From Iceland — News In Brief: Early July 2013

News In Brief: Early July 2013

Published July 23, 2013

News In Brief: Early July 2013
Parker Yamasaki

RYAN GOSLING. There, we got that out of our systems. EDWARD SNOWDEN. Okay, that one’s out too. Well, to be honest, Snowden was never really allowed in the system, as the proposal to grant Snowden Icelandic citizenship was vetoed, which means it can’t be voted on until after Alþingi takes its summer holiday. Could this have something to do with the letter sent to Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the US Government, requesting Snowden’s immediate arrest should he turn up in Iceland? Maybe. Or perhaps it was Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Iceland, during which he openly condemned Snowden’s public actions for redirecting attention away from the real issue at hand: vast and illegal electronic surveillance by the US Government. Oh yeah, that’s right. Sorry Ed, hope Russia is cool for now. 
While Snowden is getting cosy over in Russia, mayor Jón Gnarr is publicly attempting to cut ties with Reykjavík’s “sister city,” Moscow. On June 11 Gnarr submitted a proposal to end Reykjavík’s relationship with Moscow on account of the Russian capital’s stance on gay rights. Maybe Elín Hirst, the Independence Party MP, would be better received in the Russian capital after being sent home from a Parliament meeting to change trousers because her outfit was just not fabulous enough.
Apparently Iceland’s got some image issues. Can you blame us? If it’s not blue jeans in government gatherings, it’s the approval of a plan submitted by the Muslim Association to build a mosque in Sogamýri. Isn’t that right, Ólafur? Ólafur F. Magnússon, the former mayor of Reykjavík, publicly expressed worry over the mosque’s approval, stating that “Muslims here don’t seem to have any difficulties financing the project, receiving aid from Muslim organisations abroad. Those organisations might want to increase the influence of Islam in Iceland, as well as in other countries.” Can’t we build something more in keeping with “Icelandic national culture?” Something along the lines of a tribute to Nordic gods, as was Ólafur’s suggestion? Or maybe a giant statue of Björk?
The timing would be appropriate, considering July 5 marked the twenty-year anniversary of Björk’s first solo album, ‘Debut.’ And come on, who doesn’t love Björk? Well, not everybody, apparently. Michael Cragg, a journalist at The Guardian recalls Rolling Stone’s disapproval of the iconic Icelandic artist’s debut, complaining that she “abandoned rock n’ roll” for something “painfully eclectic.” 
But like they say, you can’t please everybody. I guess President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson had this in mind when he approved the bill to lowered fishing fees, despite a petition signed by 35,000 Icelanders in opposition to the bill. As the Minister of Health representing the Independence Party put it, matters of finance and taxation are not issues for the general public to decide on. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, right? Speaking of asking for forgiveness, sorry about the whale meat, Hamburg. According to RUV, the Evergreen Line carrying shipments of whale meat to Asia via Hamburg has been sent back to Iceland, as it is illegal to transport whale products through Germany.
Nonetheless, it seems the whale meat fluke hasn’t upset Germany too badly, as Germans make up the second largest percentage of tourists this summer at 13.5%, falling just behind the US (19.6%) and ahead of the British (7.8%). It’s a good thing we’ve got all of those hotels in the works, right Reykjavík? Wrong, says Sverrir Þ. Sverrisson, chair of the Resident’s Association. According to Sverrir the proliferation of guesthouses and hotels in downtown Reykjavík is disrupting to the general cycle of residents, not to mention has self-destructive effects for the tourism industry. “It’s not exciting if the city is just hotels and guest houses,” Sverrir says, stating the (seemingly) obvious.
If tourism is not a strong enough tie to the mainland, how about building a 1,170 km long submarine cable to carry electricity from Iceland to the UK? According to the National Energy Authority, Iceland’s electricity output could be doubled, or even tripled, if Iceland is willing to exploit a few environmentally sensitive areas here and there. But before we dip into that buzzing hot pot of electrically charged profits, we need to realise the potential environmental impacts of such a project, warns Minister of Industry, Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir. We’ll just consider the cancellation of Rauðasandur Festival due to “extreme weather” a wind-whipped warning. Luckily, the local schoolhouse and pirate-themed bar were willing to open their doors to disappointed festivalgoers, effectively saving the day.
The struggling public sector directors and higher-ups have finally gotten that much needed pay raise following new public wage counselling. After the financial crash of 2008, the left-wing government passed laws stating that no public director or manager would receive pay that exceeds the Prime Minister’s, leading to pay cuts for 42 public sector managers. In June, however, the newly elected right-wing government decided that the higher-ups should get a raise to keep up with today’s wage index and dated it back to August 2012. This lead to many of the managers getting a pay rise of 6-20%, but the CEO of the state’s power company Landsvirkjun, one Hörður Arnarson, must come away from this a happy man. Hörður is now the highest paid public servant after a 21% pay increase, with a whopping 1.6 million ISK per month! Ay Caramba! (TGB)

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