It is my privilege to film and live in France as an artist. Nothing like a country that every day walks further down the path of its own inexorable decline. Nothing better than an ever more provincial country run by a rotating crew of the same incompetents, dishonest, corrupted by their support of a permanently and totally corrupt regime. What is better than living in a land where justice is a bazaar? What artist wouldn’t dream of such a nation? —Said Jean-Luc Godard in the 1980′s, regarding his country of residence. Mutatis mutandis … we are not there yet. Iceland seems corrupt yes, at times fundamentally so. And yet the work may not be completed. Since Tuesday, it seems as if one of the country’s higher public officials may have refused to get involved in some indecencies. It is a highly unusual case, and remains under investigation. The journalistic merit of what follows is questionable. I’m not sure what to call it. Speculative journalism …? Whatever it is, it takes place in a sort of semiotic twilight-zone. In the Mood for Metaphor Tuesday actually started with a metaphor. That morning, DV published what may turn out the be the story of the year: that chief of Capital Area Police Stefán Eiríksson resigned from his post under pressure, and due to abnormal interferences, at the hands of Interior Minister Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, regarding the case against the Ministry, that has lately been under investigation by Stefán’s force. Meanwhile, RÚV’s top story was headlined: Fox Fauna Stable, Regardless of Hunting Ban. It sported a big picture of a very cute baby arctic fox. So that’s it, I thought: so this is the best they can do when confronted with a crisis of this sort. They are telling us to stay calm: even if they are not allowed to ‘hunt’, the politicians will not grow in number, but stay each in his/her respective ministry. Carry on. Of course I didn’t mean this literally, but I used the reading to mock RÚV a little while they seemed reluctant to cite DV’s claim and run their own story about the claims. Up until now, while evidence has piled up against the Minister, RÚV’s newsroom has shown very little initiative in covering the events leading to this current crisis. Eventually, around noon, they did cover DV’s story. Probably they were never even reluctant to begin with. Just mindfully doing their job. All that is largely irrelevant to this article, except as to explain the circumstances of what then happened. My mood. As I kept updating news sites and scanning the highly variable treatment story got in the various media outlets, I was already in the mood for metaphor. One of My Favorite Songs After DV ran its cover story, various media outlets obviously tried to reach Stefán for comment. For a few hours he didn’t pick up the phone, leaving the press with no comment except for a message on Twitter. The ambiguous tweet explained that
In the first 6 months of 2014, 402.000 tourists came through Keflavík airport, 90.000 more than in the same period last year. While this is good news, the Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board, Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, told RÚV yesterday that it there were reasons for cautious optimism. “I think that there has been too rapid an increase in tourists,” said Ólöf Ýrr. “I don’t think we’ve been able to meet the demands of this increase. I think it would be better for us to avoid our future guests being put off from visiting us and in order to avoid that and avoid bad reviews it would be better if this increase [in visitors] had been a little smaller. That way we could build ourselves up, get an overview of and a strategy for the future protection of our nature. We could manage to examine more closely the tourism sector, not just the hotel rooms but the careers, the education of people in the industry which is extremely important.” Ólöf also said measures needed to be made to avoid a tourism bubble and to sustain the industry for the long haul. Currently the Icelandic Tourist Board and the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre are investigating whether tourists feel that too many other travellers at natural tourist sites such as Gullfoss for example, spoils the experience for them. “We have to realise that we can’t just build up natural sites endlessly, we can’t just endlessly receive more and more people at any particular tourist site and live under the assumption that we are offering the type of experience that people have paid for,” said Ólöf Ýrr. Ólöf has in the past recommended imposing limits on how many tourists should be present at a natural tourist site at any given time and that a conversation needs to be had which concludes at what point a tourist site reaches full capacity without ruining the tourist’s experience of the Icelandic countryside. “Perhaps we should think about a reservation system, where people schedule a time to see a natural site like they do in the Grand Canyon,” said Ólöf Ýrr. “It’s not applicable to the whole of the Grand Canyon but of select sites where people book ahead of time.” Last year, tourism was one of the most important sectors in Iceland, both financially and from an employment perspective. “We shouldn’t forget that the tourism industry has had an incredibly positive [effect on Iceland] and is an incredibly positive part of our society and economy. The travel industry is bringing in a lot of money,” said Ólöf Ýrr. “It’s creating jobs across the country and we shouldn’t talk down the importance of the travel industry… we just need to face the fact that there is a lot of work still to be done.”
Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir may have tried to influence police investigations of her ministry, prompting the previous police commissioner to quit. The Constitutional and Supervisory Committee has asked the Minister to explain herself. DV reports that, according to their sources, former Commissioner of the Capital Area Police Stefán Eiríksson was on one occasion called into Hanna Birna’s office where she expressed displeasure with the course of police investigations of the Ministry of the Interior. On another occasion, Hanna Birna allegedly phoned Stefán, saying she was unhappy with police conduct in the investigations. Stefán reportedly discussed this with several close co-workers, and informed State Prosecutor Sigríður Friðjónsdóttir of the exchanges. Shortly thereafter, Stefán quit, to take up a new job as the Department Head of the Social Welfare Department for the City of Reykjavík last week. In his place, Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir was personally appointed by the minister to take over. She will lead any further investigations of the ministry. When contacted by other media outlets, the State Prosecutor said only that she would not discuss the matter with the media. Stefán, for his part, tweeted, “Sought a new and interesting job and got it, ultimately time to change workplaces. Nothing else influenced that decision”, but did not categorically deny what DV reported, either. The absense of a categorical denial on both of their parts prompted journalist and former DV editor Illugi Jökulsson to call the news “obviously correct”, arguing that if Hanna Birna did not try to influence police investigations, both Stefán and the State Prosecutor would have categorically denied this serious allegation. Hanna Birna, though, did deny the veracity of DV’s claims, telling RÚV that the accusations were “wrong and out of the question”. Left-Green MP Ögmundur Jónasson, the chairperson of The Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, told RÚV that his committee intends to have the minister answer some questions about the allegations, and says the committee will convene on the matter by the end of August. The Pirate Party has proposed the minister be called to meet with the committee in person. As reported, police have investigated the Ministry of the Interior for the source of a memo which was leaked to select members of the press last November. The memo contained a number of false allegations about asylum seeker Tony Omos, who was facing deportation at the time, and was deported the following December. Police investigations so far are currently being reviewed by the State Prosecutor. Related: Completely Unthinkable: Police Investigations of the Ministry of the Interior, and what they reveal (so far) Ask Not on Whom the Sun Shines: New Refugee-Hostile Chief of Capital Area Police
An Indonesian woman living in Iceland had some candid words to share about the experience many Asian women endure when they move here. RÚV reports that Cynthia Trililani, originally from Indonesia, has been living in Iceland for the past ten years now. She has two university degrees, and is working on two master’s degrees while working in a playschool. Despite her background, Cynthia told attendees at SlutWalk last Saturday, herself and Asian women in general are subjected to some ugly stereotypes from some of the locals. Cynthia said that many Asian women are regarded as “uneducated sex toys” who are by nature submissive and come from impoverished backgrounds. “When I was applying for work, I was advised to get a job as a masseuse, which is actually not my area of expertise,” she told attendees. “There are many well-educated Asian women in this country, who unfortunately cannot get jobs in accordance with their education, presumably because of language difficulties.” Going downtown on a weekend night can also bring its share of ugliness, she said, saying that some night clubs refuse Asian women entry “saying they have an image to protect”. This is underscored by the comments she has received from Icelandic men, many of whom have presumed she is a prostitute and have asked her what she charges for such a service. Cynthia says that she believes prejudice is present in all societies. Rather than being regarded as a foreigner, she says, she would encourage Icelanders to see her instead as a friend, a neighbour, and another resident of this country.
A group calling for asylum seeker policy reform wants a Palestinian asylum seeker who was deported to be allowed to return to Iceland. RÚV reports that the group, Ekki fleiri brottvísanir (“No more deportations”), handed over a petition of support for Ramez Rassas to the Ministry of the Interior and the Directorate of Immigration. Rassas originally fled Gaza in 2009, and has been seeking asylum since then. After repeated failures for asylum in Norway, he came to Iceland last November. He was deported back to Norway last February, and then sent back to Gaza the following month. There, he currently resides, in a country which is in the middle of a military assault from Israeli forces. Benjamín Julian, Rassas’ spokesperson, told reporters there is at least some inconsistency in the way his case is being handled, pointing out that Bobby Fischer was awarded Icelandic citizenship without even being in the country at the time. “It took parliament two hours to approve that measure,” he said. “I think if the will was there in parliament to give Ramez a passport, they could do that, too.”
Today’s Topic: The Best of Reykjavík Welcome to our sixth edition of Pylsuspjall, a feature in which we accost strangers at the Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand and ask them questions. This time we brave the shitty weather to ask them what they like about Reykjavík. What’s your name? Zhang Xiauying Where are you from? Beijing, China What do you do for a living? I just graduated from medical school, so I’m going to be a doctor in China. What do you think makes these hot dogs so good? I’m not sure. The place just showed up when I googled Reykjavík, so I came here to try them. Describe Iceland in three words. Rainy. Beautiful. Cold. What’s the best day trip from here that you’ve been on? I went to the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon, but I liked the Golden Circle best. The natural beauty was something I hadn’t seen before. What’s the best thing you’ve bought here? A wool coat. What’s the best bar you’ve been to? Actually, I didn’t go to any bars! I came here for a meeting so I didn’t have time for drinking. What’s the best thing you’ve done so far while here? Eating at the Perlan. You can see all of Reykjavík while eating great fish. What’s been the best thing about your trip? The nature, especially the Golden Circle. – What’s your name? Rúnar Þór Friðriksson Where are you from? Iceland What do you do for a living? I’m a truck driver. What do you think makes these hot dogs so good? They’re just good. Always have been. Describe Iceland in three words. Shitty weather. Isolated island. Beautiful landscapes. [Yeah, nope. Not three words.] What’s the best part about being an Icelander? I have no idea. Growing up in Iceland, what was the best part about being a kid here? I got away with a lot of shit. What’s the best-kept secret of Reykjavík? Geirfinnur. He’s a guy who was supposed to have been killed 30 or 40 years ago, but he was never found. [He’s talking about Iceland’s best-known criminal case known as Guðmundar og Geirfinnsmálið (“The case of Guðmundur and Geirfinnur”). It is also possibly Iceland’s best-known miscarriage of justice for the six suspects involved.] What’s the best bar to go to? The Icelandic Rock Bar, because they play rock and roll and there aren’t a lot of stupid drunks. Where’s the best place to people-watch? Probably Hlemmur square. There are a lot of interesting characters who walk by there. – What’s your name? Peter Brofman [on the left] Where are you from? Charleston, South Carolina [USA] What do you do for a living? I’m a veterinarian. Do you like cats or dogs better? Cats [“Wait, why?” exclaims his friend.] What do you think makes these hot dogs so good? Not the mayo, so I’m gonna have to go with the honey mustard. [By mayo he means remoulade.] Describe Iceland in three words. Cold, windy and rainy. Are these the