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Demonstrations, bloopers and land seizure. Iceland this week.

They say that a week is a long time in politics, and boy is that true in Iceland this week. Major action, and the coalition parties have lost a chunk of their following. My choice news from Iceland, February 24-28, 2014.

Kitchenware redux?

Bjarni Benediktsson & Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson

This is a real picture. No really.

Anyone who has been following Icelandic news even in a cursory manner will know about the widespread fury this week over plans by the coalition parties to scrap accession talks with the EU. It stemmed primarily from the fact that both parties swore repeatedly in the lead-up to the elections that a referendum would be held on whether or not accession talks should be continued – even though both parties are strongly opposed to EU membership. Despite the fact that these two parties received a strong majority in the last elections, a poll this week showed that 80 percent of the population wants to finish accession talks, even though a large majority is not certain whether or not they ultimately want to join the EU. The findings reflect what we already know, namely that people are outraged at the autocracy of the current government, and the fact that they are so shamelessly reneging on their election promise. The demonstrations are thus perhaps less about the EU and more about baseline democracy. Despite the demonstrations, the Minister of Foreign Affairs went ahead with his motion to scrap the talks [and bizarrely, only about two of his party members were present in parliament at the time]. As of Friday, it seemed that the coalition was perhaps starting to realize the gravity of what they were embarking on, and talks on the motion were suspended until March 10. Meanwhile, there is a major demonstration planned for today [Saturday] at 3 pm, very much in the spirit of the demonstrations that were held in the lead-up to the Kitchenware Revolution.

Foot in the you-know-where

Meanwhile, the Progressive Party’s resident blooper, Vigdís Haukdsóttir, has had a colourful week. It started last Sunday when she stated on a talk show that Malta was not an independent country, but rather a state within a larger state. [Which state that was she declined to specify.] She also held forth on the famine epidemic [!] in Europe. Later in the week she was caught out on Facebook urging a certain cosmetics company to stop advertising in the online magazine Kvennablaðið because they were publishing nasty stuff about her. The Icelandic Journalists’ Union and others immediately condemned the remarks, calling them a threat to free speech. Not that this line of action is anything new: the Progressives have repeatedly lashed out at various media when they have seen reports that do not meet with their approval. Indeed, the aforementioned Vigdís, who as it happens is the head of arguably the most powerful committee in parliament – The Budget Committee – issued what some viewed as a veiled threat to RÚV [state broadcaster] last year, implying that their funding might be substantially cut if they did not stop publishing reports that she interpreted as favourable to the EU. As some of you may remember, RÚV subsequently suffered severe budget cuts and around 60 employees were laid off, effectively crippling the institution. I should also mention that the cosmetics company in question, EGF, has received substantial amounts in research grants from the Icelandic state in recent years. Draw from that what parallels you wish.


And more on the coalition: the Minister of Industry, Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir [IP] this week approved the confiscation of private land on the Reykjanes peninsula for the purpose of stringing massive power lines across it. The lines are designed to carry power to an aluminium smelter that the PP and IP coalition is hell-bent on constructing on Reykjanes, even though calculations have revealed that even if the everything from there to somewhere past Selfoss would be harnessed, it would still not provide sufficient energy to power the smelter. Not to mention that the demand for aluminium worldwide is declining, and hence the price is dropping [and thereby the price that state would get for the energy would be ridiculously low, since it is tied to the worldwide aluminium price]. Another example of bizarre and outrageous autocratic actions by the current coalition. WHAT NEXT? No – on second thought, I don’t want to know.

Quote of the week

 I just say like the foreigners say: “so what?” 

When faced with criticism that his party was reneging on their election promise to hold a referendum on EU accession talks, Brynjar Níelsson, MP for the Independence Party gave this pithy reply.

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