UNOstamps Vienna comments 2008

 

This special set of comments is a personal report on events taking place during the ILGA Europe conference in Vienna, Austria, from 30 October to 2 November and the ILGA World conference in Vienna, from 3 to 6 November 2008.

 

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

 

The official report on the ILGA Europe conference can be found on the conference section of the ILGA Europe website. There you will also find the speeches by Thomas Hammarberg, professor Jack Donelly, other official declarations and the press release by COC Haaglanden on winning the bid for organizing the 2010 ILGA Europe conference (in Dutch).

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 11 November 2008 - Home sweet home

 

Voting at the receptionThursday evening at 22.15 h. the plane landed at Schiphol Airport. Eight days of conference were over and I was exhausted (still am actually). I left you with the message that Simone and I were to organize the ILGA elections. Here is what happened next.

 

Award of a prize to Labrys, KyrgyzstanWe spent some time setting up a time table for the first round of elections for the position of male secretary-general. When we presented it to the conference, there immediately was a question why the man presented it and the woman stayed silent. Welcome to the emancipation struggle. After that Simone and I did our work like clockwork. The ballot box went with us to the reception of the Austrian Green Party held at the former house of the Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky, where a lot of people voted already.

 

The party awarded three prizes to organizations for women in Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan and the Palestinian territories (based in Israel). They all do great work in very difficult circumstances and really deserve this accolade.

 

From 23.00 tot 24.00 h. we sat at the hotel for those who hadn't made up their minds yet. After we counted it was time for a drink in the hotel bar. The final evening we all had together and most of us stayed until the bar closed. The next morning (I only got up in time) it was time for a second round between the two top candidates. And then a first round for the alternate secretary-general and a second round. We did four elections in two days, plus a call for several alternates that we still missed.

 

Björn meeting Queen Juliana and Price BernhardCute Christoph from AustriaThe Bulgarian baby (Maxim) and An from Sri LankaParticipants from Namibia and China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the time we spent outside the conference room, the rest of the conference was very busy discussing proposals to change the ILGA constitution and accept declarations, including one directed at the Vatican. When there was a small coffee break everyone had to go outside where a group photo was made from the roof of the hotel. We couldn't leave the ballot box inside, so it is probably in the photo.

 

The conference ended with a round of applause and after that it was time to say goodbye to old friends and new. We will meet again in two years, May 2010, in the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro. The Europeans will see each other in October 2009 in Valletta (Malta) and one year after that in The Hague. I can't wait.

 

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 5 November 2008 - History being made

 

Conference in sessionThis was supposed to be a smooth running conference, but all that changed suddenly after I wrote my last comment yesterday. During the conference there are elections being held for the secretariats, the host city of 2010 and for the two secretaries-general. The candidate for the position of male secretary-general gave a very emotional and incomprehensive statement. He is clearly overworked and needs to take some rest. Well, instead of sending him a message like "Please get well, we are thing of you", the conference on Wednesday morning decided to reopen the elections and call for more candidates for the position. This Swedish proposal was supported by the groups from Africa and Latin America, while the other Europeans voted against it. As a result everything is now put on hold, people are reconsidering their positions  More to follow.

 

Speaker of parliament, Kurt Krickler and the chairwomen of the Green PartyYesterday evening we went to the Austrian parliament for a reception. We were greeted by the speaker of parliament and the leader of the Green Party. After a while the Brazilians started singing, closely followed by the Africans. After the reception some of us went into town for a local beer. Back at the hotel a lot of people were watching the BBC coverage of the American elections. Unfortunately the bar closed somewhere around 2.30 h. and the television was switched off. I tried watching in my room, but I could not help falling asleep. When I woke up history had already been made with the election of Obama as first black president of the United States.

 

Reception at the Austrian parliamentAt the opening of today's session there was a lot of singing and dancing from the African delegates and it was decided that ILGA should send a congratulation telegram to the president-elect. After that festive start everything went downhill. The conference decided to re-open the nominations for male secretary-general. As a result the election officers stepped down and I was asked to fill the vacancy together with Simone from LOS (Switzerland).

 

Together we are trying to organize these elections within the small time frame we still have. We have a strict programme for this elections, the second round and the elections of alternates tomorrow. Tonight we have the final reception of this conference offered by the Austrian Green Party. Unfortunately because of the elections there will be no time to party until the early hours.

 

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 4 November 2008 - Election fever

 

Speech by one of the Vienna councellorsThe Mayor's reception at the Rathaus was in a different room than last week's event. The ambiance was different as well. This was the first time I went to a gathering with so many different nationalities and cultures. Apparently there are 80 countries represented at the ILGA World conference. Even countries that you wouldn't expect like Tonga, Dominica and Namibia. The reception ended somewhere around 22.30 h. and back at the hotel the bar was already filled with delegates. It was one big happening of people laughing, singing, drinking and talking.

 

Kurt Krickler and some delegatesSome of the Americans were walking around with Vote Obama badges and today's election was a recurring subject of conversation. Many delegates plan to watch the election broadcasts this coming night. The only problem (for the Americans that is) is that the hotel doest not have CNN but has the BBC World News. The temperature is rising.

 

After a very, very short night it was time for the opening session of the ILGA conference. There were speeches by Leo Steiner, the general director of IBM Austria (a big sponsor), Engelbert Theuermann, the director for human rights of the Foreign Department, and Paula Ettelbrick, member of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

 

The rest of this day (because when I write this it is only 10.00 h. in the morning) will have a lot of technical issues and discussions on the election process, reports on last year's work, the budget, the strategic plan, and subjects like that. For many delegates it is not the most preferred way to spend a day, but without all this an organization like ILGA can not work properly.

 

The ILGA World staffGermany and other countriesNorway and Tonga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 3 November 2008 - A day off

 

The Netherlands flag hanging from the ceilingThe ILGA-Europe conference has ended. Today the last of the participants left. Those who stayed behind are now participants in the ILGA World conference. And what a different conference this is already. For most of us it is such a new experience meeting people from other parts of the world, hearing their stories and sharing their experiences. I know that the next three days will be very exhausting but even more inspiring.

 

As today were the pre-conferences on lesbian and transgender issues, I took some time off to visit the United Nations complex here in Vienna, the Vienna International Centre. The guided tour is given in German and English. Surprisingly I was the only visitor interested in an English tour, so I had the guide all to myself.

 

Japanse Peace Bell in the Kurt Waldheim Rose GardenAs I already knew the basic facts of the United Nations and the UN system, he took the opportunity to tell me some extra things about the organizations that are based in Vienna and also what it is like to work in a the VIC. Apparently it is a small city all on its own, with a supermarket, a hairdresser, a chemist and much more. You name it, they've got it.

 

Saint Sebastian at StephansdomI took a lot of photos and the two here show the Netherlands flag hanging from the ceiling in the central hall of the VIC (between Nepal and New Zealand) and the Japanese Peace Bell. In Vienna there are 193 flags, in stead of the 192 you will see in New York or Geneva. The extra one is the Holy See (Vatican City) that is a member of the Vienna based IAEA. The Peace Bell is a copy of the one in New York and is standing on the central square in the Kurt Waldheim Rose Garden. The roses carry the name of Kurt Waldheim as well. The Peace Bell is struck twice a year, on 21 September (International Day of Peace) and on 8 August to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

 

After the tour I spent some time at the souvenir shop, the UNPA shop and drank some coffee at the UNO café while writing some post cards. On the way back I had to change metro lines and took the opportunity to visit the town's cathedral, the Stephansdom.

 

Tonight we are going to have a reception at Town Hall (again) that I can report on tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 2 November 2008 - Our day will come

 

Party peopleLes Schuh SchuhThe party last night was in the heart of the MuseumQuartier and Hosi Wien provided a delicious buffet and some light entertainment with singers and dancers. The party afterwards was open to all people from Vienna and it was a very busy happening that went on for the most part of the night. We took a taxi back to the hotel at around 2.30 h.

 

The last conference day started very, very early because the second round of voting took place before 10.00 h. It was to decide which board members could stay on for two years and which for one year. During two plenary sessions there were discussions on the proposals put forward in advance and through the workshops. A vote was taken on the continuation of the Election Preparation Committee for next year. The proposal was accepted with a small majority.

 

Patricia Prendiville saying goodbyeThe proposal to hold the 2010 conference in The Hague was approved without a vote, but with a big applause. This means that now we can go ahead with the organization of the event. I think a difficult but great task lies ahead of us.

 

ILGA Europe conference 2010 logoILGA Europe said goodbye to Patricia Prendiville, who was managing director for the last four years. She has been a great influence on the work and organization of ILGA Europe, the staff, the board and the conference. It was a very emotional moment when the board and her staff each made a small comment on Patricia's work and her personality. We are all sad to see her leave, but we hope that she will continue the work that she has started in one form or another. She gave us all an extra boost by quoting an Irish saying: "Our day will come".

 

The new board of ILGA EuropeThe new board was presented to the conference and after the traditional singing of the conference song (This year Girls just wanna have fun by Cindy Lauper) it was time for lunch and for saying goodbye. This is always the most emotional part of the conference. After five days of very inspiring meetings and discussions, of meeting old friends and making new ones, it is time to leave for home and try converting all this new energy into activities to further equality and emancipation.

 

ILGA World conference paricipants at lunchDuring the day participants for the ILGA World conference were pouring in. People from the Pacific, the Caribbean, South East Asia, Central Africa, and North America mixed with the many Europeans. This will be my first World conference and I look forward to meet new people from countries far away and hear their stories. The conference formally starts on Tuesday so tomorrow I'm going into the city to see what Vienna has to offer and to visit the United Nations buildings. There is a guided tour at 11.00 in the morning and I want to be in time for that. I already visited the Palais des Nations in Geneva, so this will be building number two.

 

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 1 November 2008 - An unforgettable experience

 

Three government officials in front of the world LGBT rights mapThis afternoon I attended a workshop on LGBT friendly governments. There were three of them that gave a presentation on their policies and programmes: Catalonia, Flanders and Netherlands. For the Netherlands there is a national policy and for the other two a regional policy. Or, as the Catalonian representative remarked with a smile: "We are not a state... yet."

 

All three have very impressive and successful plans and programmes that seem to have a real impact on the individual LGBT life. But all this action is still a start and it is still very much needed. As the Flemish representative pointed out, the law is very good at this moment, but a lot of people can't or won't accept that there are people that are different and have their rights too.

 

Later I again sat down with Vladimir from the Lithuanian Gay League who organized last year's conference in Vilnius. We talked about the work involved at organizing a large international gathering. He had a lot of useful tips and suggestions, some of which I would have never thought of.

 

The plenary meetingAt the last plenary of the day we got the results of the first round of elections. Two people out of thirteen did not receive at least 20% of the votes and are therefore excluded. The candidate that ended on place eleven is a reserve member and the other ten are elected. Tomorrow morning a second round of voting will be held to decide which five board members can serve for two years and which five for one year.

 

After all this it was time for my presentation of the bid for the 2010 conference. I kept it short, starting off by saying that we were honoured with the opportunity, but that it was a pity that there was only one candidate. After mentioning the full support of the Dutch cabinet in organizing the conference, I told the delegates: "2010 is a special year. Firstly we have to discuss and approve the new strategic plan for ILGA Europe. Also it marks the end of the The Hague programme of the European Union and finally The Hague as the fourth UN city will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the United Nations around the time of the conference. 65 is the Dutch age of retirement, so that could give us enough material for useful discussions and workshops, not only on international work, but also on ageing." Finally on behalf of COC The Hague Region I invited everyone to attend the The Hague conference and promised that we would do everything we can to make it an unforgettable experience.

 

This evening is the final dinner and farewell party. I hope to write something about that tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 1 November 2008 - Rumblings in the interior

 

Workshop on the Election Preparation CommitteeYesterday we had a very busy day here at the ILGA Europe conference. My day started off with a workshop session on the conference proposals and the evaluation of the work of the Election Preparation Committee (EPC) that was established at the 2007 Vilnius Conference. The problem was that too few people put themselves forward (or were put forward by their organization) to be a candidate for the board.

 

Hans YtterbergThe EPC gave a verbal report on the work that was done during the last year and asked for a new term for 2009. After that a discussion arose on the results of the EPC and if the committee provided the member organizations with something extra that the board in previous years couldn't. A positive thing was that this year a list of requirements and skills that candidates need was published and that the election statements provided to the members included more information than usual. It was decided that these statements would next year be included in the pre-conference mailing so that every member will have more time to consider who to vote for.

 

My proposal was to send out the call for candidates and the list of requirements already in January. Normally this is included in the first mailing in June. That doesn't give the members enough time to look for suitable candidates. I think it was accepted, because no one disagreed with me.

 

Dinner at Hajszan WeingutThe presentation by Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, was as ever very inspiring. It was followed by a 'lecture' by professor Jack Donnelly of the University of Denver who talked about human rights law and its implications for the work LGBT organizations do at a local and national level. The final session of the day was the plenary where the thirteen candidates for the ILGA Europe board and the four candidates for the European seats in the ILGA World board presented themselves. The Dutch organizations had discussed the several candidates over lunch and I don't think our opinion was changed because of the two minute speeches in the plenary.

 

UK delegates in the hotel barAt the end of the plenary there was a special surprise for Hans Ytterberg, the Swedish Ombudsman on Sexual Orientation Discrimination. He was the first to serve in this capacity in Sweden and is now stepping down. He was presented with a special Certificate of Appreciation for all the work he has done over many years for the LGBT movement in Sweden and Europe. Fortunately he will not completely disappear because he will continue to advise ILGA Europe on several issues.

Discussions, discussions, discussions

My presentation for The Hague as host city was not yesterday, but will be today. I have made just a small text because all our plans were included in the third pre-conference mailing.

 

The evening programme consisted of a guided bus tour and a dinner. Our guide took us along special Viennese LGBT places, like the birth house of Schubert, the workplace of Freud and the statue of Prince Eugen of Savoy. Dinner was in Weingut Hajszan, one of the vineyards within the city boundaries. Here we got a taste of special wines and typical Austrian food. It was wonderful, although this morning I have some "rumblings in the interior".

 

Back at the hotel most people ended up in the hotel bar. It was a night with a lot of fun, laughing and useful discussions. I remember discussing voting procedures and the composition of the board until the lights went out (the bar's, not mine).

 

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 31 October 2008 - The Mayor's party

 

Speech on behalf of the Mayor of ViennaLast night we were invited by the Mayor and Governor of Vienna to attend a reception in the cellar of Town Hall (Rathauskeller). It was the first of a series of official functions that all of us attend. Unfortunately the Mayor himself wasn't there so we were greeted by a member of the town council (whose name slipped my mind for now). He held a speech underlining the importance of this conference for Vienna and he told us that, unlike federal law, the law in the State of Vienna (Austria is a federal republic) is the best in the country where equal rights and non-discrimination are concerned.

 

Vienna: cool cityAfter the speeches (yes, there were some more) it was time for the buffet and the bar to open. I must say that the food here in Vienna is perfect, both at the Rathaus and at the conference hotel. During the evening many of the board candidates lobbied for votes. There are thirteen candidates and only ten board seats, so there is a real choice to make this year. Also it was a real pleasure of seeing so many friends from all over Europe again. Some of them have been to conferences for years and it is always good to see all of them: Cyprus, Denmark, Moldova, Sweden, Romania, Georgia, Bulgaria, Belgium (well, Flanders actually), and of course the other Dutch organizations that are represented here.

 

Dennis and Björn smokingSomething of a shock for many people was that you are allowed to smoke in bars and restaurants in Vienna. As more and more countries ban smokers from public places, it is strange to see that Austria hasn't done that yet. Many people took up old habits again, as Dennis and Björn are demonstrating in the picture.

 

That was last night. So what is on the agenda today? I will attend the workshop that discusses the conference proposals and evaluates the work of the Election Preparation Committee. For the first time a team of ILGA members actively sought candidate board members. I have no idea if it has worked well, because there is no report from the committee included in the conference papers.

 

After that there will be a panel discussion "Supporting LGBT rights nationally and internationally" with Thomas Hammarberg, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, and Madeleine Rees, from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

 

Part of the Swedish delegationParticipants from Norway and BulgariaParticipants from Lithuania and RussiaThe final part of today's programme is the plenary session where the board candidates each get a few minutes to present themselves and convince us that they are the best choice to be on the board for the next two years. Also I have to make a presentation on the candidature of The Hague to host the 2010 conference. But since we are the only city running, that should not be too difficult.

 

Tonight there is a guided bus tour through the city, followed by a dinner at Weinrestaurant Hajszan, offered by the Vienna Tourist Board. It's turning into a real Vienna Congress now.

 

 

 

UNOstamps Vienna comment - 30 October 2008 - Getting started

 

Dr. Maria Berger, Minister of Justice of AustriaToday saw the official opening of the 12th ILGA Europe conference in Vienna. Almost 200 LGBT activists from around Europe have gathered in the Austrian capital for their annual meeting. This conference is partly the official yearly meeting where official proposals are discussed (budget, annual reports, board elections) and where people can participate in discussions and workshops to further their skills and knowledge on the struggle for equal rights.

 

This morning the conference was formally opened by Dr. Maria Berger, Federal Minister of Justice of Austria. She spoke about the importance of the work of ILGA and its members for people all across the continent. Also she told us that last year she introduced a proposal for a registered partnership in Austria, causing a huge public debate.

 

After the coffee break we listened to presentations on international standards on human rights of LGBT people and challenges the movement will face ahead from Morten Kjærum (director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights) and Belinda Pyke (European Commission's director of Equality et al.). Both were a little worried that the progress that has been made during the last months will be slowed when the Czech Republic takes over the presidency on 1 January.

 

Viennese church opposite the IBIS HotelFor the rest of this afternoon there are different workshops on, among others, 'hostile questioning', the 'Universal Periodic Review', the Social Charter of the Council of Europe and ILGA's Strategic Plan.

 

And why am I here? Well, COC Haaglanden has sent me to this conference to present the candidature of The Hague to organize the ILGA Europe Conference in 2010. That decision will be taken this weekend. Since we are the only candidate it is certain that we will be chosen. As I don't have to lobby the delegates for their votes, I have useful discussions with the organizers of previous conferences (Paris, Sofia, Vilnius, Vienna) to learn from their experiences. Also there is a representative from the Dutch minister for Education, responsible for LGBT affairs. With him I'll try to get the minister to open the conference in 2010.

 

Tonight we are invited by the Mayor of Vienna to attend a special reception and dinner at Vienna City Hall. As you can see, it is all hard work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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last revised: 11 November 2008