The Icelandic ruling class also took steps to erode workers’ rights leading up to the visit. The government closed the borders to hundreds of members of Falun Gong who were traveling here from the United States and several European countries to stage a protest against Zemin. About 70 Falun Gong members who arrived two days prior to the arrival of the Chinese president were detained at a school close to the Keflavik international airport, but were later let into the country.
The reactionary organization, which casts itself as a religious group, calls the government in Beijng "a Communist regime that has committed some of the worst human rights atrocities in recent history." The group was banned in China after organizing unauthorized demonstrations there.
According to the newspaper Fréttabladid, Icelandic state police gathered information about Falun Gong members from various countries. The cops gave the airlines a list of people to be stopped from entering the country. In the process, the Icelandic police either barred from entry or refused to grant visas to some professional people of Chinese origin who were on their way to a medical conference. As part of the anti-China campaign, Falun Gong members and others claimed the list was provided to the airlines by the Chinese government.
Campaign to smear China
In the wake of these moves, members of Falun Gong, various liberal organizations, and the big-business media tried to smear the Chinese workers state. Much of the TV news and many front-page newspaper articles were devoted to the treatment of the Falun Gong members in China, as well as human rights violations by the Chinese state.
Minister of Justice Sólveig Pétursdóttir said the Icelandic government was simply respecting a request from the Chinese leadership, and that "these actions are meant to protect law and order and make it possible for Icelandic police officers to secure the safety of a foreign heads of state who visit Iceland."
During a TV program the Chinese ambassador was asked if his government had requested the ban on Falun Gong members being let into the country and if it had provided the Icelandic government with a list of members of the organization. The ambassador replied that they had done neither.
In the same program Pétursdóttir confirmed that the Chinese ambassador had not requested that Falun Gong members be banned from entering the country. She said the decision to keep them out was based on not having enough police officers to handle several hundred protesters if they became aggressive, adding that she is always willing to strengthen the police if needed.
Halldór Ásgrímsson, minister of foreign affairs, made similar remarks in a June 13 interview with the Fréttabladid. The same day the board of the Union of Police sent out a declaration saying that the statements by the officials support the position of the Union of Police that it is necessary to increase the size and funding for the force.
Youth groups affiliated to bourgeois political parties in Iceland called a demonstration to coincide with the visit by the delegation from China.
The Young Left Green, which many view as the "far left" in Icelandic politics, issued a statement protesting the treatment of Falun Gong, saying that "Jiang Zemin’s government is guilty of extensive human rights violations."
Their statement added: "Now it is clear that the government [of Iceland] has made a total disgrace of itself internationally by bending to the demands of the Chinese government and refusing to let the Falun Gong into the country."
The capitalist daily Morgunbladid ran a full-page ad apologizing to Falun Gong for the "incomprehensible" actions of the Icelandic authorities. The text condemned "human rights violations of the Beijing tyranny on the Chinese mainland as well as China’s occupied areas." The statement was signed by many well-known individuals in Iceland, running the political spectrum from left liberals to prominent spokespeople for the death penalty.
The next day a U.S.-based organization called Friends of the Falun Gong paid for a similar full-page ad in Morgunbladid. Some 2,000 people turned up for the protest.
Response of Chinese immigrants
Many Chinese immigrants in Iceland, especially workers, had a different reaction, but their response did not get much coverage in the media. A number of Chinese immigrants in Iceland were active in defending the president during his visit.
The immigrants organized to greet Zemin upon arrival with red flags and banners. At a fish plant in the capital, one Chinese worker explained that all the workers of Chinese origin who work there took time off that day to take part in the welcoming events.
The Organizing Committee for a Communist League in Iceland issued a statement that was well received by people buying the Militant during the visit.
"The moves by the Icelandic government against tourists on passenger jets coming to Iceland are part of increasing attacks on democratic rights," the statement said. "According to the news, almost everyone of Asian origins was arrested upon arriving in Iceland, including professionals attending a scientific conference in Reykjavik. The Icelandic government seeks to test out its new anti-terrorist and immigration laws for everyone to see; to strengthen the Icelandic police and gather support for its enlargement and for some kind of an army unit; and to smear the image of the Chinese workers state."
The Communist League statement pointed out that over the previous weeks the Icelandic government had deported 20 Romanian Gypsies from the country who were seeking asylum, and turned back a group of Albanians without them having a chance to explain their case publically. A month earlier "the authorities closed the borders, using an exemption clause to wall off a high-level meeting of NATO officials. The government took the opportunity to put armed security guards in domestic airports for the first time."
"Young people who want to fight against oppression, injustice, and defend democratic rights have many opportunities to link up with others fighting against capitalist exploitation and oppression," the statement said. "They should take part in and help advance these struggles, which are directed against the employers and their government and serve to protect the privileged propertied class."
Sigurdur Haraldsson is a member of the Hlíf General Workers Union Hafnarfirði and the Organizing Committee for a Communist League in Iceland.