On the 4th of November 2016, members of various Eurosceptic parties met at a gala event in Stockholm — ironically, in the same room of the five-star Grand Hotel (and with very nearly the same menu) where a similar gala event had been held in 1901 during the very first Nobel Prize Dinner. The 2016 event inaugurated the ‘European Freedom Awards’, which was awarded to the guest of honour, the former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. Organized by the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE), in collaboration with local hosts, the Sweden Democrats, the gala event brought together some of the leading centre-right parties of Europe.
Earlier in the day, delegates from various European countries had signed a joint statement called the ‘Stockholm Declaration’. In it signatories agreed on the importance of upholding national sovereignty and traditional cultural values, as well as keeping taxes low. They also promised to tackle radical Islam. (Rather oddly, the Declaration omitted any mention of Christianity, which one would think would be central in a declaration on Europe’s future.)
After the signing of the Declaration, a press conference was held with former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, who stated that there can be no half ‘yes’ to Brexit. It would be treason, he said, to go against the electorate and not follow through with the amicable separation for which 17.4 million people had voted. At one point, asked about his feelings towards Russian President, Vladimir Putin, Farage simply said: “I don’t like him” — though he emphasized that the most reasonable thing to do is to speak with him and not ‘poke the Russian bear’.
Farage also introduced Klaus before handing him his award. Calling him “a good bloke”, Farage said the former statesman “represents the respectable end of our movement.” He praised Klaus for having spoken firmly to members of the European Parliament in 2009, scolding them for not listening to European people, and for maintaining his composure as 200 left-wing MEP’s walked out during the remainder of his plenary address.
Upon receiving the prize, Klaus spoke at length about the problems he sees facing Europe. Having lived through Communism, he mentioned that he now sees similar totalitarian tendencies among some groups in Europe. He said he also detects a return in some parts of Eastern Europe to the failed statist policies of the past. Part of this, he said, seems to stem from the ‘green ideology’ of modern-day environmentalism, which he sees as nothing more than a new form of the old socialist doctrines. In conclusion, he said the European Union is not a real democracy; rather, it is an amalgamation of nations based on a weak common identity and increasingly exhibiting a tendency towards greater centralization.
Those attending the gala event and celebrating Vaclav Klaus all shared similar concerns about the future of Europe. While people engaged in sometimes animated discussions, we slipped away for a cigarette after dessert and, on behalf of The European Conservative, managed to exchange a few words with Farage himself. Below is a transcript of our brief conversation:
How important are small and local communities?
I live in the same building in which I grew up 52 years ago. Our population is under 1,000. I know virtually everybody there. If I go to the church or the pub, I know everyone there. I love that sense of connection, interconnection, community, and — dare I say it — that sense of mutual love. That’s with a small-l not a big-L.
When you live in communities you care for people next door. If, for example, the milk hasn’t been collected by some of the elderly, you know something is wrong. So you knock on the door. And I think community, and belonging, and interrelating is actually what makes mankind its best.
So you’ve asked the right question to the right person here. I really care about that, and I think identity and community matters in a village. For me, it matters. I am very proud of my village and I am very proud of my county. I’m really proud of my country.
Since you mentioned Church in your speech, let me ask you: How important is Christianity for Europe and for you?
Well, I would say this to you: Christianity itself is not as important as Christian values. And I see no inconsistency or contradiction between the two. Some very ‘churchy’ types might — I mean, I’m a Christian myself ! But that is not the point. I am a Brit and we actually have a written Christian constitution. I mean, our Head of State is the ‘Defender of the Faith’. It is an absolute fundament in what we are as a nation.
Now, much of Europe is secular and I get that, by the way. But whether it is within or without your constitution, the fact that Europe has a Judeo-Christian culture and background I think is fundamental. It’s very interesting that when the European constitution was drafted there were several repeated attempts to get written into that constitution that there was a Christian culture. They were rejected. Rejected!
What I said earlier about when leaders stop believing in their communities, their people, they lose their self confidence, and it allows others to come in and perhaps damage the valuable things that were there before. I feel this enormously about our Christian culture. I think we have over the years had all sorts of incomers with different faiths and communities who have practiced private observance but publicly have been very integrated — the Jewish community perhaps being the very best example of that. Since we stopped believing in Christianity — or our leaders did — at least in Christian principles, we’ve opened the door to a whole new set of ideas where we now turn a blind eye to polygamy and to female genital mutilation. Extraordinary!
There was a chap last week in Britain imprisoned for bigamy, while at the same time in the next street there are people allowed to practice it openly because they come from a different faith. This is how civilizations come to be destroyed. They lose faith in who they are. So I believe you get from all this that I believe in [the faith] quite strongly.
What are the greatest challenges facing Western civilization?
Islamic terrorism is the number one threat — an imminent threat. The loss of democracy I think is a very, very serious threat. And the third one, which is a bit longer term, is demography. We face a demographic problem. Now, it doesn’t have to be a problem — if those who have come here with different faiths and races and religions become integrated, and become part of our same shared hopes and aspirations, then we won’t have a problem. At the moment, my confidence in that happening is quite low. And that’s a problem that I won’t face. I’ll be dead.