The general consensus around here about 2010 seems to be “good riddance”. Where 2009 gave us hope that we’d be able to emerge from the rubble of our ruined economy, 2010 was more like striding proudly from said rubble, and falling flat on our faces. Let’s have a look at the stories that made this year that special Icelandic blend of disappointment, rage and wry laughter.
The previous December, parliament narrowly passed into law the Icesave deal. Wait, we mean the first Icesave deal. From the beginning, people hotly debated on the one hand that taxpayers shouldn’t bail out bankers, and on the other hand, that we’re sorta kinda bound by international law to pay up. In the end, Iceland’s elected representatives would find the President play his trump card for the second time in Icelandic history when he told the nation that he was not going to sign the bill into law, but refer it instead to national referendum. In fairness to the President, though, the Icesave bill was overwhelmingly rejected by the Icelandic people in the referendum, and the new deal on the table will cost us billions less.
This month saw the aftermath of the Icesave deal’s veto, with Dutch and British authorities fuming with rage and accusing the Icelandic government of lying to them. There’s just no pleasing some people. Iceland also extended help to Haiti, following a devastating earthquake, by sending rescue workers and tonnes of bottled water to the country. The brightest story of the month, though, was the introduction of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a parliamentary resolution guaranteeing protections for whistleblowers and investigative journalists from being pressured by the wealthy and powerful. This resolution would have implications later in the year, when WikiLeaks became one of the top stories in the world.
Icesave referendum time! Grapevine liveblogged media coverage of the event, and the results confirmed what numerous opinion polls in the previous month had been indicating— this thing was dead in the water. Sure enough, over 90% of those who voted on the Icesave deal voted no. The biggest story of the month, however, is undoubtedly the eruption of Fimmvörðuháls in Eyjafjallajökull. It was a “tourist volcano”—pretty plumes of lava shooting up in the air, doing no real damage to anyone or anything. Many pinned their hopes on this eruption of bringing much-needed tourist revenue into the country. Boy were they in for a surprise…
With municipal elections coming up, a joke party started by comedian and actor Jón Gnarr called ‘The Best Party’ began to get more attention. The Special Investigative Commission, which examined the possible causes of the 2008 bank collapse, released its report. Everyone looked at the report which said that conservative ministers were incompetent, the Central Bank turned a blind eye, and that bank managers were insatiably greedy and said, “Duh.” The Eyjafjallajökull eruption— which had gone from pretty lava fountain to giant ash-belching machine later in March— shut down air traffic across Europe and parts of North America, making everyone angry at Iceland again.
Former Kaupthing director Hreiðar Már Sigurðsson was arrested by the special prosecutor for numerous charges of violating financial laws. A few hours later, former Kaupthing bank manager in Luxembourg, Magnús Guðmundsson, was also arrested. A few days later, former Kaupthing chairman Sigurður Einarsson was listed as wanted by Interpol. This month also saw a little-known company called Magma Energy poised to purchase nearly all of Icelandic power company HS Orka, despite the company’s CEO, Ross Beaty, assuring Grapevine the previous September that they had no intentions of doing so. Outrage ensued, with artist Björk Guðmundsdóttir spearheading the campaign against the company, and more lies from Beaty followed. The month finished with a bang, as city elections saw the Best Party take the mayoral seat, forming a majority coalition with the Social Democrats.
June was a very good month for gay rights. Parliament passed a law that allows single women, as well as homosexual couples, to have access to donor eggs and donor sperm for the purpose of artificial insemination. Also, Iceland’s parliament passed a law that eliminated the distinction between “marriage” for straight couples and “civil unions” for gay couples, creating instead one marriage for all Icelanders, regardless of sexual orientation. Jón Gnarr officially became the mayor of Reykjavík, and the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative was passed in parliament. As a resolution, though, not a law. Still, that’s something, right?
Pretty much the single most noteworthy story of this month was the back-and-forth between Magma Energy CEO Ross Beaty and artist Björk Guðmundsdóttir. He made a coy, not-entirely-serious proposal to sell her shares in the company, and she responded to his condescension with expected annoyance. An online petition to put Icelandic natural resources in public ownership began to gather momentum as well. Ultimately, the government would refuse to confirm the sale of HS Orka to Magma Energy, pending an investigation into the legality of the deal.
This month saw continued pressure on Magma Energy, as thousands signed the petition to put natural resources in public ownership. Also, Iceland began to receive more attention on the world stage, thanks to WikiLeaks. Some of the attention wasn’t the good kind, though. Liz Cheney—former US vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter—called upon US president Barack Obama to compel the Icelandic government to shut down WikiLeaks, while Republican senator John Ensign decided to make his displeasure known by temporarily blocking US President Barack Obama’s nominee for US ambassador to Iceland. This month also saw the national church feeling the heat with regards to how they handle cases of sexual abuse within its walls. The resulting kerfuffle saw a rise in de-registration from the church, and great calls for separation of church and state.
While Magma Energy and the national church dominated the headlines, Jenis av Rana, chairman of the Christian Centrist Party of the Faeroe Islands, told Faeroese media that for Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir to come to the Faeroe Islands with her wife was “a defiance of the Bible.” Legislators from both countries have harshly denounced the MP’s remarks. The month finished off with parliament voting in favour of charging former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde with neglect and mismanagement that helped contribute to the economic collapse. He will be tried in a national court in 2011.
This month started with anti-government protests from different groups with different goals. While the first protest saw some thousands attend, subsequent protests featured far lower numbers, and would eventually peter out by the year’s end. While the government decided that the investigative committee on Magma Energy’s sale of HS Orka had given the green light for the sale, a panel comprised of former committee members and Björk Guðmundsdóttir contended that the government could still block the sale on the ground of imminent domain. Every media source in the country except Grapevine ignored this news. A Reykjavík city council proposal that would ban church officials from proselytizing in play schools was strongly contested by the church, but would eventually pass.
Paul Ramses, arguably Iceland’s most famous asylum seeker, announced that he was running for president of Iceland. It also came to light that the US embassy was engaging in surveillance of private citizens living in the neighbourhood around the building, with some reports that security firm Securitas had been hired at one point to root through the trash cans of people living on the same street as the embassy. The embassy denied that it was engaging in spying, saying that it was only looking for suspicious behaviour. Controversy arose when the Grapevine reported that the Blood Bank was turning away people who couldn’t speak Icelandic. The strong response this story generated led to the Blood Bank reconsidering this policy.
Elections for the constitutional assembly concluded, with one of the lowest voter turnouts ever, and a general sense of cynicism and disappointment as it seemed well-known Icelandic figures all scored a seat, even if some of them didn’t seem to have any platform at all. As WikiLeaks’ infodump of thousands of diplomatic cables generated world attention, Iceland stepped up to assist the website, with private companies offering to serve as proxies for donations, and parliament again voicing its support for WikiLeaks. The year concluded as it began: with Icesave. A new deal was reached between Iceland, Britain and Holland with much fairer terms. The President hinted that he might again refuse to sign the deal into law. To which we can only say “oh god please no, not more Icesave”.