then we went to the Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar. This former residence of a Maltese noble family is now used as a location for social events, dinners and meetings. This evening again we had some finger food, but it was more than the evening before. I left with the 23.30 bus to be back at the hotel in time to welcome the deputy mayor of The Hague, Frits Huffnagel. Although tired after his long trip, he wanted to have a drink so we went to the club Klozet on the other side of the water.


Paata, Björn and Frits in the KlozetWe didn't know what to expect and suddenly we found ourselves in an enormously busy street, going uphill with endless numbers of cafes and clubs on both sides. It seemed like the whole population of Mata decided to go out on the same time. Eventually we found the Klozet and could taste the local Maltese beer. As it was almost Halloween a lot of people were dressed up. I went to bed at 3.00 h.




UNOstamps Malta comment - 31 October 2009 (morning) - Turin, Warsaw and some frustration


Frits Huffnagel addressing the ILGA-Europe conferenceThe night was very short. Only a few hours sleep before the alarm clock went off. At breakfast I met with Frits again to discuss the contribution that the city of The Hague could give to the conference in 2010. Normally when the conference is held in a LGBT friendly city, the participants are welcomed at town hall for drinks and a dinner. This was the case in Rotterdam, Glasgow, Paris and Vienna.


At the plenary, after the election results were announced, Frits got onto the stage to give a visionary and highly inspiring speech. Afterwards we watched the two candidates for hosting the 2011 conference: Turin and Warsaw. Before these presentations I wasn't sure which city to vote for. After the presentations I think most people's minds were made up. The problem is that Italy is lacking all kinds of protecting laws and the number of hate crimes is growing by the day. Warsaw is doing better the last few years and next year they are even organizing the Europride. So one might say that two events in two years is a bit too much.


Malta hand over the organization to The Hague. From left to right: Jan Lutje Schipholt, Maxim van Ooijen, deputy mayor Frits Huffnagel, Gabi Calleja and Ruth BaldacchinoTo be short, Turin gave a terrible presentation. The Italians spoke very poor English and their PowerPoint presentation was filled with stupid text mistakes and typing errors. Warsaw on the other hand gave a smashing presentation with humour and they even had someone from the ministry of Foreign Affairs on stage to support their bid.


My personal frustration came in the workshop on proposals. One proposal put forward by the Swedish members asked the conference to set the theme for the 2010 conference as 'racism'. In the guidelines we got from the ILGA-Europe board it is stated that the local host presents to the board a theme proposal based on the local situation. The board then decides. We have made such a proposal. Why the board didn't reject the proposal because it was not according to the board's own rules, is a complete guess.


Tomorrow the conference votes on it. We will see what happens.


Before Frits went home on the afternoon plane, we organized a special photo shoot of the delegations of Malta and The Hague together with Frits because he wouldn't be there when the flag was officially transferred to The Hague. The photo was taken by Cailin Mackenzie. From left to right: Jan Lutje Schipholt, Maxim van Ooijen, deputy mayor Frits Huffnagel, Gabi Calleja and Ruth Baldacchino.




UNOstamps Malta comment - 31 October 2009 (evening) - Blue Creek and Halloween


John and Chelvan, a bit blurry unfortunatelyDinner ladiesIn the afternoon I took part in a workshop on the ILGA-Europe's informal communications network. The aim was to discuss several media strategies and to try to improve the way how the news from ILGA-Europe reaches the national and local press. Very interesting and very useful.


The final dinner was at the Blue Creek Restaurant in Għar Lapsi, a town in the outskirts of Siggiewi. Unfortunately it was dark, and now we missed the beautiful panoramic view over he coast and islets. The food was perfect. Local Maltese dishes were served and I tried them all (apart from the rabbit because it had garlic in it). If you ever go to Malta, visit this restaurant!


In stead of a separate party we joined an open air Halloween party in the Stitch Club in San Ġwann. A strange place that had a stage and a disk jockey, but seemed to be constructed out of wooden screens and containers. It was a nice setting with people in Halloween costumes and the full moon as nature's special decoration. The music was however too loud for me.


The were shuttle buses to take us all back to the hotel. Our Maltese colleagues have organized this absolutely perfect. I couldn't stop thinking about the problems we face in The Hague transporting 250 people through the city. They don't fit in just one bus or tram and the trams go with fifteen minutes intervals in the evening. Maybe we should have a talk with HTM, the local public transport company.




UNOstamps Malta comment - 1 November 2009 - And now the end is near


The Flemish delegationAlso this night was very short. Just a few hours sleep and I found myself having breakfast on the terrace of the hotel with the water of the Mediterranean at my feet (so to speak). In fact it was the first time I had breakfast on the terrace. The sun was very hot in the morning.


Sunday morning at the conference is all about voting. There must be a reason for this. A lot of people have to go away to get planes and a lot of delegates are not quite awake, so most of the votes are not in the conference room.


Most of the proposals went down quite easily. Two were more difficult: the city for 2011 and the Swedish racism 2010 proposal. To start with the last one: there was a discussion on the proposed theme and whether the conference should interfere with the rules that a local host proposes the theme for the next conference.


When I asked Sweden why I wasn't contacted in advance, they answered "We didn't think of that". Personally I think it is a lousy reason because the people who wrote the proposal know exactly what rules ILGA has and how the game is played. And they have known me for quite a few years now since this was my 9th conference. Having said that the decision has been taken that racism will be a (not: the) thematic focus in 2010. We will find some way to tackle this problem.


Maxim addressing the conference with Jan and Wim holding the flagNext discussion was the choice for the host city in 2011. At the request of Flanders there was a discussion on what was the best choice. Not regarding the good or bad English in the presentation, but where the conference would have the greatest impact on society as a whole. I couldn't decide so I gave my voting cards to Jan, one of the other The Hague delegates.


The discussion was lively and the final vote was close. With a vote of 80 against 55 it was decided that the host for 2011 would be........ Turin.


By this time I was quite nervous, because I had to say a few words when the conference organization was formally transferred from Malta to The Hague. I was quite prepared, but then... a coffee break. I had some time to write a few words on a piece of paper and to drink a glass of orange juice. With shaking hands, by the way.


The three delegates were handed the flag after the break and I spoke a few words (not too long). Then came the many thanks for the organizers, volunteers, board and staff and a final lunch. By 14.00 h. the bus was ready to take us to the airport. As the flight was from Malta to Brussels and Amsterdam most of the Belgian and Dutch delegates left at the same time.


Inside the plane with some of the Belgian delegatesWhen, after a lengthy flight we arrived in Amsterdam it was cold, dark and of course raining. And I remembered that I had breakfast that same morning with 25 degrees, with a shiny sun and a blue sky with the sea at my feet. What a contrast.


Now it is up to us to organize, together with the ILGA staff, the 14th conference in October 2010 in The Hague. I hope it will be a conference that won't be forgotten for many years.



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last revised: 8 November 2009