I spent the weekend at the annual gathering of the Belgian Labour Party1 in Ostend. Looking through the archives here, I’ve mentioned past attendances at PTB events in Ostend, but rarely written about it directly, so here we go.

There were stands with various talks, one was a review of the work by PTB activists helping out with flood relief efforts. Some of that work is still ongoing, it’s a good example of the ‘extra-parliamentary action’ which nourishes the socialist movement.

hippodrome site

The trade union stalls had this statue of a nurse holding a mask.

nurse statue

And, in terms of parliamentary activity, there was also a stand with testimonies from the newly elected deputies. I caught a speech from one woman who worked at ALDI, bringing complaints from her colleagues straight to a government minister. It was pretty inspiring stuff.

international pavillion

On Saturday I went to the moment central. Peter Mertens’ speech put a particular emphasis on Belgian unity, which has always been a significant element of the PTB’s politics; I’m not sure how much to read into the speech though.

moment central

As usual, the moment concluded with a bilingual rendition of the Internationale in Flemish and French.

I did some cycling for peace. ☮

In the evening I had dinner with the other international delegates, and had drinks with a comrade. We saw a few of the musical acts but decided to call it an early night as we were both exhausted.

hippodrome site

Vijay Prashad was there and I was kind of excited to see him speak.

prashad debate

Here he is talking about the US objectives in Afghanistan.

At the very end I stayed to watch a discussion between Mélenchon and Hebedouw, then as it was coming to a close I started to make my way out. Considering how much I watch Mélenchon’s roaring speeches online, it was a special experience to finally see him in person. It was a convivial setting, a sympathetic audience, and the two of them were joking with each other, all while talking through a comparative analysis of the far-right in Belgium and France.

When planning this trip I spent a long time trying to work out how to get from Ostend on Sunday afternoon to Aberdeen on Monday morning. At around 2:30pm I took a tram to Ostend railway station,
a train to Brussels,
the Eurostar to London,
and another train from London to Edinburgh.

I’m finishing off this post at 4am in Edinburgh Waverley station while sitting in the chilly marble waiting room for the final hop to Aberdeen.

In terms of international travel, going to Ostend is one of the simplest journeys I know of. You get the Eurostar to Brussels, then a direct train to Ostend, which has a big new station. Trams stop at the railway station, and the tram line runs parallel to the coast, you can’t really get lost. It’s a journey I’ve done many times before, easily manageable for a short weekend break.

ostend cathedral

As an aside, Ostend has been quietly upgrading its transport infrastructure. I’m still impressed by the huge underground bike parking beneath the station.

ostend bike parking

To return to the point, for a weekend journey – leaving Friday afternoon and arriving Sunday morning – that has become a lot more difficult due to Covid. Following the rules I would get tested three times:
before arrival in Belgium,
before leaving Belgium,
and two days after arrival in Britain.

I had to spend around £110 on tests, in addition to testing for get in and out of the hippodrome. All of that is acceptable, it just means an extra level of prepration and cost. Along with the decision to go straight to Abderdeen, that turned a relatively simple journey into a fairly complicated ordeal.

Still, it was all worth it for a cautious return to the calendar of international events. Ostend is a windy northern port town, it doesn’t always have good weather, but it was calm on Friday evening.

ostend beach

I walked along the seafront as the sun went down and it felt like the end of summer.

  1. The official name of the party is written in French and Dutch as Parti du Travail de Belgique-Partij van de Arbeid. I’ll be referring to it here by the French acronym PTB