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Iceland’s week in review, February 2-9

Just for fun I thought I’d try posting a selection of this week’s news stories here in Iceland. Obviously there have been many more than these, so I’m focusing on those that have caught my attention [or, more specifically, that warranted so much attention that I can still remember them by the weekend].

There’s Sochi, of course

Illugi wearing his snazzy rainbow scarf in Sochi.

Illugi wearing his snazzy rainbow scarf in Sochi.

Four Icelandic political figures/officials kindly took it upon themselves this week to chaperone our five Icelandic athletes to the winter Olympics in Sochi. Got that? Four and five. Yeah. The action evoked a fair bit of discord among the Icelanders, many of whom felt that that our people should have stayed home to demonstrate opposition to Russia’s human rights violations. The retort from the political sector was familiar: it was better to keep the door open to discussions rather than close them by not attending, and yes, they naturally would mention discrimination against LGBT folks if they got the chance bla bla bla. So far the only “discussions” on the issue have been Minister of Education, Culture and Sport Illugi Gunnarson’s sporting a scarf with the rainbow colours, at one of the events. Whoo.

Woman slams man in blog post, makes news

The most talked about blog post of the week was one written by a social worker, Nanna Atladóttir, who is employed at a health clinic in Laugarás, a small community in south Iceland. Sick and tired of the repeated disparaging comments against women made by one of the [male] doctors at the clinic, she wrote a blog post describing such an incident, and named the doctor in question. The post garnered a vast amount of attention throughout the country, the mainstream media picked it up, and most people were incredibly supportive of Nanna … well, except for her co-workers [almost all female] at the clinic, most of whom sided with the doctor. Don’t know about other people, but I get a whiff of that small-town dysfunction from this story. Phew-ee.

Secondary school teachers have had it

Being vastly dissatisfied with their wages and other benefits, as well they should be. Teachers are ridiculously underpaid here in Iceland, their contribution to society heinously undervalued. The message from the authorities is that they should just be working their jobs out of idealism … and meanwhile, the billions are flushed into the coffers of the fishing vessel operators. Fuuu.

Minister of interior thrashes about in messy net

Loud voices have been demanding the resignation of  Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir [IP] ever since the ministry ordered the deportation of asylum seeker Tony Omos, whose girlfriend – also an asylum seeker – was pregnant. [She has since given birth.] Shortly after the order was made the media reported on documents alleging that Omos was involved in human trafficking, and implying that the pregnancy had been arranged to allow him to stay in Iceland. [This comes in the wake of reports several months earlier in which a women’s shelter stated that several Nigerian women were at the shelter, and that they were victims of human trafficking. Omos is from Nigeria.] It has since transpired that this information about Omos was likely leaked from the ministry to the media, and was probably done to whitewash the deportation order. The matter has escalated dramatically over the past few weeks and in the meantime, Omos has been deported. A police investigation has been launched into how the information got from the ministry to the media, and there are demands for Hanna Birna to at least step down while the investigation is ongoing. She has refused. You might say that this whole affair has become far greater than the sum of its parts, with various complications, like for instance the difficulty of the police investigating an institution which is effectually above itself in the administration, and all sorts of pundits weighing in on whether or not Hanna Birna should step down. One thing is sure – the matter is not going to go away, as the ministry no doubt hoped, and in fact gets more and more messy by the day.

Dubious northern lights research, maybe

An interesting article appeared in the tiny Akureyri  Vikublað weekly this week. It is an interview with one Pascal Heyman, formerly a project manager with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, about the Chinese research station set to rise in Reykjadalur, north Iceland, this year. The station is allegedly being set up to investigate the northern lights. Heyman, however, considers this suspicious, given the well-documented interest of the Chinese to gain a foothold in the Arctic regions. Through the station, he says, the Chinese would be able to monitor just about everything that happens in the skies above Iceland, and reminds us that Icelandic airspace is also NATO airspace. This has prompted a fair bit of discussion around here, with many people pointing out that the Japanese have been here investigating the northern lights for decades – but have not needed a special “station” – just a small shack somewhere out in the middle of nowhere with a few monitors. I’m wondering if this matter would have received the same amount of attention if a foreign person with some credibility had not come forward and said it. The thing is, Icelanders tend to only take notice of things if they come from abroad [and tend to be incredibly naive about, well, lots of things. I’ll say no more].

That’s it for this week. I’m going to see if I can make this a weekly thing, though it has long since become clear to me that the fewer promises I make with regards to this blog the better. So we’ll see.