Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson will meet with CEO of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association Vigdís Häsler today to discuss a racist remark made by the Minister at the association’s annual conference last week. Vigdís hopes the meeting will allow her to “set the matter aside,” RÚV reports.
Words spoken in a “fit of frustration”
As reported by Iceland Review earlier this week, Minister of Infrastructure and Chairman of the Progressive Party Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson attended the annual conference of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association last week.
After a night of “much singing, joy, and entertainment,” a few employees of the Farmers’ Association approached the Minister, asking him to partake in a photo-op. The photo-op involved lifting CEO Vigdís Häsler onto a makeshift plank. Finding the act inappropriate, the Minister refused to participate and uttered a racist remark about the CEO. (Vigdís is Icelandic but was originally adopted from Indonesia.)
Vigdís published a Facebook post on the incident on Monday, saying that she had “never imagined she would have to write such a statement: I’ve never let the colour of my skin, my race, sex, or anything else define me.” Vigdís wrote that the Minister had uttered an “extremely hurtful remark,” without getting into the details.
Shortly after Vigdís’ post, Sigurður Ingi published a written apology on Facebook. In an interview with RÚV on Tuesday, the Minister again apologised for his remark, adding that it had been spoken in a “fit of frustration.” According to Sigurður, he had tried to reach out to Vigdís on the morning after the annual conference and through the Association’s Chair on the following weekend. While pressed several times to clarify what exactly he had said, the Minister refused to repeat his remark.
Hopes to “set the matter aside”
As reported by RÚV last night, Sigurður Ingi will meet with Vigdís Häsler today. Vigdís hopes that she will be able to “set the matter aside” after the meeting, although closure will depend entirely on Sigurður Ingi.
In a brief interview, Vigdís stated that she had received “numerous messages over the past few days,” from the parents of adopted children, among others, in which it became clear to her that “all types of racism are widely tolerated.” She did not comment further on the meeting.
Harsh criticism from the opposition, the public
The Minister has received harsh criticism from the public, many of whom have called on him to resign. Opposition MPs have also criticised Sigurður Ingi. In a session in Parliament, Pirate Party MP Halldóra Mogensen stated that the Minister’s remark could be considered “a breach of law.”
In response to the opposition, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that Sigurður Ingi’s apology indicated that the remark had been unacceptable and should not have been uttered. “I don’t dispute the words of the CEO of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association in this matter, but we must also be able to accept it when people apologise,” Katrín stated.