". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Rocky Road to Brussels: Police Forced to End Blockade against National Conservatism Conference

April 18, 2024

Organizing a political conference headlined by international A-listers is a far-from-simple task, but a police siege undoubtedly complicates matters. The National Conservatism Conference, a project of the Edmund Burke Foundation, kicked off on Tuesday in Brussels, Belgium, featuring speakers like Brexit leader Nigel Farage, former U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, former Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, French politician and journalist Éric Zemmour, and Catholic Cardinal Gerhard Müller of Germany, among others. About two hours into the conference, police arrived to shut it down.

Police cited the threat of “public disorder” when they first arrived, and later delivered conference organizers an official order to terminate the event. Anthony Gilland, the conference’s local organizer, told media, “One of the reasons that we’ve been given, it’s not the only reason, is that there will be a counterprotest this afternoon around about 5 p.m. and the idea is that the police are not able to protect free speech at this event.” Gilland was reportedly given only 15 minutes to read and sign the order.

Farage, a former member of the European Parliament (MEP) who successfully campaigned for the U.K. to withdraw from the European Union, quipped, “I knew I wouldn’t be welcome back in Brussels,” adding, “This is what we are up against. We are up against an evil ideology. We are up against a new form of communism.”

Braverman opined, “If only the globalists in Brussels put as much energy into securing our borders as they did in trying to gag conservatives, maybe our continent would be in a healthier state.” Referring to Soviet communism, Morawiecki stated, “The last time I saw censorship at work, I was a freedom fighter in the Solidarity times of the [19]80s. Who’d believe the next time I’d see it at work would be in Brussels 2024?”

Orbán declared, “The last time they wanted to silence me with the police was when the Communists set them on me in ‘88. We didn’t give up then and we will not give up this time either!” Müller commented during the police siege, “This is like Nazi Germany.” Dutch MEP Rob Roos said in his speech, “I feel bad for the people trying to shut us down. They never received enough love. That’s why family values are so important.” He added, “You cannot silence us. We will not surrender.”

Two event venues had already turned down the National Conservatism Conference under pressure from Belgian mayors: Concert Noble in Brussels proper rejected the conference under pressure from mayor Philippe Close, while the Sofitel hotel in nearby Etterbeek cancelled its contract with conference organizers on advice from mayor Vincent de Wolf. Finally, the conference found a venue in the Claridge. According to Anna Wellisz, vice president for External Affairs at the Edmund Burke Foundation, food deliveries to the event were cancelled on Tuesday, and personal information — including phone numbers — of the Claridge owners and their family members were leaked to the public. “We thank the owners of this venue who withstood these mafia methods attempting to prevent us from having a conversation,” Wellisz said.

Mayor Emir Kir of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, a municipality in the Brussels region where the Claridge is located, warned that he would “immediately take measures to ban” the National Conservatism Conference. Noting that speakers and attendees “are reputed to be traditionalists,” Kir said that the conference “is not only ethically conservative (e.g. hostility to the legislation of abortion, same-sex unions etc.) but also focused on the defense of ‘national sovereignty,’ which implies among other things, a ‘Eurosceptic attitude.’”

For his part, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo condemned the police siege. “What happened at the Claridge today is unacceptable,” he stated. “Banning political meetings is unconstitutional. Full stop.”

For hours on Tuesday, police blockaded the Claridge, barring entry to the building. Keynote speaker Zemmour was prevented from entering to deliver his scheduled speech, and food and wine had to be smuggled in during Müller’s talk. Attendees and speakers were permitted to leave the event, but police would not allow them to return. Finally, conference organizers launched a legal challenge against the blockade.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International and National Conservatism Conference officials filed a legal challenge and lawyers presented their case until late into the night. In a 2:30 a.m. decision on Wednesday morning, the Conseil d’État, Belgium’s highest court of public administration, struck down the mayor’s order and decreed that the second half of the conference was free to continue unimpeded. “Article 26 of the Constitution [of Belgium] grants everyone the right to assemble peacefully,” the court ruled, noting that a vague fear of opposition to an event is not sufficient grounds to ban the event.

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International and a speaker at the conference, said in a statement, “No official should have the power to shut down free and peaceful assembly merely because he disagrees with what is being said. How can Brussels claim to be the heart of Europe if its officials only allow one side of the European conversation to be heard?”

Coleman himself spoke at the conference on its second day, as did Catholic priest Fr. Benedict Kiely, author at The European Conservative Hélène de Lauzun, as well as Zemmour, Orbán, Morawiecki, and others. Many talks — both on Tuesday and Wednesday — addressed concerns over rampant, unimpeded migration and the Islamification of Europe. Others spoke on the dangers of LGBT ideology, the importance of marriage and family, the necessity of freedom of speech, Europe’s Christian roots, and other subjects.

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.