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In which the Best mayor kicks butt

So there was a wee little item in Fréttablaðið yesterday that Jón Gnarr, our esteemed mayor, would be meeting a delegation from China, led by the former mayor of Bejing, later in the day. The delegation was here to discuss geothermal energy and nature conservation, and had been formally invited by the City of Reykjavík.

Jón’s assistant sounded slightly embarrassed and apologetic to be conveying this news to the paper. Said something about how the “formal invitation” was just that — a formality — and that the Chinese had, in fact, taken the initiative in wanting to visit.

She also mentioned that it had been decided among members of the Best Party that no formal discussions would be initiated about the oh-so prickly issue of Human Rights in China. They’d just sort of see how things progressed in terms of conversation.

Which is why it was pretty kick-ass refreshing to read this morning that Jón Gnarr formally handed the delegation a letter protesting the arrest of dissident writer and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, before giving them a short postulation on human rights.

The letter is here.

According to visir.is, the former mayor of Bejing looked a bit sheepish and some members of the delegation were visibly upset. The ex-mayor received the letter and a short while later left City Hall without a formal goodbye to Mr. Gnarr.

On his Facebook page, Jón writes that, after the meeting, he invited his mother, grandmother and mother-in-law over for coffee and pastries.

Incidentally, Jón Gnarr thereby did what the Icelandic government has repeatedly failed to do — instead they have played to all the whims of the Chinese on their official visits here. It’s downright humiliating.

So, you know rock on!

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  • Rajan Parrikar September 16, 2010, 2:16 am

    “The delegation was here to discuss geothermal energy and nature conservation…”

    Re. nature conservation – I bet the Hans could give Icelanders expert tutorials on how to destroy the environment in next to no time.

  • Alexander E. September 16, 2010, 4:23 am

    Alda.
    Have you ever thought that the main reason people in China (and in so called “developing world”) have their “human rights” limited is ….the “democratic” West. In particular you and me. Every time we go shopping – we pay less for goods “Made in China” than we would have to pay for them if they were “Made in Germany etc.” And why do we pay less?
    In fact it’s a modern form of slavery – I mean “cheap labor” of Asia, Africa etc.
    So before accusing China – the “West” must look in the mirror.

    PS. Should I mentioned “human rights” of 12,000+ Icelanders without job? And maybe Jon should hand the letter to British and Dutch authorities instead? Cause China is not the Iceland’s best friend – it might be the only friend in the long run.

  • idunn September 16, 2010, 6:12 am

    He might also have noted the Chinese citizens harassed for daring to complain of blatant industrial pollution near their homes.

    Not to mention the little matter of Tibet.

  • mandrill September 16, 2010, 9:12 am

    Its good to know that there are some politicians in the world who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power.

  • Chris September 16, 2010, 10:39 am

    Cheers to Jón Gnarr. And this also explains the convoy of cars driving through the city with a lot of police next to it.

  • alda September 16, 2010, 10:44 am

    @ Rajan — My thoughts exactly.

  • Easy September 16, 2010, 11:48 am

    “Its good to know that there are some politicians in the world who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power”.
    or,,,,, they have NO idea on what they are doing.

    Like Alexander says: “Cause China is not the Iceland’s best friend – it might be the only friend in the long run.”
    I mean how can you help somebody if he doesn´t let you, Iceland is constantly shooting in its own foot.

    You don´t “formally” invite somebody to your house just to criticise his ways. Thats plain rude and stupid. If he is soooo cool and “righteous” why didn´t he take a plane and went to china and deliver his letter, that’s the honest thing to do.
    Looks to me that somebody is just trying to clean his act and restore his image for what he said about pornography….. but dumb move, very dumb.

  • Michael T September 16, 2010, 12:05 pm

    No formal goodbye, shame on them.

    Good for the mayor.

  • Michael Lewis September 16, 2010, 1:57 pm

    I do wonder if taking such an approach could be consider self indulgent as well as principled. If you know beforehand that you will antagonise, then, it is erring toward self indulgence.

  • Michael Lewis September 16, 2010, 1:58 pm

    Meant to add, the mayor , did he really think that would be the best way to make a difference? I doubt it. If nothing else, causing someone to lose face like that is pretty poor manners and probably won’t help the underlying cause.

  • mb September 16, 2010, 2:45 pm

    But what about the promised Polar Bear for the zoo? Offending the chinese will just prevent him from getting a Panda for the zoo – a panda would be great, but he promised a polar bear, so he just needs to avoid angering officials from Svalbard, right?

    For the couple of you arguing that he should play nice with other diplomats, and that western capitalism is responsible for chinese government’s abuse of the freedom of it’s citizens, I’d like to point out that china has been violating the human rights of it’s people for a lot longer than it’s been the sweat shop for cheap goods to sell to the west, and that several of their asian neighbors have historically managed to sell lots of relatively cheap goods to the west and have cool things like freedom of speech and freedom of religion at the same time. And, Mayoral level diplomacy seems like the perfect level to put the point across to foreign countries that we might not like the way they treat their citizens, since the national level diplomats can’t afford to do so, and are still there to apologize for these sorts of things.

  • alda September 16, 2010, 2:47 pm

    “Like”

  • Alexander E. September 16, 2010, 3:49 pm

    According to visir.is, the former mayor of Bejing looked a bit sheepish and some members of the delegation were visibly upset.

    I guess Chinese were not upset – visir.is needs more experience with Asian way of face expressions methink. But for sure they were confused cause they didn’t know whom they were dealing with at the moment – with the Mayor or with a comedian. And I hope – hope – they came to the conclusion it was a comedian cause Jon didn’t sign his letter as a mayor. So what happened to this “kick” – they put his letter to his thin file … just for the records 🙂 To keep for the future.
    I also hope guys from Chinese embassy are reading your blog, Alda, so they know

    it had been decided among members of the Best Party that no formal discussions would be initiated about the oh-so prickly issue of Human Rights in China.

    So most likely next time they will politely applaud to his performance (cause this time they wrongly assumed they were talking to a mayor).

    Re. nature conservation – I bet the Hans could give Icelanders expert tutorials on how to destroy the environment in next to no time.

    Rajan. Hans (as you called them) came to Iceland for exactly the opposite matter – to learn from Icelanders and get help. Cause they need to improve the life of their people. So it was really, really “wise” to piss into their sleepers.

    And one more thing – about “bravery”. What exactly did Jon risk by handing a letter to whoever in his office in Reykjavik? And what was the impact of this action except a “huge” buzz in the facebook?

    There was a very old anecdote (back in the USSR).
    Two guys – from US and SU – talking about their freedom etc.
    US guy – “I can stand in front of White House and shout “The US president is an idiot” and nothing gonna happen to me!”
    SU man – “I can stand in front of Kremlin and shout “The US president is an idiot” and nothing gonna happen to me either!”

    Is there a real difference between limited oppression and complete ignorance?
    My point is – let China deal with its really huge problems. I think Icelanders should be more concerned about the way DO & Co. deal with their own human rights here. At least bad bankers are shot dead in China 🙂 And this is – of course – the brutal case of their human rights violation. But I didn’t hear much noise about this case 9I know – nobody likes poor bankers).

    BTW, Alda, were the letters from PR woman of you know whom a pure business correspondence or a breach of your rights for expression?

    PS. This is one of the basic rules of freedom of expression – “If you don’t agree with someone else’s views or opinions and feel compelled to say so, please be diplomatic.”
    I hope I was 😉

  • Kris September 16, 2010, 4:02 pm

    Pride before, during and after the fall!
    Am I really Icelandic or is it just a bad dream?
    Talking the talk is the letters of complaint. Walking the walk is denying a market for slave labor. All I see is lots of talking and no walking. Here, there and everywhere.
    The current global economy is in the process of choking on its own corruption, so this will change in a few years. Sadly, the change is for the worse. GFPS – Global Fascist Police State
    FYI – The big govs are running around the planet purchasing resources. Iceland is on the desert menu. Small but tasty.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland September 16, 2010, 4:42 pm

    Why invite and then proceed to slag off,mayor of Peking has very little control.

  • Rajan Parrikar September 16, 2010, 6:45 pm

    Alexander E. wrote: “Have you ever thought that the main reason people in China (and in so called “developing world”) have their “human rights” limited is ….the “democratic” West. In particular you and me.”

    I see. The woman who is raped is to blame. After all, she was dressed provocatively. The guy whose house got broke into the other day was asking for it. After all, he worked hard to earn his comforts and how dare he luxuriate when the thieves don’t have anything to eat. Those 3000 Americans who were murdered by Islamist terrorists on 9/11 – oh, they were asking for it. After all, America, according to that execrable charlatan Feisal Abdul Rauf, was an “accessory” to the “crime that occurred.”

    This is the kind of hooey we have come to expect from the muddle-headed leftist multiculturalist twits, guilt-ridden that they are over the white man’s sins, real and imagined.

  • Alexander E. September 16, 2010, 6:48 pm

    First of all I have no problem with Jón Gnarr letter. He is in his full right to say, write and play anything. No questions.

    But I respect more those Icelanders who devoted energy, time, money and courage to run “We are not terrorist” campaign and the ad in US newspaper against Iraq war (and its support from Icelandic government).

    With above said I think it was not …hm… let’s say fair to ambush people you invited and load them with something they have little (if anything) to do. There are lots of other ways to express the support – and Jón took the easiest.

    But that is not the worst in this situation.

    The delegation came to Iceland for help. They need Icelandic knowledge to help their own people, to improve their REAL rights – like access to energy, clean water and clean air. And I hope they’ll get this help.
    So by “fighting” for the abstract right of really abstract “dissident” (rise the hands who have read him or heard what he said… I see…yeah… as I expected…) Jón is kind of punishing the rights of millions of real people in China. Why? Because PEN club doesn’t talk about them, they don’t have a voice – they some abstract “chinese” only.

    It’s nice and easy to talk about human rights – in front of computers made by Hans for a fraction of money anyone here would demand for such job. But human rights without bread and heat is … nothing but political show.

  • sylvia hikins September 16, 2010, 7:31 pm

    You are right to protest about human rights but I suspect this wasn’t a very effective way of doing it. On the other side of the coin, freedom isn’t measured by how rude or outrageous you are allowed to act. I’ve been twice to China in the past two years and although I don’t deny there are serious human rights abuses, the country is not all oppressive totalitarianism that we are led to believe. I travelled as a single person, on my own, not with any agencies or guides. I was able to wander wherever I wanted, saw quite a few unofficial demonstrations and no one stopped me taking pictures. Books that I was told in the UK were banned in China like Sky Burial were on sale all over the place. The Buddist Temples were alive and well (Chinese shoppers coming out of the shopping malls with their designer bags usually called into the temple before heading to MacDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken!!)as were the Christian churches and mosques that I visited, and Confucious is undergoing a serious revival. I was able to get many of the western tv programmes including the BBC World News. On the flight back to the UK the businessman I was sitting next to told me that China was already becoming too expensive for western investors and the focus was shifting to Africa. We know what that means – another mass of poor people waiting to be exploited so that western consumers can continue to live in profligate waste, Don’t think that I am negating criticism of the Chinese..but let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
    sylvia from viking wirral.

  • Rajan Parrikar September 16, 2010, 7:41 pm

    Alexander E.: “Rajan. Hans (as you called them) came to Iceland for exactly the opposite matter – to learn from Icelanders and get help. ”

    This is even funnier than the obverse. If that is what they are claiming, let me clue you in on the real reason they came: it was a junket paid for by someone else (i.e. the Chinese public). If you had the slightest idea about how things work in those parts of the world, you’d know that whenever govt officials say they are going on an “educational” trip you translate that as “a fun trip at our expense.” Where else did they stop? Norway perhaps, for a cruise in the Sognefjord? Lot of stuff to learn there. How about the French Riviera, to study beach cleanliness, with a side jaunt to Monaco to study traffic patterns during Formula One?

  • Regina Hardardottir September 16, 2010, 8:30 pm

    Pick your battles and where to fight them – don’t shoot the messenger – there is absolutely no thought out strategy behind this move. I perceive it merely as a small boy’s prank or a bad practical joke. This is certainly not the way to draw attention to or further the the very important cause of Human Rights in China. Jón Gnarr has succeeded in demeaning himself and the city he represents.

  • Knute Rife September 16, 2010, 10:18 pm

    I wonder if China was only a collateral target, that this wasn’t actually aimed at the national government, asking, “Are you people going to do anything about anything?”

  • Sjón September 16, 2010, 11:05 pm

    Regarding the big words here about the mayor of Reykjavik striking empty by using the opportunity to hand Liu Qi his personally signed and endorsed petition for the release of Liu Xiaobo and all other political prisoners I can inform you that the response from international human rights organization has been praise and astonishment that finally a western politician dared to confront such a high ranking Chinese official on the issue.

    And I guess they know a little bit more about fighting for the rights of imprisoned writers and activists in the fascist world than the lot of you writing here in the comfort of your western societies.

  • Rajan Parrikar September 16, 2010, 11:20 pm

    Alexander E.: “It’s nice and easy to talk about human rights – in front of computers made by Hans for a fraction of money anyone here would demand for such job. But human rights without bread and heat is … nothing but political show.”

    My Macbook Pro was designed here in Silicon Valley (a couple of miles from where I type this) and assembled by the Hans for a fraction of the cost it would take if it were done here. I am pleased that part of the money I expended on the machine went into providing bread and heat for the Chinese workers, many of whom would have starved otherwise. So while the woolly-headed leftists sit on their high horses issuing homilies about providing the “noble savage” bread and butter (without actually doing anything to bring it about), I am glad some of us evil capitalists are helping put food into Hans mouths.

  • Mark September 17, 2010, 1:15 am

    Jón isn’t a career politician looking to get voted in again, he’s a guy that says what he thinks. People here saying that he should have been more polite or expressed himself in a different way are deluded. Stop being so meek and speak up.

  • Alexander E. September 17, 2010, 2:10 am

    This is the kind of hooey we have come to expect from the muddle-headed leftist multiculturalist twits, guilt-ridden that they are over the white man’s sins, real and imagined.

    Whom are you talking about, Rajan? I hope not about Jón Gnarr?
    And what raped woman, robbed guy and 3000 Americans has to do with Hans human rights?

    If you had the slightest idea about how things work in those parts of the world, you’d know that whenever govt officials say they are going on an “educational” trip you translate that as “a fun trip at our expense.”

    I do have some idea – cause I lived right across the river (and border) from our Chinese brothers (then enemies and now partners again). For 40 years. And I worked a lot with them as well as with Japanese. And both Koreans. So I know those parts of the world a little. 😉
    And – by your opinion – who should come for a negotiations about cooperation between two countries? Farmers? Environmentalists? Mechanics? …

    So while the woolly-headed leftists sit on their high horses issuing homilies about providing the “noble savage” bread and butter (without actually doing anything to bring it about), I am glad some of us evil capitalists are helping put food into Hans mouths.

    Yeah, you right. You leave Hans their think slice of the bread they make … and take all the butter off. Cause you “design” (and as such – deserve) all the butter …

    My Macbook Pro was designed here in Silicon Valley

    Well, in fact, Apple is mostly a product of Korean technology. Except core processors and Marketing.

    “Samsung manufactured NAND flash memory and dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chip, a key part of the so-called A4 processor used in the iPad”

    “LG Display provided the 9.7-inch light-emitting diode (LED) backlit display, which is the most expensive part of the touch-based computing device. ”

    “Supplying parts to the iPad will have little direct impact on improving earnings, analysts said, as they will account for a fraction of overall sales of those large-cap South Korean technology giants”

    To get back on topic – I think that western “designers” should mind their own business cause China will ask for their butter very soon (and might look into their records).

    PS. I agree with sylvia hikins account. And it’s kind of surreal – free wi-fi in cheap hostel room with Mao portrait on the wall (and blocked youtube).

  • Øystein-Norway September 17, 2010, 1:23 pm

    Hi Alda – It is interesting to follow postings and the reactions they reflects 🙂

    I just want to comment Rajan´s – “Where else did they stop? Norway perhaps, for a cruise in the Sognefjord?

    – What I can say is that the Nordic countries (Denmark/Finland/Iceland/Norway and Sweden) wants to cooperate with China in many ways – from Human rigths to industry, energy and trading.

    You will find some info here

    http://www.nordicenergy.net/section.cfm?id=1-0&path=142,201

    The Icelandic President are/have recently been in China promoting Icelandic knowledge on energy and visit ongoing projects. There is noting dramatic in this. In Expo 2010 the Nordics was prometed as a region and tried to make as much as possible out of this. We know very well about the Human Rights situation in China, but we also know that China is a huge country/population. Changes have to take some time, and we can not only see it out of our cultural views.

  • Michael Lewis September 17, 2010, 3:59 pm

    @Alexander E
    “Well, in fact, Apple is mostly a product of Korean technology. Except core processors and Marketing.”

    That isn’t really true. If you take that view: you may say that most of what China produces is actually Australian, because the iron ore, copper, etc.. was mostly mined in West Australia.

    Apple took commodity parts: but the solution, which includes a fair amount of intellectual capital – in the software alone, was built by Apple in Silicon Valley.

  • Rajan Parrikar September 17, 2010, 5:42 pm

    Alexander E.: “Whom are you talking about, Rajan? I hope not about Jón Gnarr? And what raped woman, robbed guy and 3000 Americans has to do with Hans human rights?”

    Your proclivity to blame everyone other than the perpetrators. You advanced the humour that the main reason people in China have their human rights limited is because of the West.

    Alexander E.: “Well, in fact, Apple is mostly a product of Korean technology.”

    Well, I’m afraid I have not yet visited the alternative universe you seem to be spending your time in 🙂

    Alexander E.: “I think that western “designers” should mind their own business cause China will ask for their butter very soon (and might look into their records).”

    Here you have a point (but not in the way you think). The Hans have been aggressively stealing and appropriating American technology. Corporate espionage is an instrument of state policy with the Hans. Unfortunately Americans have been late to recognize this menace, and the stupidity of relocating manufacturing to China.

    Be that as it may, if the Chinese were to eat our lunch soon as you claim (hope?), I surmise you would still find an excuse to blame the West and absolve the Reds. Parenthetically, while you blame the West for exploiting the Chinese, the Hans are no slouches in this art of exploitation – ask the Africans on whom the Hans have dumped deadly spurious medicines (knock-offs of Pfizer etc).

    I applaud what Gnarr did to the petulant apparatchik by giving him a taste of his own medicine (the Chinese are adept at throwing wild tantrums when things don’t go their way).

    Kudos, Gnarr, and May the Force be with you!

  • Kris September 18, 2010, 12:15 am

    nihow –hello
    shishi – thanks

    endless war, secret police, the west now sucks. The US is beginning for feel like fraking East Germany. I liked working with the Chinese back in the day. There was not the backstabbing political nonsense that plagued the American companies I worked at. I rue the day that I left. Maybe they’re in and we are out! Another good thing about the Chinese is that they shoot their corporate criminals.

  • D_Boone September 18, 2010, 1:33 am

    Hmmm.

    Its not good manners to invite someone into your home/city/country and then embarrass them publicly. At least where I come from.

    That said freedom of association, religion, speech and democracy are key concepts that I ascribe to and they should not be compromised. Clear exposition of those principles regularly on a government to government basis and at other levels is important. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t work with or trade with those countries that have a different view.

    What disturbs me though is the undercurrent of many of the comments. They seem to be rather xenophobic. Nuff said.

  • jo6pac September 18, 2010, 3:46 am

    http://forward.msci.org/articles/0108mission-impossible.cfm

    Really the Chinese or Israel or any other favored nation needs to do in the land of greed is find the right neo-con with connections and buy the company they want. Yes its spy vs. spy but here in Amerika cash talks. There are many cases like this in the last 20yrs. It’s no big deal since we are becoming a 3rd world nation any way.

  • Michael Lewis September 18, 2010, 10:13 am

    @Kris,
    I guess you are spelling phonetically. Pinyin:, it would be ni hao and xie xie.

    I have to agree with Rajan. In China copyright/intellectual property law doesn’t really exist. That helps a country like China to bootstrap its economy: but that only gets you so far. As China develops it will have to introduce these laws or it will start affecting its own companies. Which is why of course you may see other developing countries that have these laws, start more slowly, but gradually have faster growing economies.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland September 18, 2010, 11:07 am

    Continuing the Chinese theme Alda look what a nice little diamond racket they are running with Robert Mugabe.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1313123/Robert-Mugabes-darkest-secret-An-800bn-blood-diamond-run-Chinas-Red-Army.html

    Yes Sir you Viking types up there would be better off hooking up an alliance with Danish Eskimo’s in Greenland than them.

  • Alexander E. September 18, 2010, 4:06 pm

    kevin.
    Thanks for the link about Red Chinese Army digging blood diamonds. It gave me a good laugh. A mixture of paranoia and fairytale 🙂
    Not worth detailed commenting. It’s like commenting Lord of the Rings tales. But here we’re discussing what’s going on on Earth, right?
    Even Rajan from Silicon Planet is much closer to us in this respect 😉

    PS. I’m wondering how the author from DM fooled Alsatian dogs trained to tear intruders apart 🙂

  • Rajan Parrikar September 18, 2010, 5:13 pm

    D_Boone: “What disturbs me though is the undercurrent of many of the comments. They seem to be rather xenophobic.”

    You know you have arrived as a bona fide multiculturalist when you hold out a screed blaming the West for everything that is wrong with the world as a piece of insightful wisdom while simultaneously branding those who tell it like it is a xenophobe or a racist. In the strange la-la land of the multiculturalist, those poo’ innocent third-worlders can do no wrong and are always oh-so-wronged by us.

    Bill Maher makes the point beautifully in a slightly different context (alas, he is a known liberal so you can’t pin the neo-con or any other label on him):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmpM-b-IsYY

  • sylvia hikins September 18, 2010, 5:22 pm

    The only people who buy Mao’s Little Red Book in China are the tourists. Along with other discarded communist tat. Usually in local markets set up for the tourists!!!!
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • Easy September 19, 2010, 2:50 pm

    Quoting a clown puppet talk show host like Bill Maher don’t think will make any opinion stronger.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland September 20, 2010, 2:30 am

    @Alexander E. How dare you mock my racist fantasies after the commies and the Nazis are gone they have all I have left. 🙂

  • Alexander E. September 20, 2010, 11:52 am

    @Alexander E. How dare you mock my racist fantasies after the commies and the Nazis are gone they have all I have left. 🙂

    kevin.
    I also missed that good old times 😉

  • Larsson September 22, 2010, 3:06 pm

    I speak Chinese and I’m disappointed in all the people here who try to tone down the mistakes and horrors of the People’s Republic of China government. The Chinese people are a wonderful, nice people, but the government of the PRC is not, and does not need anyone defending it, especially not people who have never lived under it. The wellbeing of the Chinese people would be a 1,000 times better if it’s government were run like Taiwan’s, and fortunately things are looking up that the up and coming generations of Chinese are naturally changing some of the negative aspects of the PRC system organically from the inside out… but it annoys me greatly for people here to act like the mayor of Reykjavík was somehow TOO rude to the Chinese delegation… the PRC tries to create an image of China as a perpetual victim of the West in order to further it’s political goals, defending the PRC government doesn’t help anyone inside or outside China. China needs just as much yellow guilt as the west has white guilt. I agree a lot with what Rajan has said minus his rants against the left and so-called multiculturalism… we don’t need to react to the conservative, right-wing single-minded xenophobic cultures of the world by becoming more like them ourselves by withdrawing into right-wing politics. But that’s a whole other story.
    Anyway people stop acting like China is some poor little child that the west has somehow forced into being a sweatshop… that development was encouraged by the Chinese government and people… because guess what, if the west stopped buying Chinese stuff then they would have a lot more poverty than they have now! That’s why I, AND a lot of Chinese people, would react with disgust to what Alexander E said… the Chinese don’t feel themselves as victims and they don’t want the west to stop buying their products, because they want the west’s money.