Criticism from within their own ranks continued to assail leaders of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) during the weekend, with some party veterans calling for both their secretary general Geir Mo and leader Siv Jensen to “evaluate their positions” with en eye to resigning them. Mo and Jensen were holding fast, and defend their handling of the party’s latest sex scandal.
Jensen finally softened her position somewhat, and admitted she had known about allegations that her trusted adviser and party official Trond Birkedal had sex with a 15-year-old boy. So did Mo, and it was Mo who told newspaper Aftenposten Saturday that when he first heard about them, in the fall of 2009, he reported them to his superior (Jensen), in line with party routines.
Their critics now claim that Mo and Jensen failed to properly follow up on the allegations. Several Progress Party officials have claimed that they should have offered the 15-year-old more guidance, taken up the issue with his parents, and questioned Birkedal more thoroughly. Neither Mo nor Jensen went to the police, but defend themselves vigorously on that point, with both claiming that only victims of an alleged crime (which sex with a minor is in Norway) can file police charges.
Mo dismisses much of the criticism and has given no indication he’s considering resigning. Like Jensen, he harshly criticizes the media over its coverage of charges faces Birkedal (in addition to having sex with a minor, Birkedal is charged with secretly filming male visitors to his home in Stavanger, while they were naked in his bathroom). Mo also lashed out at his critics within the party, including veteran Svenn Kristiansen.
“After all the dirty issues I’ve had to deal with during the past 16 years, I’ve become used to folks who sit in their good, warm offices and don’t have anything better to do than demand that heads roll,” Mo told Aftenposten. “I am confident I have done my job as I should have, and my leader (Jensen) confirmed that as well.”
Both claim they followed the party’s “routines” in dealing with difficult personnel issues, which was to encourage the alleged victims to go to the police themselves. They conceded they probably should have alerted the parents of the 15-year-old member of the party’s youth organization, which Birkedal oversaw, about the allegations.
The Birkedal case is especially embarrassing to the Progress Party because he held high positions, was so involved with the youth organization, was the party’s candidate for mayor of Stavanger, and now has emerged as a homosexual in a party that is widely viewed as anti-gay. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) noted that the party voted against Norway’s first partnership law in 1993, against adoption of step-children for homosexuals living in a registered partnership in 2001, against equal rights for partners as for married heterosexual couples in 2008 and proposed in its “alternative” state budget for 2011 to remove all financial support for all “measures aimed at lesbians and homosexuals.” Former Progress Leader Carl I Hagen has said that Oslo’s large gay pride parades in June are “damaging for our society,” and the party’s policies and rhetoric “send the message that homosexuality is less worthy than heterosexuality and actually rather dirty,” wrote DN political commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim.
That in turn, wrote Alstadheim, hinders openness, nurtures secrecy and discourages party members from speaking out against alleged illegalities such as those in the charges against Birkedal.
Mo and Jensen seem confident that voters will forgive and forget the case and their handling of it, and continue to support the party in the run-up to municipal elections this fall. The court case against Birkedal may come up in late summer, though, and likely will summon Jensen and Mo to testify, which would be unfortunate timing for them and the party, according to political experts at the University of Oslo.