Mag
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.  



Mag
Opinion
Don’t Ask Nanna

Don’t Ask Nanna

by

Dear Nanna I’m confused about the Icelandic practice of using the -dottir and -son suffix instead of last names. Does that mean you guys change your last names for every generation? How do you keep track of who’s who?  Thanks, Son of Question Mark Dear Son of Question Mark, We manage. Nanna   Dear Nanna, An Icelandic friend of mine says he is considering going into rehab. I’ve been trying to tell him about some alternative holistic therapies I found to help him with his recovery but he just brushes me off. I feel like he’s acting really unappreciative and

Mag
Opinion
For The Record

For The Record

by

The Holocaust remains incomprehensible in its totality. The goose steps taken towards it, while horrendous on their own, can seem less other-wordly. The photograph accompanying this article is taken in Vienna in 1938. The women are put on display on a public square, wearing a sign that says: I have been expelled from the people’s community. The young men behind the women are preparing to shave off their hair, as a crowd watches. Such displays were not uncommon. The reasons could involve being Jewish, communist, gay, lazy, or —as in this case— having sexual relations with Jews. At a symposium

Mag
Opinion
Hope In Dangerous Times

Hope In Dangerous Times

by

The year 2014 has left me asking what it really means to be Icelandic, and whether that might be something I should feel embarrassed about. Because looking back, I kinda do. For Iceland, last year was marked by a plethora of major scandals, especially in the fields of politics and law enforcement. We witnessed our politicians and oligarchs make sickening attempts to shut down any and every attempt at investigative journalism. We were subjected to the nature pass, attempts to militarise our police force, Biggi the cop, Hanna Birna, livestock farmers’ systematic mistreatment of animals, a corrupt dairy monopoly, the

Mag
Opinion
We Need 1,000,000 Humans, Stat

We Need 1,000,000 Humans, Stat

by

At the end of 2014, we find ourselves inhabiting a Western welfare state, a pretty good one thank you very much. However, we need about a million more people to make things more interesting and fun. The coming year will bring endless nagging about our horrible government and the garbage Progressive Party. This will ultimately prove inconsequential, because the bourgeoisie will inevitably fall for whatever new hocus pocus tricks our rulers will come up with for the next elections. The year’s optimal outcome—since it’s not very realistic to imagine we’ll get an extra million people to Iceland by the end

Mag
Opinion
Shattered Conceptions

Shattered Conceptions

by

In 2014, we saw that politicians are not afraid to attack institutions and ideals that some of us had—naïvely, I admit—come to take for granted. We thought we all agreed to keep public radio alive; we thought we all wanted lower taxes on culture and healthy foods and a higher asking price for natural resources; we thought we were forever free to roam our own country; we thought we were kind and tolerant and peaceful and welcoming; we thought we had agreed to fight inequality and safeguard the communal; we even thought our politicians—also those we disagreed with—were mostly intelligent

Mag
Opinion
No Authority

No Authority

by

Unfortunately, I fear that 2014 will be remembered as the year when Iceland took a turn from being a Nordic welfare state, towards becoming a society marked by neoliberalism and harsh individualism. Iceland’s right-wing government is currently engaging in a full-scale attack on the foundations of the welfare system that has served as the backbone and unifying force of our society for decades. Our healthcare system is in grave danger, so much so that it may take years to repair the damage. Our upper secondary school system is further undermined by being closed off to those over the age of

Show Me More!