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Historic panel relocated from Union due to clash with far-right speaker

The Silk Road Panel, an event initially scheduled to take place at the Oxford Union in early November, has relocated to a college venue following concerns over “anticipated anti-free speech protests” incited by another event being hosted at the Oxford Union on the same day. 

The Panel, organised by the Oxford Silk Road Society, will represent the first time senior diplomatic leaders from all five Central Asian states – the Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – sit on the same panel at a British university. 

The panel discussion coincides with Alice Weidel’s visit to the Union, which is also scheduled for Wednesday 7th November. 

Weidel’s visit has attracted a flurry of negative attention in recent weeks, with Stand Up to Racism Oxford and Unite Against Fascism coming together to organise a protest against the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party leader’s visit on grounds that her party “built up its following by stoking up racism against migrants, Muslims, and refugees.” 

Protestors plan to gather on St Michael’s Street from 6pm on the day of Weidel’s speaker event – at the same time diplomats speaking on the Silk Road Panel were scheduled to dine at the Union, their panel having taken place in that afternoon. 

Oxford Union President Stephen Horvath told Cherwell: “We regret that the Silk Road Society have chosen to move their exciting panel out of our premises, but we respect their decision.

“There were some constraints on our end [to host the Panel on Union premises] due to the anticipated anti-free speech protests that evening (e.g. the inability to host an enjoyable post-event dinner in the Macmillan Room if there are megaphones being used in St Michael’s Street, difficulty for the exit of speakers by car). 

“There were also points from the Silk Road Society (e.g. the sensitivity of diplomats in thinking the protest might be about them, the request that there must be a dinner). 

“In light of this, our two societies explored a number of avenues for rescheduling the event, including cancelling the dinner, or changing to one of two possible dates in a seven day window surrounding the scheduled event. 

“The Silk Road Society then unilaterally (and I don’t mean this in a pejorative way – it is of course their right) decided to move the event off premises and cease any logistical co-operation with the Union in this event.” 

Silk Road Society President Marcello Fantoni told Cherwell: “Due to the expected protests at the Union on the day that the panel was to be held, we decided to relocate the event to ensure that everything goes smoothly for all parties. 

“We are confident that we will still be able to host a very productive discussion at our new location, but we regret that it seems preference is being given to controversial speakers.”

Fantoni also cited concerns about “forced association through proximity” with the Weidel event. 

Horvath confirmed that the Union also asked Weidel if she might reschedule so the the Silk Road event could go ahead. However, the far-right politician was “unable to amend her intended travel schedule” to accommodate for a date change. 

The Silk Road Panel is will now take place in the Nissan Lecture Theatre at St Antony’s College, at the same time as previously scheduled. Oxford Union members will still be able to enjoy free entry for the event.

The UK embassies of all five Central Asian Republics have been contacted for comment.

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