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Brussels authorities order shutdown of right-wing gathering

April 16, 2024

Brussels authorities ordered the shutdown of the "national conservatism" conference to "ensure public security." Keynote speaker Nigel Farage called the move "monstrous."

Belgian police in front of Claridge in Saint-Josse, Brussels during banned national conservatism conference
Brussels police did not allow people to enter the venue of the "national conservatism" conference after a shutdown was orderedImage: James Arthur Gekiere/Belga/dpa/picture alliance

Brussels city authorities on Tuesday ordered the shutdown of a gathering of right-wing European political figures.

One keynote speaker at the "national conservatism" — or NatCon — conference was Britain's Nigel Farage, former leader of the euroskeptic UKIP party and major pro-Brexit campaigner.

Themes included "Why Should We Prefer Our Own Culture to Others?" and "Challenging Wokeism: An International Matter." Several hundred people attended the event.

What happened at the national conservative conference in Brussels?

Farage held his speech as rumors began to surface that the event was about to be shut down.

"I think it's absolutely monstrous," Farage later told reporters, referring to the ban on the event. "This is the complete old Communist style where if you don't agree with me, you've got to be banned, you've got to be shut down."

A speech by former British Interior Minister Suella Braverman went ahead despite the police presence.

The former minister is a member of the UK's Conservative Party and served under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak until a Cabinet reshuffle in November. Braverman has in the past decried what she called an "invasion" of migrants in the UK and said she considers that the British Empire was a "force for good" in the world.

Officers did not shut down the gathering upon their arrival but did not allow people to continue to enter the building.

"Police have instructed that they won't let people into the building but won't force them to leave," said Anthony Gilland of the MCC think tank, one of the organizations behind the event.

Other speakers were to include Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who leads the nationalist Fidesz party and former Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of the PiS party, which was defeated in October elections. Far-right former French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour and conservative German Catholic Cardinal Gerhard Müller were also listed among the participants.

Why did Brussels authorities ban the event?

Emir Kir, mayor of the Brussels district of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, said he issued the ban in order to "ensure public security."

He said the far right is "not welcome" in the city.

Europe's far right is expected to gain ground in an EU parliamentary elections in June.

Organizers said they were challenging the mayor's decision in court.

The national conservative conference has had multiple venue issues, with the first Brussels reception room organizers booked abruptly canceling the reservation on Friday evening. It was then to be held in a hotel in Brussels' European quarter, which also changed its mind on Monday.

Anti-fascist demonstrators had been planning to protest at the venue later in the day.

"Freedom of speech may indeed apply to everyone, within the limits of the law, but that does not mean we have to open our home to the far-right," the Belgian League of Human Rights group said.

How have conservative politicians reacted?

Orban vowed that those involved in the event "will not give up" in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"I guess they couldn't take free speech any longer," he said.

Sunak's spokesman also denounced the mayor's decision.

"These reports are extremely disturbing ... the prime minister is a strong supporter and advocate for free speech, and he believes that should be fundamental to any democracy," he said, adding the shutdown was "damaging to free speech and to democracy."

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who belongs to the neoliberal Flemish party Open VLD, called the shutdown "unacceptable" and "unconstitutional" in a post on X.

The conference, referred to as NatCon, was organized by the Edmund Burke Foundation, a right-wing think tank.

sdi/sms (AFP, EFE)