News In Brief: Early July Edition

16.7.2012
Words by Paul Fontaine
June ended on a somewhat predictable note as Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was re-elected for his fifth term in office. If he serves it to completion, he will be head of state for twenty years. Ólafur said that he considered his re-election an “unambiguous message from the people” that they want to have a say in the largest issues facing the nation, in the form of national referendums.

However, professor of political science Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson pointed out that Ólafur’s victory was not as sweeping as it seemed—after four terms in office, he was only able to win 51.5% of the ballots cast. Yet when Vigdís Finnbogadóttir ran for re-election in 1988—challenged by Sigrún Þorsteinsdóttir—she came away with the votes of 67% of all registered voters. Voter turnout was about the same in both elections. Ólafur’s closest contender throughout the race, broadcast journalist Þóra Arnórsdóttir, said that she will likely not get involved in politics again, but will focus on her family.

A controversy erupted over foreign-made sweaters, when a group of hand knitters pointed out that some of the famed lopapeysur—the iconic Icelandic sweater—were being knitted in China and Taiwan. They contended that the hand knitters in Iceland were being denied work, and the labour union Framsýn requested a list of all shops selling foreign-made sweaters. Many designers and sellers said the matter was actually a question of there not being enough Icelandic hand knitters to meet the demand for the sweaters.

For those who want a sweater knitted by an Icelander, you’re advised to check the label to see specifically “Hand-knit in Iceland” or “Made in Iceland.” But keep in mind these sweaters only date back to the ’50s, and the design was likely borrowed from Sweden, Turkey or South America.

Speaking of foreigners, a polar bear was allegedly spotted in north Iceland. Originally reported by some Italian tourists who said they photographed and recorded the animal, the Coast Guard and the police went into action. They searched for the polar bear by foot and helicopter for days while advising residents in the area to be cautious when traveling outdoors, but turned up with nothing. What was reported as “obvious polar bear tracks” turned out to have been left by a kayaker, and the photographs of the polar bear—on further examination—looked more like seals. Oh well—the year’s not over yet, so there’s still a chance we’ll get to kill a polar bear.

A victory for journalism in Iceland was achieved when two journalists won a case they took to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the Icelandic state. The two journalists in question—Björk Eiðsdóttir and Erla Hlynsdóttir—wrote articles about the nightclubs Goldfinger and Strawberries, quoting employees who spoke of illegal activities going on at these clubs. However, the nightclubs—offended to have their fine reputations sullied—filed charges of libel against the two. Icelandic courts ruled that the articles be stricken from public record, and that the journalists be made to pay damages to the clubs. Appealing their case to the ECHR, the court ruled in the journalists’ favour that their articles were part of the social dialogue of an important issue and should not be silenced. The Icelandic government now must pay the two journalists a combined total of about 50,000 Euros. Strip clubs take note!

In a more bizarre turn of events, two stowaways managed to sneak onto an Icelandair plane bound for Copenhagen, hiding inside the bathroom. While the two were found before the plane took off and were summarily arrested, the incident reflected what appeared to be a serious breach in airline security.

Isavia, the company that runs Keflavík airport, examined their security procedures that day and found nothing unusual, concluding that the two stowaways must have been very well organized, that there was nothing particularly lacking in their security. Glad we got that cleared up.

Not everyone has had the best luck with travel though, it seems. MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir was advised by the Foreign Ministry not to travel to the US due to an investigation that the US Department of Justice is currently conducting against Wikileaks. Birgitta was once a volunteer for the website, and did have the contents of her Twitter account subpoenaed by the DoJ.

The matter was fought in court, and is still far from over. The advice she received from Icelandic authorities, it should be noted, contradicts what officials from the US embassy told her—that it was perfectly OK for her to travel to the US. The Americans might even be right, but hey, would you take any chances?

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