The year started with a number of dubious predictions from the outside world—for one, that Iceland was “a seething caldron on the verge of going kablooey,” (that from The New York Times, re: two PBS documentaries about impending volcanic eruptions), and for two, that the country’s economic woes were largely over (that mad good reporting courtesy of the BBC). But there were some legitimately impressive Icelandic accomplishments. Namely, Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir became the first solo Icelander to reach the South Pole.
You’ve heard of the boy named Sue? What about the girl named…girl? Fifteen-year-old Blær Bjarkardóttir won the right to be recognized by her given name, rather than the placeholder that had been on all her official documents since birth: “Stúlka,” or “Girl.” Her mother christened her Blær (meaning “light breeze”) in 1998, only to have the name later rejected by the Naming Committee on the grounds that it was a boy’s name. The Reykjavík District Court ruled, however, that the name could be used for both genders and denying her the right to bear her name was a violation of the Constitution.
With Easter afoot, chocolate company Nói-Sírius went into overdrive, producing 600,000 chocolate eggs for the season. The company began production on these Easter sweets around Christmas, but still had to work “day and night” to keep up with demand. Spring also revealed a slightly more sinister egg craving in the countryside: hidden cameras discovered that Icelandic sheep often prey on bird nests, ravenously devouring whimbrel eggs. While carnivorous sheep have not (yet) seriously damaged Iceland’s bird population, another species went extinct: The Rare Icelandic Billionaire. There had once been as many as six billionaires in Iceland, but as of March, “The Last Billionaire,” Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, had relocated to the UK.
Parliamentary elections held this month ushered in quite a few changes. Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and her party, the Social Democratic Alliance, were voted out of power and replaced by a majority coalition government shared by The Progressive Party and The Independence Party, led by Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
DeCODE Genetics also made headlines when it commissioned an app to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Íslendingabók genetic database. The resulting app, designed by engineering students at the University of Iceland, featured an “incest spoiler” alarm, intended to sound when two closely-related people bumped their phones before heading home together. International hilarity (and copious punning) ensued.
Iceland’s tourist season got off to a rather amusing start when four Americans got stranded on an ice floe during a picnic. The group had just settled in for a nice al fresco meal on the edge of Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon when the ice under them cracked and floated ten metres away from shore. A rescue team was called and brought everyone to safety before anything less amusing happened.
Meanwhile, not one, but two, Icelanders broke records scaling Mount Everest. On May 21, fifty-year-old Ingólfur Geir Gissurarson became the oldest Icelander to climb Everest. Two days later, Leifur Örn Svavarsson became the first Icelander to scale the North ridge route, which begins in Tibet and is considered the more difficult climb.
May also saw some unfortunate crimes in Iceland. The first murder of 2013 took place in Egilsstaðir in East Iceland, when a man was found bled to death on his balcony (Iceland averages two murders a year). And two acts of vandalism were perpetrated in nature preserves: the word “CRATER” was painted in 17 metre letters in Hverfjall crater, and “CAVE” was painted in 90 cm letters the Grjótagjá lava cave. (German artist Julius von Bismarck was accused of these acts of “nature terrorism” when images of the sites were seen an exhibition of his in Berlin. Von Bismarck has refuted the accusations.)
But hey! Iceland was on The Simpsons! Sigur Rós performed the theme tune! Björk blinked! There were lopapeysur and Northern Lights and elves! Woohoo!
WHOOT! SUMMER! Wait, not yet. There were 90 less hours of sunshine in Reykjavík in June than there had been for the last decade of Junes. We still had plenty of tourists (and famous people!), though. ‘True Blood’ actor Alexander Skarsgård came to Iceland to escape technology (and daylight) over the course of a weeklong hike. Nick Cave also performed during the inaugural All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival in Keflavík, suffering a bad spill off the stage in the process. (He’s okay!)
In June, TV personality Sindri Sindrason and his husband announced that they adopted a daughter, Emilía Katrín, the previous year, making them the first same-sex couple in Iceland to adopt a child. Adoption for same-sex couples has been legal since 2006.
WHOOT! SUMMER! Nope, not yet. Not since 2002 had Reykjavík seen a colder, rainier July. More famous people, though! Diners at Loftið were kicked out of their seats to make way for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and Ryan Gosling landed (Hey, Iceland), coming to our shores to work with editor (and filmmaker) Valdís Óskarsdóttir on his directorial debut, ‘How to Catch a Monster.’
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also made his first official visit to Iceland this month, calling the country “a symbol for clean air, beauty, peace, and gender equality.” During his time here, Mr. Ki-moon issued statements about whistleblower Edward Snowden, condemning what he believed to be a “misuse” of digital communications. Former Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson disagreed, however, and urged Althingi’s Judicial Affairs Committee to offer Snowden Icelandic citizenship. This proposal was actually put forth by six MPs, although discussion was halted over summer, and later put to rest under US demands that Snowden be arrested and immediately extradited should he step foot in Iceland.
By August, it was official: summer didn’t make it to Iceland this year. August was 1.2 degrees colder than it has been for ten years running, and it rained. A lot. We were sad. Gallup polls conducted this month showed that the majority of Icelanders wanted to continue with EU accession talks. Nevertheless, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson disbanded Iceland’s negotiation committee to EU, effectively halting an application which had been four years in the making.
Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð met US President Barak Obama on the latter’s way to the G20 Summit. The PM later referred to Obama as “really likable,” although that might just be because Obama didn’t laugh (too much) at his mismatched shoes. Yep, our prime minister met Obama wearing one black Nike trainer and one dress shoe. (Reports were later issued that there had been a medical reason for the gaffe, but perhaps it was just SD expressing a little sartorial sass.)
Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson unveiled the 2014 budget proposal, which a lot of people really hated. Many organisations faced significant cuts, including the Icelandic Film Centre, the Children’s Cultural Fund, and the Office of the Special Prosecutor. The proposal also suggested that patients start being charged 1,200ISK for every night they spend in the hospital.
On the radio show Tvíhöfði, Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr announced that he would not seek reelection at the end of his term. “I’m simply not a politician,” he said. “I’m a comedian.” Reykjavík: soon to be a little less punk rock.
November was a big news month in Iceland, but not much of it was good. For one, 39 employees of RÚV, Iceland’s national broadcasting service, were promptly laid off. Páll Magnússon, RÚV’s director, justified these cuts in light of potential—but as yet unconfirmed—budget cuts. The lay-offs sparked many protests organised by outraged citizens who believed they were “politically fuelled.”
Meanwhile, Tony Omos, a Nigerian asylum seeker whose case had been pending for nearly two years, went into hiding under threat of deportation and separation from his girlfriend and unborn child. His disappearance was undoubtedly motivated by (mis)information about Tony’s involvement in a human trafficking case which was likely leaked to the media by an employee of the Ministry of the Interior. Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir was called to appear before a parliamentary committee to address this leak of confidential, not to mention probably false, information. (Shortly after, Tony turned himself in and was deported on December 19.)
It wasn’t a good month for privacy: over 70,000 Vodafone customers (including MPs and government ministers) were shocked to discover that following a website breach, their passwords, text messages, and personal information had been published online. With 300 MB of data stolen, this attack was officially the largest cyber attack that Iceland has ever experienced.
To add insult to injury, Iceland’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup during their away match against Croatia. November kind of sucked, guys.
December began with a very sad first in Icelandic history when police shot and killed a man who had opened fire from his Reykjavík apartment. Two policemen were wounded by the man, who they tried to subdue with tear gas before shooting him. The man later died from his injuries. This was the first time that Icelandic police had ever shot and killed a civilian.
In other, better, news, Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð introduced the long-touted debt relief package or, if you prefer more cheery terminology, “the debt jubilee,” which will cancel 80 billion ISK of household debt. An additional 70 billion ISK in debt relief was to come directly from the people, who under the terms of the package, were given permission to use their own tax-free, private pension holdings (normally not accessible until retirement) to pay debts. The jubilee incurred mixed reactions: the IMF mission chief in Iceland referred to it as “ill-advised,” while the credit rating agency Moody’s gave it the thumbs up. Only time will tell, we suppose.
Yes, we’re still picking up the pieces after the crash in 2008, and part of that (wait for it) is sentencing bank executives to prison time (GASP!). Yes, in December, four executives of Kaupthing bank were sentenced to anywhere between three and a half and five years of prison time for financial crimes dating back to 2008. According to the decision, the four concealed the fact that one of the bank’s investors owned his 5.01% stake in the bank thanks to money lent to him by the bank itself. In addition to jail time, three of the bankers were also sentenced to paying legal fees, all between 14.3 and 33.4 million ISK. All four men are expected to appeal their sentences to the Supreme Court.
Elsewhere, two Icelanders split a record high lottery jackpot in December, each winning 70 million ISK. Artist Ragnar Kjartansson sold his much-lauded video installation piece, ‘The Visitors,’ to New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Migros Museum in Zurich, among others. RÚV director Páll Magnússon resigned from his position, citing a lack of trust after his November layoff decision, and CNN reminded us all that Reykjavík is a damn fine place to spend the holidays.
Cue the collective sigh of relief; it’s time for a New Year.