Published August 30, 2019
US Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Iceland in early September. It’s fair to say that Pence’s personal values about human rights are completely contrary to Icelandic values, especially when it comes to LBGTQ+ rights. There has been huge progress in Iceland when it comes to establishing rights and protections of minority groups and those in a vulnerable situation. For example, Iceland passed legislation about gender determination a few months ago, while Pence has actively fought against and systematically marginalised minority groups in the United States based on their gender identification and sexual orientation.
There is a universal understanding in Iceland that people are free to be whoever they are, and it is enshrined in law.
Iceland has had a good relationship with the United States for decades—and it’s a friendship worth maintaining. But good friends need to have an honest discussion every now and then. And now would be the right time for Iceland’s Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson to address his nation’s view on human rights for everyone—not only those that fit the Christian idealism of Mike Pence. But Pence, of course, has his own agenda in visiting Iceland. He wants to talk about increased military operations in the area. Something that Icelanders—people known to be proud of their peaceful independence and lack of an army—are not fond of.
What I see here is a bargaining chip. If the vice president wants to secure an agreement about increased operations of the US military in and around Iceland, he needs to give us something back. And given that Iceland is one of the ten richest countries in the world (we are in fifth place per capita; the US is eighth), we don’t need the money.
But we care about human rights. The only acceptable agreement here is to give the United States space in exchange for increased human rights for LGBTQ+ in their own homeland. I am aware that it’s unusual for a small nation to interfere in such a way with the domestic politics of another state, let alone one as omnipresent as the US. We are also aware that the options for the US government to operate in the north of Europe have been narrowed significantly after the recent diplomatic mess created with Denmark.
The road to a better world is never conventional. And Iceland has never considered itself a small conventional nation. It’s always comes down to courage. And courage we have. Keep in mind that our forefathers wrote these words in Hávamál, hundreds of years ago:
Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But I know one thing that never dies,
The glory of the great dead.
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