Let’s just be honest here: the Progressive Party has, for at least the past several years, been Iceland’s xenophobic nationalist party. And tomorrow, they might win a seat on city council.
If you’ve been following the news lately, you’re probably already aware of Progressive mayoral candidate Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir. Last week, with her party’s support lagging behind the pack for months (note that they didn’t win a seat in the last municipal elections), she suddenly expressed one of the uglier and more misinformed opinions we’ve had to endure this campaign season:
“As long as we have a national church, we should not grant plots of land for buildings such as mosques or for Greek Orthodox churches. … I lived in Saudi Arabia for about a year. My opinion is not based on prejudice, but on experience. I have, for example, just returned from one of the biggest mosques in the world, in Abu Dhabi. There are no churches there. I respect the values of other countries, and think this is a given.”
There’s a lot wrong with this sentiment. There are no Greek Orthodox churches in Iceland, Abu Dhabi has at least six churches, and of course there’s the small matter of Icelandic law guaranteeing free plots of land for the building of houses of worship, so she couldn’t revoke the plot of land Reykjavík granted our city’s Muslims last year if she wanted to. But the real problem here is that, whatever her party’s platform may be, the Progressives have been making nationalist and xenophobic statements for at least the past few years now.
Apart from Sveinbjörg’s desperate, transparent ploy for votes, let’s not forget that Progressive MP Frosti Sigurjónsson has suggested deporting all foreign prisoners, that Progressive MP Vigdís Hauksdóttir has said she wants to see asylum seekers wearingtracking devices, and that Progressive Party chairman – and Iceland’s Prime Minister – Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson stirred up foreign criminal gang paranoia in parliament. Ever since having to reinvent itself in the aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse, the Progressives have been trying their hand at being Iceland’s xenophobic, nationalist party – probably with an eye on how such rhetoric has succeeded in Europe.
Sveinbjörg’s particular ploy has attracted the support of Skúli Skúlason, the guy who created the Facebook group “We protest against a mosque in Iceland”, wherein he has accused Muslims of raping Swedish childrenand who has called Anders Breivík’s videos“a work of genius”, amongst other things. Skúli has called upon his followers to vote for Sveinbjörg, and has posted Islamophobic and racist comments on her Facebook, all of which she has let stand. Any reasonable politician would publicly denounce this kind of vote of confidence from an unabashed racist like Skúli. Sveinbjörg’s silence on this dubious show of support has been deafening. Instead, she took an opportunity today to talk about how worried she is that an influx of Muslims will lead to forced marriages becoming a problem in Iceland.
Why the Progressives have chosen to go this route is anyone’s guess. When the Liberal Party made the same ploy back in 2006, they saw a small initial bump in support, but gained exactly zero seats in parliament the following year, and lost the four they had two years later. Today, they are all but extinct.
Sveinbjörg might get a seat on city council tomorrow. If she does, you can believe she will continue to be marginalised, her party’s name sullied further, until they, too, shrivel up and scatter into the winds.
But my hope is that Icelanders and immigrants alike (if you’ve been living in Reykjavík for at least the past five consecutive years, you can vote, citizen or not) vote for anyone else but the Progressives. I would like to think we’re better than this. Regardless, Sveinbjörg can’t undo the damage she’s already done. But make no mistake: she is far from the only Progressive to tout xenophobia and nationalism – whether in a cynical attempt for votes or out of “genuine” xenophobia.