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So What’s This I Keep Hearing About Everything Being Terrible in Iceland?

So What’s This I Keep Hearing About Everything Being Terrible in Iceland?

Photos by
Gauti Ingolfsson

Published December 22, 2014

In Mid-November Unnar Steinn Sigtryggsson, an Icelander who goes by the username “askur,” made a comment on popular internet community Reddit. He recounted the major news events of the last few weeks in Iceland. However, unlike most bullet point lists of Icelandic news stories, this one went viral.

Has the news in Iceland been unusually full of kittens licking baby turtles?

More like political scandals, strikes, vermin infestations, protests, police behaving badly, and economic mismanagement. To an audience used to hearing stories about how wonderfully Iceland had dealt with the 2008 financial crisis, this was indeed newsworthy.

Hold on a second… vermin infestations?

In recent months, Iceland’s biggest hospital has been infected with mould, house mice and pharaoh ants. At the same time the private company hired to clean the hospital has been accused of treating its workers badly and giving them unfeasibly large areas to clean per day. Oh, and doctors have been striking to protest low pay and increased workloads.

I take it pharaoh ants don’t wear Tutankhamen headgear and sing “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

To save money, the government fired seventeen cleaners working in various ministries, mostly women in their fifties and sixties. Shortly after the dismissal of the cleaners, the government announced that it would buy luxury vehicles to drive ministers around.

That’s a terrible waste of money. I would get a zip-line or a jetpack, they’re much more fun.

Besides doctors, music teachers went on strike for five weeks. In the 20th century, much effort was made to set up a robust network of music schools, which has lost funding in this century, just when it has paid off with Icelandic musicians attaining wide renown.

That explains why the person next to me is whistling The Bangles’ song in 7/8ths beat.

The government announced a “Debt Correction,” giving half a billion Euros of public money to Icelanders who had mortgages on their houses or apartments during the post-crash inflationary period. However, the way the government chose to implement their debt relief meant that the wealthiest ten percent of society received twenty-five percent of the total given out.

I’m sure that’s just some maths fudging by a political opponent.

One of those making this point was Oddgeir Ágúst Ottesen, an economist and deputy Member of Parliament for the ruling Independence Party. As he put it, the way this debt relief was structured, “the government process in fact means that those with low income pay restitution to those with high income.” People who rent or had student loans, I should add, got no debt relief.

I hope the engines on the government ministers’ luxury vehicles are powerful enough so they don’t have to slow down when driving over poor people.

Speaking of… the Minister of the Interior’s personal assistant, Gísli Freyr Valdórsson, plead guilty in court to leaking confidential information about an asylum seeker and smearing him with false allegations presented as police findings. The minister resigned with all the grace of an angry politician, prompting the Prime Minister to conclude that the lesson to be learned was that Icelandic people are too mean to politicians.

Oh, the inhumanity! Will no one think of the poor politicians?

Calling people names is not exactly the most mature thing to do, but it pales in comparison to falsely claiming someone is being investigated for various crimes. The police came out pretty well, investigating this case thoroughly, though the well-respected head of the Reykjavík Police Department resigned, possibly because of ministerial interference. However, the minister herself was not investigated, leaving her presumed guilt or innocence in permanent doubt.

I thought you said police had behaved badly.

The Police Chief’s replacement, the former head of the Suðurnes Police District, is implicated in the leak scandal, having sent Gísli Freyr Valdórsson information about the asylum seeker outside proper channels. However, the police came out very badly when an internal report made by the Reykjavík Police Department about the post-crash protests was released following a request for information. It was full of vaguely sourced hearsay about people considered anti-authority by police, as well as their personal details and opinions. When the police tried to remove names from the document before release, it was done so ineptly that they were easily revealed.

Okay, everything’s fucked in Iceland. I think I’ll go find a video of a baby turtle licking a kitten.

I am sorry to tell you but turtles are unable to stick out their tongues. Now now, no need to cry. At least the landscape is still pretty. Too bad that the most recent government initiative means you will have to pay ten Euros for the privilege of enjoying it, even if you live in the middle of it.

Okay, maybe you should cry.


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