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Opinion
Back To Elves, Then

Back To Elves, Then

Published August 10, 2011

In a recent issue of Time Magazine, columnist Joel Stein talks about how he helped Iceland rewrite its constitution by logging on to the Constitutional Committee’s webpage and offering a suggestion. He freely admits to knowing little about the country, which is just as well, as he spends half the article talking about elves. He says that his only connection with Iceland is to have gotten drunk there and interviewing Björk. During one of my sober spells, I managed to interview Björk too (see Grapevine 2004, issue 7). She told me how tired she was of being thought of as an elf, although, admittedly, she has been known to play that up to the foreign media.
Still, it is interesting that almost three years after the economic collapse, Iceland is again thought of as a land of elves and hidden folk, rather than as a country of irrespon-sible bankers. After all, irresponsible bankers are everywhere, whereas elves are harder to find. The volcanic eruptions have probably played their part in this repositioning back to the traditional “land of fire and ice.” Stein even calls his article “Joel vs. the Volcano” without otherwise mentioning volcanoes.
The Constitutional Crisis
In itself, it’s not such a bad thing if people like to think of Iceland as something terribly exotic. Anyplace far away from home would seem to be. What’s annoying is Stein’s statement that “Icelanders seem to agree on everything.” No country exists, however exotic, where everyone agrees on everything. The very decision to rewrite the constitu-tion arose out of conflict: economic meltdown, mass protests and something that could be called a revolution. And even if the authors may eventually agree on wording, the whole process itself has been marred by conflict of another kind.
One of the major debates raging over the new constitution has to do with the right of ownership over natural resources. In 1994, use of the country’s foremost resource, the fish in the surrounding seas, was handed over to a few families which created a new class of super rich Icelanders and started the country on the road to economic ruin. The country’s other major resource, renewable energy, is now up for grabs and who gets to control it will to a large extent determine Icelanders’ living standards in the future. Will that too go to a select few, or will it be owned by and used to benefit the general population?
Hug thy neighbour
These are serious questions, and great interests are at stake. This may have led to the Icelandic Supreme Court’s decision to declare the elections to the Constitution Parlia-ment (now known as a committee instead) illegal, a move very much reminiscent of the US Supreme Court’s decision in 2000 to stop the recounting of votes in Florida. The new constitution will be written anyway, but its legitimacy, vital to such an august document, is nevertheless impaired.
Stein states that “the document strongly implies the right to unlimited hugs.” This in itself implies a country with few divisions and no real problems. If only it were so.  



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Opinion
Reykjavík Forces Its Music Schools Into Bankruptcy

Reykjavík Forces Its Music Schools Into Bankruptcy

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As you may have heard, Icelandic music teachers recently ended a five-week long strike. The music teachers’ strike was caused by a wage dispute. It was resolved when Icelandic authorities promised music teachers wages equal to those enjoyed by other teachers in Iceland. Now that these demands have been met—even if only to certain degree—we music teachers ought to be able to continue our work, educating Iceland’s future crop of musicians. But, are we? Not necessarily. For instance, my school, Söngskóli Sigurðar Demetz (“The Vocal Academy of Sigurður Demetz”), can now prepare students for the upcoming Christmas concerts. However, if

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Opinion
Good Ol’ Traditions

Good Ol’ Traditions

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One of last week’s loudest debates has to do with next year’s State Treasury budget, which Alþingi has been debating, as tradition has it, these last days before Christmas. Among the proposed changes in taxation is the lowering of VAT on electric appliances, and a corresponding raised VAT on food products. The What Since the proposal was first introduced, these two particular changes, seen as complimentary, have been disputed. The opposition’s reasoning seems obvious: food is an unavoidable expense, and expensive food will hit hardest those with already meager income. Electric appliances, however, remain a largely optional expense, and higher

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Opinion
Spotify: The Market Sets The Price

Spotify: The Market Sets The Price

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Recently, the independent news site Nútíminn, leader among independent news sites named Nútíminn, ran an Op-Ed by a terribly uninformed man who apparently believes he can run a record company without, it seems, having any sort of a business degree. In his screed, he insists that Supply and Demand break up, because their age old relationship no longer suits his specific needs. Furthermore, he seems to believe that record sales and online streaming are musicians’ sole source of revenue, and that free market capitalism should no longer require businesses to either adapt or perish. Should you be reading this, Haraldur Leví

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Opinion
Iceland’s Economy Shrinks In Third Quarter

Iceland’s Economy Shrinks In Third Quarter

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After years of growing at a respectable rate, the Icelandic economy seems to have stalled. According to the most recent measurements of Statistics Iceland the Icelandic, published on December 5, the Icelandic economy barely registered any growth over the first nine months of the year, and actually shrunk in the third quarter. These results stand in stark contrast to the extremely rosy projections of a couple of weeks ago, which promised a growth rate of 2.7% over the year. Analysts at the large banks were similarly projecting growth around 3% for the year. Now it seems more likely we will

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Opinion
Be A Peaceful Infant Smiling In The Manger

Be A Peaceful Infant Smiling In The Manger

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Feast of lights and love, the family days of Christmas; “what to dine and how to dress”— oh, don’t we all just thrill up on the quirky-looking sweaters and find it all so amusing? And don’t we, just this season, take the necessity of “having a good time” all too seriously concerning all the consumerism attached, as it is almost obligatory to accept February’s Visa bill without any grudge, the late-Christmas-hangover? At least, most of the time “doin’ what ya wanna cuz it’s Xmas” has been, in my context, stepping just a little bit over the line; knowing how much

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The Nature Pass: The Stupidest Tax In History

The Nature Pass: The Stupidest Tax In History

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According to official estimates, the number of foreign tourists in Iceland will top the one million mark for the first time in history by the end of the year. Which means it will have more than tripled over the course of last decade: in 2003, some 300,000 foreigners visited Iceland. Trampling hordes But while the growing number of foreign visitors has helped fuel economic growth, the hordes of visitors pose problems of their own. Virtually every popular tourist destination in Iceland is under serious stress, as irreparable damage is being done by trampling tourists. The problem is that neither the Icelandic

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