Published March 5, 2018
What pissed people off?
Iceland recently welcomed another group of refugees to the country, and they were summarily split up amongst towns and villages in the countryside. This prompted television personality and former conservative politician Gísli Marteinn to ask genuinely on Twitter why refugees are often settled in the countryside; if this is something they ask for, or if it’s a decision taken by the Icelandic government. This prompted author Hallgrímur Helgason to respond by saying, “It’s kind of wrong, it must be said, we get people from disaster areas, and where do we send them? Yes, to our own disaster areas, where no Icelander wants to live. This is so brutal.”
Why did it piss people off?
Comparing Syria and Iraq to, say, Flateyri or Reyðafjörður is not exactly on target, and it didn’t take long for people to respond with rage. But cultural context is also important. Icelanders in the countryside in many ways resent Icelanders in Reykjavík. Capital area residents are seen as snobs who consider themselves better than rural folks. It doesn’t help matters, either, that Hallgrímur is not just a well-known Reykjavík area writer, but also literally wrote the book on 101 Reykjavík.
Þórunn Ólafsdóttir, who is originally from the tiny east Iceland village of Fáskrúðsfjörður, summed up the responses to Hallgrímur’s tweet best by replying, “Are you really saying this, Hallgrímur? Peaceful places with people ready and willing to support people taking their first steps in a new society and all that are anything but disaster areas in this context.”
How did things resolve themselves?
Hallgrímur had the humility to apologise on Facebook for his glib remarks, saying that his comments were both “rude” and “tactless”, adding, “I’d take it back if I could, but unfortunately I cannot.” People seemed to have accepted his apology, even if only grudgingly.