The view after leaving the St Peters station does not do Ghent any justice. In fact the first buildings you encounter look pretty dull, especially in the middle of the night. Nothing was moving in the streets, and, thank god there was Burt with his van, who was available. So we crossed the town to the place where the social meeting was taking place, in order to find the Greek and the Cypriot delegation. when we reached the place, they where already gone, and en route to the student halls where we were lodging in. Another jump on the van, and off to the halls. There, since I did not have any key whatsoever to the room, I had to wait for some more time, for my roomie and the rest of the group to arrive. While I was waiting near the tables, a group of Americans was partying on the floor. They offered me a drink and a way to come into their company, but I had to refuse politely. I was too tired from the two-day trip, and I needed a lot of sleep. After a few more minutes of waiting, the greeks had arrived, and I was sleeping next to my designated partner.
The morning came with a shower of rain. And , along with that, we had to walk a few kilometres into the center of Ghent, to reach the place where the conference was taking place. And, due to me being awfully late in waking up, we had missed breakfast. Bad bad bad. I had to endure about 15 people staring at me. We walked through the heavy showers, got lost on the way, but finally made it to the building, with a sigh of relief. That was the end of our troubles. We arrived just as the procedures where starting, and the other delegations where coming in. Among us we had a few of the “stars “ of the conference. Lucy Redler, a member of the local Parliament of Berlin, with SAV and WASG, Peter Taughee the Secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, members of the SSP,people from Socialist Resistance in Kazakhstan, Shiri from Sri Lanka, and, last but not least, Joe Higgins, then TD representing the Socialist Party in Irish Parliament.. The conference was a good paradigm of the way the CWI behaves internationally. Open, democratic procedures, where all opinions are heard, and disagreements are taken into account, sometimes even answered when there is an answer to counter them, or adopted as proposals when they are solid. Splits are uncommon, since decisions are discussed extensively in branch meetings (in the beginning), and slowly move their way into the central committee, so that every angle can be discussed and covered, disagreements and problems can be solved. And this means few people living the organisations, and the danger of splits being minimal, since members take a decisive part in decision making, not just being “forced” to listen to directives from the top. In this conference , all important matters are discussed, but, more seriously, members from different countries share experiences from fighting the good fight, and methods of intervening in movements, workspaces and schools. The same goes with propositions and working around campaigns. What you see in this conference is the core of this international. People from various backgrounds who are taking up organizational tasks, or play a certain role in movements, trade unions and coalitions of parties and organizations. And this because back in their workspaces they are recognised as good fighters with solid ideas and good-working proposals.
All this conference work left me small amounts of time to cruise around town and get its feel. But, on the other hand, I think that I got a lot of its atmosphere. Ghenk may have a surreal weather (all four seasons appearing within the day, Vivaldi would go mad if he was living there), but is not, by any means , dim. Though it is a typical Flemmish place, the population is mixed. There are Germanic people, Italians, Arabs and Congolese living there. Plus it is the city with the biggest population of Turks in continental Europe, bar Germany. In one instance a group of Turkish men approached us with the intention of selling us contraband merchandice, but they where , almost instantly, leaving with a negative response. The food around is excellent, especially if you are fond of beer and French fries. Mind you, French fries are actually a Belgian trademark product, they are not French at all. As for the beer, Belgium has a tradition for Monastery-type brands, and a speciality for blended bears. Forbidden Fruit, Hoegarden, Duvell and Lucifer are the most recognised brand names around.
Nevertheless Ghent is picturesque, and its downtown area has no resemblance to the monstrosities around St.Peters. It is full of small-time bars and shops, that live off the students living there. Ghent and Leuven are famous for their Universities. Yet Ghent is also some sort of a stronghold for Flemmish Nationalism. Ethnic tensions in Belgium are on the rise. The French-speaking South is going into an economic crisis, while the neuvau-riche Flemmish North is very prosperous. And the Northerners want autonomy by way of a loose confederation between the three states (Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels), so that they do not have to pay for the newly poor South. It is the victor’s nationalism, a bourgeois us and them, like the type of nationalism Angela Merkel is trying to awaken now in Germany. We are cool, they are bums. This was shown when, one night after exiting a bar and moving towards our home, a Flemmish nationalist stomped on one of our comrades. Thank God the cops arrived in time, and Belgian police have a very strict policy on law and ordrer. whoever breaks it, be nationalist or anarchist, rich or poor, is arrested. Same thing happened when tensions between members of the cwi and a neofascist group rose one day later. Though they where having batons as part of their uniforms, they never got to use them. The Police arrived swiftly and apprehended them for carrying illegal weapons! Could one see that happening elsewhere? Furthermore this surprised all the Israelis, Greeks, Swedes, Cypriots and Russians within the group. If this was happening back home, the Police would surely turn a blind eye on them, if not openly support them. The police arresting them seemed to be too much of a far fetched scenario. Meanwhile even the Swedes where getting pissed of at the weather. I have not seen as much rain anywhere else, to speak the truth. The days passed, and I was starting to get tired and short-fused. Though I had fun, the weather was getting to me. I needed to return to Spain. So I decided, that the day after the end of the conference, I would jump on the first plane available going south. Spain, Italy, Southern France, Portugal, I don’t mind. On the last day we partied hard, I almost drunk like a bore. After that we left for our last night of sleep. At noon we left Ghent for Brussels, where I would leave the rest of the group and go my way into Spain again.