Opposition Leaders Question Government Mandate

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, the leaders of the opposition reacted to Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson’s decision to resign. The Chair of the Pirate Party’s Parliamentary Group held that the government’s mandate was “completely compromised” while the Chairs of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Reform Party questioned the coalition’s ability to address the most pressing issues facing Icelanders. The Chair of the People’s Party hoped that Bjarni’s resignation would set a new precedent in Icelandic politics while speculating that Bjarni might switch roles within the government.

“Completely compromised”

Following the resignation of Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson yesterday, RÚV solicited reactions from leaders of the opposition parties. The Party Group Chair of the Pirate Party stated that the mandate of the government was completely compromised.

“It’s important to note that the mandate of this government is completely compromised, especially since the Prime Minister and other leaders within the government have fully supported the Finance Minister’s governance up to this point,” Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir, the parliamentary group leader of the Pirate Party, told RÚV yesterday.

“They should, therefore, see every reason to seriously reconsider their position in light of the ombudsman’s conclusion. And this, of course, applies to Bjarni as well.”

An unexpected decision – but the right one

Kristrún Frostadóttir, Chair of the Social Democratic Alliance, admitted that the resignation had been unexpected: “In some ways, this is an unexpected decision, but it’s the right one. He is taking responsibility, and I agree with him to the extent that as a minister, he could no longer fulfil his duties.”

Kristrún also contemplated the future of the government: “I believe the entire government needs to address whether it can truly handle the tasks at hand that matter most to the people. I’m thinking about economic issues and major welfare matters.”

Government mandate weakened

Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Chair of the Reform Party, echoed Kristrún’s sentiments.

“It’s clear that when the leader of the largest party in the government steps down from a crucial ministry like the Ministry of Finance, it weakens the government. We repeatedly see this government expend their energy on internal disputes rather than focusing on what matters most to households and businesses in the country, namely inflation and the battle against interest rates.

A precedent is set

Inga Sæland, Chair of the People’s Party, told RÚV that Bjarni’s resignation had marked a turning point in Icelandic politics, as he had taken political responsibility, hopefully setting a precedent for the future: “We’re not used to seeing a minister step down like this without being pressured out of office with significant hullabaloo.”

However, Inga speculated that Bjarni might not be leaving politics altogether. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he switches to another ministry. There are only two possibilities: he either moves to another ministry or resigns from parliament, and I’m not sure if that’s good for his party as a whole.”

Nonetheless, Inga believes that Bjarni’s resignation did not mark a turning point for the coalition government. “It will try to endure despite everything.”

Minister Admits “Citing Rumours” Before Parliament Was Wrong

Iceland's Althing

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, the Minister of Justice questioned whether an unnamed MP had accepted “special tokens of gratitude” in exchange for granting citizenship to asylum seekers. In a Facebook post later that day, the Minister of Justice stated that he had been “wrong to cite rumours” before Parliament and that such a thing had not been his wont in the past.

The minister apologises

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson made an oblique reference to a rumour that an MP had voted on citizenship applications for individuals for whom the MP had lobbied.

“Was it possible that someone had come to the table having previously been engaged in promoting the interests of asylum seekers who were being granted citizenship? Have people been awarded any special tokens of gratitude for having granted citizenship? These are, perhaps, questions that call for a review by the committee so as to determine whether any such rumours are substantiated,” Jón said in his speech.

Members of the opposition did not respond kindly to this accusation; Helga Vala, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, was the first to respond to Jón’s statements:

“This is such an abomination, I’m so fed up with this. I’m so fed up with this slander from members of parliament and ministers of the Independence Party, that I just wish that the speaker would intervene whenever they show up armed with lies. I’ve had enough. Try to exercise some control please,” Helga Vala asked of the speaker.

A statement on Facebook

Yesterday evening, Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson published a post on Facebook admitting that it had “not been right of him” to refer to a rumour on the floor of Parliament. He stated that it did not occur to him that he was accusing anyone of having accepted bribes and that it was not his intention of accusing MPs of accepting bribes in any way.

Bryndís Haraldsdóttir, Member of Parliament for the Independence Party and Chair of the National Defense and Education Committee, told RÚV that the minister’s words before parliament were not worthy of him. “I think he went a little too far in this regard, and he apologised for that, and I think he’s a better man for it,” Bryndís remarked.

Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir, MP for the Pirate Party, disagreed with her colleague’s assessment vis-a-vis that Jón had apologised. “He did not apologise … he’s simply trying to divert the attention of the media and the public from the fact that the Directorate of Immigration had been prevented from handing over documents to the committee.”

Authorities Denounce Racist Symbols While Officer Rejects Accusation of Racism

police racist flag symbols

Government officials and police management’s response to a photo of a police officer wearing hate symbol patches underneath her uniform has been swift, condemning the flags and denouncing racism within the police force. The police officer in question, as well as the head of Reykjavík’s police union, reject accusations of racism. A photo showing the officer wearing flags and symbols with connotations of white supremacy and violence sparked public outcry.

Read More: Hate Symbols on Reykjavík Police Uniform Cause Public Outcry

Minister of Justice: racism isn’t widespread but incident will have repercussions

Minister for Justice Áslaug Arna Sigubjörnsdóttir stated on Twitter yesterday that hate symbols will not be tolerated within the police, not now nor ever, adding that education will be increased. She stated that police officers had the responsibility to not express hateful points of view through symbols, words, or gestures. “That’s now clearer than ever and everyone should know what these symbols mean. We will set a higher standard from now on.” The police officer has repeatedly told the media she had no idea that the symbols she wore had connotations of white supremacy and violence.

While Áslaug condemned the racist symbols, she told Vísir she doesn’t think racism is mainstream within the police. “This has maybe opened people’s eyes to what these symbols mean, what sort of message they send and what they mean for the people the police serves,” said Áslaug. “Of course I don’t believe racism is deeply rooted within the police here, but I do think we need to learn from this. We will always denounce every kind of hate symbol or discourse that will arise and we can learn from this, understand how different people view these symbols and what they mean,” Áslaug told Vísir.

Chief Superintendent broken-hearted

Chief Superintendent Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, says the symbols underneath the police officer’s uniform are not in compliance with the police’s policy to serve all inhabitants equally and with respect. “This is not the message we want to send,” he told mbl.is and added that the police regrets the incident.

He explained that patches like these have existed for a few years and that officers have worn them on their vests, which usually aren’t visible. Most wear symbols like their blood type, their children’s birth date or old ID number as regional officers. Later on, people started exchanging patches with each other and officers in other countries. He says he hasn’t seen patches like the ones in question before. “We’ve maybe slept on our guard with these patches,” says Ásgeir, adding that regulations clearly state that no patches or symbols can be visible on a police officer’s uniform.

Ásgeir stated that clear instructions were issued today, banning all such patches. He has stated that he feels miserable due to the incident, stating: “The photo sends all the absolutely wrong messages, because the police are trying their hardest to cultivate a relationship with these groups, and the [Vinland flag] is in the complete opposite direction. We take this very seriously and we’re kind of broken-hearted that this was the case,” Ásgeir told RÚV. He has received more images of officers wearing inappropriate patches. He admits that he didn’t recognise the green flag and had to look it up. “it’s horrible that this came up. And what’s so weird is that the photo is three years old, it’s been in the media several times. What’s worse is that no one pulled the reins earlier so that we could have responded sooner.”

MP takes up the issue in Parliament

Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir took the issue up in Parliament. She has requested that the Capital Area Police meet with Parliament’s Judicial Affairs and Education Committee to discuss racism within the police force and ways to combat it. In a speech, Þórhildur Sunna stated that one of the flags was a symbol of white supremacists and that for the US police, the Punisher logo stood for the police’s role a punishing force, those who take the law and punishments into their own hands and bypass the judicial system. The message was that the police’s only role was to punish citizens for their alleged offences, “but that can not be considered desirable in a society that wants to adhere to a policy of betterment and rule of law.”

She praised the Capital Area Police for their reaction but went on to say that the police officer’s statement that many officers wore the symbols and that she didn’t think they had any negative connotations suggested either a lack of education within the police on racism and violent symbols, “or that racism and violence are accepted within the police force. Both of which are unacceptable.”

Police officer and director of police union reject accusations of racism

Director of the Reykjavík Police Union Arinbjörn Snorrason was offended by the MP’s comments, even suggesting she resign. He told Vísir that police officers who wore the patches did so with good intentions and he never heard any racist messages. When asked if the Vinland flag wasn’t racist, he said it could well be. “I don’t wear these patches myself but I think it was all done with good intentions. […] I think originally, officers, or at least this one, I don’t know how widespread this is, wore them thinking it sent a message of support for a good cause, absolutely not because it was a sign of racism.”

Inspector Anita Rut Harðardóttir, the officer in the photo, does not like the discussion on alleged racism within the police force either, telling Vísir it’s unacceptable that people have called her a neo-Nazi and says she hasn’t received any negative messages from colleagues, only support. She has recently added a thin blue line to her profile picture on Facebook. Asked about the addition, she stated it’s simple, it’s to raise awareness of the thin blue line. “It’s not racist like people are saying but it’s a mark of solidarity within the police. Us who stand guard that society is good. That we do our job and that it is underappreciated.” She reiterates that she does not think the flags are bad. “I would never take part in the ugly game of carrying flags with such messages. That’s not what the police stands for. I don’t feel embarrassed about the flags. The Punisher flag, if that annoys people, I’ll take it down. It’s a cartoon figure and I didn’t think more about it. but calling me a neo-Nazi, that’s just sad.”