“Hatred and nationalist extremism on the rise in Iceland”
Tensions ran high yesterday at a twin demonstration in central Reykjavik by activists showing support for refugees and asylum seekers and members of the right-wing nationalist Icelandic National Front.
Police were in attendance but there was no physical confrontation between the two groups.
Vigdís Ósk Howser Harðardóttir told the press of her disgust with the National Front’s protest after she snatched a protest sign from an elderly demonstrator and “symbolically” broke it in front of him.
“There has never been such a large-scale struggle in the history of mankind and these people are just mocking it,” she says, describing the National Front’s protest as “disgusting”. “They couldn’t care less about four million refugees.”
She then accuses Sveinn Gestur Tryggvason, who claims to have simply been passing by when the incident occurred, of threatening her with violence.
“This is untrue,” he says. “She attacked the old man, stole his sign and broke it. I was shocked to see the violence suffered by the man and unhappy to see this group of people impede the man’s freedom of speech. I was just defending those less able to defend themselves.”
Tryggvason also claims that the Harðardóttir’s friends had tried to provoke him by pinching him, stamping on his feet and using abusive language to him. “I am still half in shock,” he says.
Sema Erla Serdar, one of the organisers of the solidarity demo, was very happy to see how many people turned up to show their support for refugees and asylum seekers, despite the short notice.
“This clearly shows that the vast majority of us agree that we want to build an open and just society in Iceland, based on tolerance, justice and equality for all, regardless of origin, faith, culture or social position,” she says.
“We, the Icelandic government and people, must fulfil our obligations. We have a moral obligation to help people in need. We are demonstrating today to show that refugees are welcome in Iceland.”
She deplores the parallel demonstration by the Icelandic National Front against new legislation governing the arrival of foreigners in Iceland.
“We have seen this trend – in Iceland, in the rest of Europe, and elsewhere in the world – of rising extremist forces of nationalism, prejudice and hatred – and Iceland is no exception,” she warns. “We will not accept people gathering to protest against other people – no way.”
“You sort out your own house before you start trying to help others,” replies Karl Löve, one of the group demonstrating under the banner of the Icelandic National Front.
“When there are old people going hungry and patients can’t afford their medicine, there are problems to be resolved first, before ploughing money into people who have got into some kind of trouble abroad,” he says.
Löve thinks that there should be limits on letting foreigners into the country which the situation in Iceland remains as he describes it.
“People also need to realise what the Koran says about ‘we will spread and take over’. They’re doing this everywhere. They get in under false pretences. When their numbers grow, things always get more and more difficult,” says Löve, presumably referring to immigrants of the Muslim faith.