News In Brief: Late July Edition

31.7.2012
Words by Paul Fontaine
The downtown nightclub Nasa came back into the news, with the future of the building that housed it undergoing more twists and turns in a struggle between city officials and a grassroots movement to save the site. A petition was started, with more than 11,000 signatures at the time of this writing, to save Nasa from demolition and to prevent the building of a hotel at the location that critics say would cast an unsightly shadow over Austurvöllur, the square in front of Parliament that many Icelanders like to enjoy in the summertime to get some sun. However, Páll Hjaltason, the chairperson of the Reykjavík Planning Committee, said that the city had long planned to renovate the club, and that it will not be torn down. The hotel, however, still appears to be on the drawing board, so at least that part of the struggle will continue. More on that elsewhere in this issue.

Poor Eve the seal, despite being an Icelandic native (probably), will not be allowed to return to her presumed home from her sanctuary in England, on the grounds that Icelandic authorities are worried she may introduce foreign diseases to the native seal population. For now, there are no plans to implement such a measure for human beings, so those planning to visit or move to Iceland should be able to breathe easier.

Snorri Óskarsson, an Akureyri schoolteacher who was suspended with pay for writing an anti-gay blog, has been terminated from his position. This prompted, among other people, former Central Bank chair and current Morgunblaðið co-editor Davíð Oddsson to come to his defence, saying that Snorri should not have been fired for his opinions on homosexuals. While Snorri cried foul, Akureyri mayor Eiríkur Björn Björgvinsson said that Snorri was not fired for his blog, but that his termination was based on his job performance. Meaning that Snorri isn’t just a homophobe; he’s also a lacklustre teacher.

Freedom does ring on domestic airline flights in Iceland, though, as the Icelandic Civil Aviation Administration confirmed that they will not begin weapon searches for domestic flights. The decision was made on the grounds that it would be too costly and time consuming to increase security, while causing unnecessary delays, for an airline system that faces almost no threat of armed hijacking or terrorism as it is. Domestic airline passenger shoes will remain firmly on foot.

Chinese entrepreneur and perennial newsmaker Huang Nubo quite casually mentioned in an interview in Beijing aspects of his land rental deal that had previously not been brought to light. Apart from wanting to turn 30,639 hectares in northeast Iceland into a luxury hotel and recreation area, will also be building 100 luxury villas, mostly for “wealthy Chinese.” Oh, and his lease isn’t just for 40 years—it’s for 40 years, with an option to rent for an additional 40 years. Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson was less than pleased with the news, saying, "If people can rent land for this length of time, it becomes more or less equivalent to land ownership." What other little surprises Huang Nubo plans to spring on us remain to be seen.

The case of Björk Eiðsdóttir and Erla Hlynsdóttir—two journalists who wrote articles on the strip clubs Goldfinger and Strawberries and were subsequently sued for liable, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, and won—is still rippling through Iceland. A grassroots movement was started calling for the boycott of stores owned by the man who refused to sell the issues of Ísafold magazine covering the Goldfinger story in 2007. These stores include Krónan, Nóatún, Elko and Byko. While there have been no discernible effects of the boycott so far, organisers say the purpose is to clearly convey the message that suppressing freedom of the press will have consequences.

The political spectrum in Iceland widened just a little bit this month, as the formation of an Icelandic Pirate Party was announced. Most of the media attention has been focused on MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir, but she is one of many forming the party, which has as part of its platform government transparency and freedom of expression. The party recently had its first public meeting to better form the platform, but for now most of the public discussion seems to revolve around the party’s Icelandic name—Píratapartýið—which sounds foreign to many Icelandic ears. Whether the name stays or goes, and whether public discussion can shift its focus to the party’s actual platform, is still undetermined.   



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