From Iceland — News In Brief

News In Brief

Published May 21, 2014

News In Brief
Larissa Kyzer
Photo by
Maarten Visser

We’re #1! We’re #1! At what, you ask? Did Iceland finally win Eurovision? No—that hasn’t happened yet (and honestly, our chances aren’t so good). At the Crossfit Games? No, that hasn’t happened yet (although Icelandic contenders, including two-time winner Anníe Mist, represent 16% of the competitors in the European Regionals). 

Okay, okay, we’ll just tell you: Iceland is #1 at…(drumroll)…Chlamydia! For the 10th year running! Yes, that’s right: with 2,179 reported cases of Chlamydia last year—a 14% increase from 2012—Iceland leads all European nations with cases of this STD. (Wrap it up, people. Please.) 

In other fascinating titbits in sexual health, it also seems that Kamagra, an erectile dysfunction drug much like Viagra, has become Icelandic high school students’ preferred high. Sales of the drug have increased 120% in the last four years—180,000 doses in total. “Ask any high school student…If they haven’t tried it, they know someone who is using it or selling it,” said sexologist Sigga Dögg Arnardóttir. Use is not restricted to male students either, Sigga said, with many young women stating that the drug “makes them more sensitive and increases their satisfaction.”  

The Youngs aren’t the only ones who’ve been getting busy in Iceland, of course, as April continued to be a big month for labour unions. Secondary school teachers returned from a three-week strike at the start of the month, right as university teachers voted to stage their own strike, which coincidentally would have started during final exams. Luckily for everyone, an agreement was reached before the start of the strike and university exams proceeded as scheduled. 

The bargaining process did not go so smoothly for roughly 400 employees of ISAVIA, the company that owns and manages Iceland’s airports. At the start of April, these workers announced a series of half-day strikes on four non-consecutive days. The first two strikes forced Icelandair to reschedule incoming flights from North America and entitled many affected passengers to compensation, which ranged from free meals to hotel stays. The third strike was narrowly avoided when a three-year agreement was finally reached on April 30. 

Although many people feel pretty satisfied about the outcome of these disputes, the Great Whaling Debate (predictably) keeps raging, both in and outside of Iceland. Following a recent UN injunction against commercial whaling in Japan, the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd announced that it would be refocusing its efforts on whaling in Iceland, Norway and the Faroes. Then, Greenpeace claimed success in getting an Icelandic whaling ship carrying 2,000 tonnes of whale meat turned away from a South African port, making further promises to follow the ship to its final destination in Japan. 

 Shortly after, US President Barack Obama issued a statement suggesting that Uncle Sam may enact diplomatic or trade sanctions against Iceland if the latter’s whaling practices continue. 

  Icelanders’ reactions on the issue have varied. An increased percentage of the general public—23.6%—is   against the hunting of fin whales specifically, while 73% of the population believes that whaling should  be conducted “humanely,” although there’s no real word on what “humane whaling” might entail. For its part, the Icelandic whaling company Hvalur isn’t particularly fussed: “This is just business as usual.  It’s nothing new,” CEO Kristján Loftsson said.     

Also, it’s unfortunately ‘business as usual’ for asylum seekers in Iceland, who continue to face substantial difficulties in having their applications fairly considered, as well as possible deportation to countries where they face imprisonment, torture, or even death.This month, the application of a gay asylum seeker from Nigeria was denied after a year and a half of waiting. He was sent to Italy, from where he will likely be deported to his home country. In Nigeria, this man may be faced with severe punishment—such as 20 lashes and heavy fines—simply because of his sexual orientation. Another asylum seeker, an Afghani man who fled his country four years ago when he was just 16-years-old, went on a 10-day hunger strike in order to pressure the Directorate of Immigration to consider his case, which has been pending for two years. A public protest was held in his support, and nearly 1,000 people signed a petition demanding that the Directorate consider his case. Following this, Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir reported that she would process the application “as fast as possible.” 

Given that Hanna Birna is still under investigation for her ministry’s handling of the case of Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos, however, this statement should inspire confidence in no one.

But it’s Iceland, after all, so let’s close out the month with another cat tale, and this is an especially heart-warming one: local kitty Örvar was reunited with his owner Birkir after a seven-year absence.

 When Birkir went to pick him up at the shelter, Örvar was hiding in a corner. “I called him and he came running to me,” Birkir said. “He climbed up on my shoulders and wrapped himself around me like we’d never been apart.” 

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