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Artillery Row

The campaign against National Conservatism is a disgrace

A peaceful conference is facing state and activist intimidation

Whether you like or loathe “National Conservatism”, you have to appreciate the irony of Belgian officials standing up to supposedly illiberal voices by attempting to stamp them out of existence. 

NatCon Brussels 2 is being held this week, featuring speakers such as Viktor Orbán, Suella Braverman and Eric Zemmour. That people hotly disagree with the right-leaning opinions that will be aired on immigration, the EU and family values is perfectly legitimate. Trying to get the conference shut down, though, is not disagreement — it is blatant state-backed censorship.

National Conservatism has already had two venues cancel on them. Concert Noble cancelled the booking under pressure from left-wing organisations like the Belgian Anti-Fascist Coordination. The NatCon organisers also alleged that the company which manages the venue had admitted to being urged to withdraw from their commitment by the Mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close.

The second venue that the organisers turned to was the Hotel Sofitel Brussels. Vincent de Wolf, the mayor of Etterbeek, the municipality in which the hotel is based, spoke to the police, who spoke to the management of the venue, who cancelled the booking.

Against all expectations, and in the face of Antifa, politicians and the police, NatCon found yet another venue and the conference began today. But its opponents are unsatisfied. According to Politico, the police and local authorities are trying to get the conference shut down even as speakers are onstage. 

One source at the conference told me that the shutters have been lowered and that people are not being allowed in or out of the venue. According to Nigel Farage, speaking at the conference, the owners of the venue and their families have been threatened with the destruction of their business.

A commentator at the conference told me that this was “brownshirt behaviour, with the collusion of the municipal authority”. It is hard to disagree. Indeed, it looks very much as if the threat of violence is being exploited as a means of rationalising politically convenient authoritarianism.

“Hypocrisy” might be one of the limper charges one can aim in politics but that does not make it inapplicable. Orbán, Braverman, Zemmour and others are hated, among their enemies, for their illiberalism, with the former being the target of exceptional opprobrium for his alleged intolerance of dissent. But what could be more vividly illiberal, and intolerant of dissenting voices, than attempting to drive speakers out of private venues with the use of state power and activistic intimidation?

It is worth taking a look at the open letter that various left-wing Belgian groups wrote up to justify their campaign. Once more for those at the back — it is very understandable that people disagree with Orbán, Braverman and so on. But you need to have some hot stuff if you want to rationalise denying elected politicians — as well as journalists, academics et cetera — the right to speak. 

Among their complaints is a German cardinal saying “blessing homosexual couples is a sacrilegious[sic]”. This traditional Christian view is unspeakable blasphemy now? Another complaint is the claim that the American commentator Rod Dreher wrote that the Nazi murderer Brandon Tarrant had “sincere and real concerns” about “the declining population of ‘ethnic’ Europeans”. 

More accurately, Mr Dreher wrote that Tarrant’s manifesto was “grounded in both paranoid, racist grievance, and legitimate, realistic concerns”. “Grounded”, as a verb, means “based on”. If I say that jihadist rhetoric in the mid-noughties was based on legitimate, realistic grievances about US foreign policy that does not mean I am excusing jihadism. (Dreher has responded at greater length.)

Are you seeing the cause for state intervention yet?

As I write, the police are entering the venue. Emir Kir, mayor of Saint-Josse, the municipality in which the conference is taking place, appears to have tweeted:

I issued an order from the Mayor to ban the “National Conservatism Conference” event to guarantee public safety.

In Etterbeek, Brussels City and Saint-Josse, the far-right is not welcome.

It sounds as if the only people who are potentially unsafe are inside the venue.

It will be interesting to see if liberal journalists take up the cause of a peaceful conference which is being aggressively harried by state officials and activist groups. Certainly, if the police were shutting down a left-leaning conference in Budapest we would soon hear about it. But illiberalism can somehow wear a smiley face when it targets right-wing causes.

One of the first speakers at NatCon Brussels 2 was the Polish academic and politician Ryszard Legutko. In his book The Demon in Democracy, he wrote:

To a certain degree, equality invites despotism, because in order to make all members of a society equal, and then to maintain this equality for a long period of time, it is necessary to equip the controlling institutions with exceptional power so they can stamp out any potential threat to equality in every sector of the society and any aspect of human life.

It looks very much as if Brussels officials are attempting to prove him right.

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