UK academics among attendees at disrupted National Conservatism conference.

Three CAF signatories, Professor Frank Furedi, Professor Matthew Goodwin, and Dr James Orr, were among those attending the National Conservativism conference which Belgium mayor Emir Kir attempted to cancel. 

National Conservatism describes itself as a movement of “public figures, journalists, scholars, and students who understand that the past and future of conservatism are inextricably tied to the idea of the nation, to the principle of national independence, and to the revival of the unique national traditions”. The movement’s “Statement of Principles” is available to read on its website. 

A National Conservatism conference was organised by the Edmund Burke Foundation, a right-wing thinktank, to take place in Brussels. Local mayors pressured the owners of the first two venues which had agreed to host the conference into cancelling. In the case of the third venue – Claridge, in Saint Josse ten Noode – the owner, Mohamed Nemri, refused pressure from mayor Emir Kir to cancel. 

On 16th April, the first day of the conference, Mr Kir ordered police to shut it down. Police initially informed attendees that they had 15 minutes leave the building, but then, rather than clearing it, they stationed themselves outside and prevented anyone from entering. It has been suggested that this was due to heavy media presence at the conference. Mr Kir stated that the conference was being cancelled for reasons of “public security”. 

The cancellation was challenged by organisers of the conference in the Conseil d’État, Belgium’s Supreme Court. The court noted in its judgement that the threat to public security “seems to be deduced purely from the reactions to the event that could arise among opponents”. That is, Mr Kir had banned the conference on grounds that its opponents were a threat to public security. The court ordered the immediate removal of the ban, and the conference continued on the 17th April.  

Mr Emir was a member of Belgium’s Socialist Party until his expulsion in 2020. Given the transparent flimsiness of the legal case for cancelling the conference, Mr Kir’s action seems to have been a deliberate abuse of power to censor views he personally disagrees with.