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Where is the Icelandic Aristotle?

Where is the Icelandic Aristotle?

Published July 20, 2009

Iceland only seems to be large enough to accommodate one, or at best two, points of view at a time. While our Scandinavian cousins were busy inventing model societies that stood somewhere between the two extremes of American Capitalism and Soviet Communism, and achieved a wide consensus among their populations in doing so, Iceland was deeply divided between left and right. Mid-century newspapers seem almost comical to us now in their fervent Cold War rhetoric, but how much has really changed?
A wound that will never heal
In the Post-war era, you were either opposed to or in agreement with the US military presence, and the debate took the form of sloganeering when at its best and teargas at its worst. This rift has never quite healed. In the past decade, no neutral ground seems to have been found between conservationists who are often portrayed as being in principle against modernity, and industrialists who seem to want to dam every river, waterfall or hot spring they can find. In political discourse, you seem to have to be either for or against nature, which is quite a remarkable feat of oppositional thinking.
When faced with the issue of joining the European Union, this problem becomes apparent yet again. On the one hand you have people who are portrayed, Cold War style, as traitors who want to sell Iceland’s independence to foreigners. On the other hand, you have people who are portrayed as wanting to sever all connections with the outside world. About the actual pros and cons of joining the EU, we hear very little.
Tap water journalism
As usual, the media is at least partially to blame. Icelandic news programmes and papers are run on a shoestring budget by all international standards. Investigative journalism is both expensive and time consuming. The cheapest option is what has quite appropriately been called “tap water journalism.” You get two people with opposing views, and then you turn them on and off like hot and cold water. With no one in a position to present the actual facts, political debate is quickly reduced to the level of a football game with no referee where everyone simply cheers their side reduction ad absurdum.
Aristotle said that for every virtue there are two vices, both located at opposite ends of the spectrum. He would no doubt say that those who see the EU as the devil incarnate as well as those who see it as the answer to all our prayers are equally wrong.  The answer, no doubt, lies somewhere in the middle. Only by examining things from there can we truly see what is the right path. Tap water actually works best when hot and cold are mixed together. How much of each should be the subject of political debate, not either or. Even when, as with the EU, one must eventually decide one way or another. 



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Two Days Of Criminal Activity

Two Days Of Criminal Activity

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People thought we were nuts at the time, when in reality we were suffering from good old Icelandic gung-ho enthusiasm. This year, we ought to know better. Three of us—Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and I—got together last year to organise a small crime fiction festival in Reykjavík. After all, how hard could it be? We had all been to a few of these, and it didn’t look like it could be all that much of a headache. It had seemed odd to us that Iceland didn’t have its own crime fiction festival. After all, there are plenty of them elsewhere.

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A New Wave Of Protests

A New Wave Of Protests

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Tension has been rising in Iceland of late. An estimated 4,500 people attended a general protest against the government on November 4, almost completely filling Austurvöllur by Alþingi. This marks it as one of the biggest demonstrations this year. The event was initially inspired by a Facebook rant from singer-songwriter Svavar Knútur, wherein he bemoaned the current coalition government’s favouritism of the rich and powerful. Instigator Svavar Knútur began the demonstration by addressing the crowd. In his speech—which has been widely shared across social media since the event—he likened the rally to the first of three warnings his father used to

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Arrest, Injury, Aftermath

Arrest, Injury, Aftermath

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Standing by the door of a two-storey building in the Höfði industrial district and not finding a doorbell, I call Chaplas Menke, who says he’ll come down to let me in. My interview subject made local headlines this September, after being reportedly brutalised by the police. Since then, the story has gone quiet. A short while later, he invites me to his abode. He is of average height, dark-skinned, with sunken eyes and a svelte frame. He has a thick accent and speaks hesitatingly, picking his words carefully. I ask him how he’s doing, and he modestly says okay as

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News In Brief: November

News In Brief: November

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Icelanders have once again grown fed up with their elected representatives, staging a massive protest demonstration in front of Alþingi last Monday. Thousands stood at Austurvöllur, Reykjavík’s hip spot for protest meetings, to denounce a veritable cornucopia of bad policy decisions (police estimated 4,500 attendees at the protest, while some attendees estimated that they were in fact closer to 7,000). This particular time around, the political party actually leading the country–in this case, the Progressives–have most recently polled at just under 9%. Remember, folks: the last time a ruling coalition stepped down, it was because one party didn’t want to

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Who’s Afraid Of November 9?

Who’s Afraid Of November 9?

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After DV revealed that the police had just acquired some 150 submachine guns from Norway, Chief Superintendent Jón Bjartmarz—who refused to answer any of the newspaper’s questions—explained on RÚV’s Kastljós that they have possessed machine guns “ever since after the Gúttó-fight.” “The Gúttó-fight” was a violent clash between police and workers, who were protesting announced wage reductions, back in 1932. The reference is as significant as they get. An Icelandic State Police authority, as opposed to a municipal one, was established in the aftermath of that fight, to ensure that authorities would henceforth have the upper hand against demonstrators. This

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Pippa’s Wish

Pippa’s Wish

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A particularly heart-warming story made the rounds recently when a crowdfunding campaign called “Pippa’s Wish” hit its required target, after a month online. The GoFundMe campaign was started by family friend Tamara Antonelli Comerford to take Pippa—a disabled seven-year-old Sigur Rós fan from Missouri, who suffered a stroke at birth that left her with Cerebral Palsy, among other medical conditions—on the family holiday of a lifetime. During an extended convalescence after an operation to reshape her pelvis and straighten her legs, Pippa was in severe pain, but responded with fascination to the soothing beauty of Sigur Rós’ tour documentary ‘Heima’,

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