Update: Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Intervened
On Tuesday, the Progressive Party appointed PEGIDA supporter Gústaf Níelsson as vice-member of the Reykjavík Human Rights Council. Gústaf Níelsson is a registered member of the Independency Party, but has consistently expressed hostile views towards Muslims and gay marriage.
The appointment met with heavy criticism, also from within the Progressive Party. On Wednesday, during the writing of this report, the Progressive Party’s city council members withdrew Gústaf’s appointment. This was reported by RÚV.
Spokespeople of the Progressive Party claim that the appointment was a mistake, and not in line with the Party’s policies. The appointment seems to have been no more in line with the views of Gústaf himself, who has called the Human Rights Council needless, and says that he never requested participation in it.
According to Vísir, Gústaf, a former radio host on talk radio Útvarp Saga, has proposed banning Islam in Iceland “to set a precedent for all of Europe”. Útvarp Saga is widely perceived as a moutpiece for right-wing populist, xenophobic views, but according to Egill Helgason, Gústaf was discharged for being too extreme for the station.
Interviewed for the radio program Harmageddon on radio channel X-ið in May 2014, Gústaf called Iceland “the last Christian citadel” adding: “and it’s falling.” When pressed about his views on multi-culturalism, in the light of cultural benefits, Gústaf replied: “The pizza came to Iceland without any Italians migrating here. … Ideas migrate without people migrating.”
Gústaf has also expressed strong homophobic attitudes. In 2005, he penned an article, published in Morgunblaðið, expressing his opposition to gay marriage. In 2006, he signed a petition, along with twenty other individuals and twenty religious organisations, against gay marriage.
Notoriously, the Progressive Party based their 2014 campaign for the Reykjavík city council election on an opposition to the planned construction of a mosque in Reykjavík. Eygló Harðardóttir, minister of welfare, was widely criticised at the time for not opposing xenophobic tendencies within her party. She did, however, voice her opposition to Gústaf’s appointment, who has, she said “repeatedly expressed attitudes that go against the values of the Progressive Party”. She described the appointment as “unacceptable”.
Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, another prominent member of the Progressive Party,also criticised the appointment, which he says is “beyond comprehension”.
The LGBTQ rights organisation Samtökin 78 also expressed concerns over Gústaf’s appointment. Interviewed by Vísir, the organisation’s chair, Hilmar Magnússon, said that Gústaf is a “notorious homophobe, and has been for years”. “They are giving us the finger,” he added, “that’s just how it is. I can’t see this any other way.”
Update: Last but not least, on Wednesday afternoon the Progressive Party’s chair, Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, announced on Facebook that he had met with the party’s notorious City Council members to discuss “the mistake” made with this appointment. Sigmundur also wrote that the meeting was “successful”, which seems to indicate that his interference may have been instrumental in withdrawing the decision. Sigmundur Davíð has, until now, faced heavy criticism for not stemming the xenophobic tide within his party.
As noted above, within 24 hours of Gústaf’s appointment, it was withdrawn.
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