World News

European Far-Right Leaders, Meeting to Condemn the EU, Are Greeted With Boos

Posted December 16, 2017 3:22 p.m. EST

PRAGUE — As European far-right leaders gathered in Prague on Saturday for a two-day conference to unify their stance on immigration and other issues, they were met by throngs of protesters who booed, shouted “Shame” and denounced populism and xenophobia.

The members of the European Parliament, including Marine Le Pen of France and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, met as part of the nationalist Europe of Nations and Freedom coalition at a heavily fortified hotel just outside the city center in the Czech Republic, which has seen a rise in far-right politics and nationalist rhetoric.

At a news conference, Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, called on the European Union to adopt more restrictive immigration policies and said the conference would serve to usher in a new era of cooperation among like-minded parties.

“In 30 or 50 years, the Czech Republic will be surrounded by countries with population where 20 percent of people will be Muslims,” Wilders said. “That is as if the Czech Republic became a Gaza Strip. We need to prevent mass migration even if we should build a wall.”

The conference was hosted by the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant Freedom and Direct Democracy party, known as the SPD. The party emerged as a major force in Czech parliamentary elections in October, winning nearly 11 percent of the vote.

Tomio Okamura, the Czech-Japanese leader of the SPD, said the gathering Saturday was to demand a reformed European Union based on the tightest possible cooperation of sovereign nations, guided by mutual benefits without any dictate from Brussels, while maintaining free movement of people, goods, capital and services.

“Europe should not be a denationalized state directed by bureaucrats in Brussels,” Okamura said. He added that he believed Europe was threatened by the degradation of traditional values and the suppression of patriotism.

During the news conference, Okamura, Le Pen and Wilders accused the bloc of destroying the sovereignty of member states by adopting a mandatory quota for asylum-seekers from the Middle East.

“Because we like Europe, we say that the EU is going to kill her,” said Le Pen, president of the National Front and a former French presidential candidate. “We are patriots; we defend our sovereignty,” she added.

Wilders said he hoped the Czech capital would keep its doors closed to migrants.

As in neighboring Poland and Hungary, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment rhetoric has become a mainstay in politics in the Czech Republic, helping the eccentric billionaire and euroskeptic Andrej Babis to become prime minister in the last elections.

While he is also staunchly against the EU’s migrant quotas, he pledged during his campaign not to cooperate with the far-right groups. But since taking office this past week without a majority in Parliament to rule outright, he has shown a willingness to work with Okamura and his SPD party on a quid pro quo basis.

Several leftist groups that opposed the meeting in Prague organized protests Friday and Saturday in the center of the capital and on the outskirts of city, where the conference took place. About 400 people gathered Saturday outside the news conference, chanting, whistling and booing far-right supporters as they entered the compound, guarded by security and police officers.

“In the Czech Republic, there is an increasing number of attacks against minorities due to the policies of the Czech SPD party,” said Jan Cemper, the protests’ organizer. “At the same time, we want to show that such congresses of xenophobes and populists are not welcomed here.”

Fedor Gal, a former dissident and a public figure in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, referring to extreme right politicians, said, “Those are people that do not care for a dialogue, and they do not deserve our tolerance.”

Czech politicians condemned the conference. Jiri Pospisil, chairman of TOP 09, a center-right party, wrote in a Facebook post: “Extremists that threaten the interests of both the Czech Republic and Europe gather in Prague. They want to leave the EU and NATO and bring us close to Russia of Vladimir Putin. What a shame that the host is vice chairman of the Czech parliament.”

Security measures were tight for the far-right politicians, particularly Wilders, who has faced threats. No violence was reported, however, and the police did not intervene in the demonstrations.

Though no public agenda for the conference was made public, the group introduced the Belgian right-wing politician Gerolf Annemans as the Europe of Nations and Freedom’s new president and visited the Czech Parliament on a guided tour.

Also expected at the conference were Janice Atkinson, an independent member of the European Parliament who was expelled from Britain’s populist UKIP party two years ago amid a financing scandal; and Marcus Pretzell, a German member of the European Parliament formerly with the Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD.