The year 2014 was chock-full of controversies, blunders, humour, and, of course, cat stories. So brew yourself a cuppa and make yourself comfortable—we have a lot to go through.
The year came out of the gate running, with television personality-cum-sports announcer Björn Bragi Arnarson remarking that Iceland’s dominant performance in a handball game against Austria was “like the German Nazis in 1938. We’re slaughtering the Austrians!” All the while, Icelandic brewery Steðji put slaughtered whales to good use, crafting the novel Þorri “Whale Beer,” which contains trace amounts of whalebone meal. And, in an attempt to harness the 40% increase of tourists arriving to Iceland, landowners of Geysir started charging admission fees to their site, only to be thwarted by the government itself. So much controversy!
Despite pressure from LGBT groups to boycott the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics due to the host country Russia’s recently passed homophobic legislation, Iceland sent two government ministers and president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. The latter was even spotted chatting amicably with the man Putin himself. And, after twelve years of operation, anti-bullying association Regnbogabörn (“Rainbow Children”) shut down, its founder and chairman, actor Stefán Karl Stefánsson (AKA “Robbie Rotten”), blamed lack of funding.
When the two coalition parties proposed to prematurely rescind Iceland’s EU application, despite explicitly stating such decisions should be made through a referendum throughout their election campaigns, people were not amused. An estimated 8,000 people gathered in protest outside Alþingi, and fifteen protesters assembled to greet ministers with the now infamous “banana gauntlet,” indicating that Iceland was in fact a banana republic.
In other, more inspiring protest news, Björk, Darren Aronofsky, Patti Smith and their friends raised 35 million ISK for Icelandic environmental NGOs at a benefit event in Harpa. And when Icelander Kristján Kristjánsson went on Facebook asking for help in locating a new kidney, he wasn’t just met with likes, but offers from twenty people! Charitable indeed.
April proved to be a super positive month, as Icelanders retained the title of Europe’s Chlamydia Capital, a crown we’ve proudly worn for the past decade. Educators were more sensible, however, as upper secondary school teachers reached a compromise with the state negotiator, ending a three-week strike, and university teachers managed to settle before their planned strike actions during exams. Airport staff also reached an agreement that saw an end to costly strike actions. Oh, and a sixteen-year-old cat named Örvar was reunited with its owner after going missing a whopping seven years ago.
According to the annual “State of the World’s Mothers” report, issued by Save The Children, Iceland is the world’s fourth best country in which to be a mother. Which maybe didn’t provide much consolation to local parents as primary school teachers went on strike. Airplane pilots also went on strike, remaining grounded for a while, before the government passed a law making their labour struggle illegal. On a more positive note, the government’s household debt relief was outlined, although the final product was a far cry from what had originally been promised: it wasn’t financed by foreign vulture funds (rather, by taxpayers themselves), and it didn’t benefit everyone—just property owners. Shucks.
As celebrated anarchist comedian mayor Jón Gnarr stepped down after a single term in office, Reykjavík city council elections saw the Social Democratic Alliance form a new four-party majority under the leadership of Dagur B. Eggertsson. No surprises there. The campaign season was unfortunately marked by the Progressive Party’s reactions to the realization that it would likely fail to get a Reykjavík representative elected for the second time in a row. The party went into full-on desperation mode, resorting to playing the trusty Islamophobia card (which has proved so fruitful for their Scandinavian counterparts). During the final stretch of campaign season, the Progressive candidates’ platform focused on revoking the city’s land allotment to the Muslim Association of Iceland (with its 465 members) to build a mosque. Tasteful? Hardly. But it did earn them two seats on the council.
An estimated 11,000 people participated in Reykjavík’s annual SlutWalk, and 3,000 attended an anti-war “die-in” rally to protest Israeli air raids on Gaza. Iceland’s representative to the UN, foreign minister and PM all publicly condemned the attacks. And sadly, Iceland’s marimo population, fondly known in Icelandic as “kúluskítur” (or “shitballs”), faced extinction due to increased levels of pollution in their Lake Mývatn habitat. But hey, badass Icelandic athlete Annie Mist Þórisdóttir finished in second place at the 2014 CrossFit Games, despite a back injury!
Do you remember Geir H. Haarde, the former PM who asked god to bless Iceland when the economy collapsed and was eventually charged and found guilty of negligence during his time in office? In August, we appointed him to the position of ambassador to Washington DC! Good job, everyone! Still, it wasn’t as great as seeing 90,000 people show up for the annual Reykjavík Pride parade (that’s a fourth of the nation, folks). Perhaps in celebration, an eruption started in the Holuhraun area. It was over in four hours, only to commence again in a spectacular fashion, shooting up magma plumes some 60 metres into the air—and it’s still going strong.
One of Iceland’s park rangers gave an American family a bollocking for daring their son to jump into freezing Flosagjá rift at Þingvellir National Park. The boy crawled up onto a ledge, freezing and shivering as his parents laughed, unaware of the grave danger they had placed him in. Meanwhile, the Icelandic police, generally known for their kitty-filled Instagram account, brutalised (read: stabbed) Liberian asylum seeker Chaplas Menka while in custody. Police authorities have since said the whole incident was an accident.
An Akureyri man found himself on the wrong end of the law for burying his beloved, deceased pet Chihuahua, Prins, in his backyard. This is apparently illegal, as he learned when local health authorities phoned him up demanding he disinter the body and bury it somewhere else. Medical doctors also exercised their right to limited strike for the very first time, earning much sympathy from the general public. On a more positive note, Afghani asylum seeker Ghasem Mohamadi, who had gone on hunger strike to protest his planned deportation, has been allowed to stay in Iceland. Welcome, Ghasem!
As the weather started cooling down, a new wave of protests started—an informal gathering of 4,500 demanded that the government and elected officials do their job with integrity. A tall order, perhaps, but the protesters certainly had their hearts in the right place. And after the police and coast guard miserably failed to retain the 250 new submachine guns that they acquired from Norway on the down-low, authorities were thoroughly ridiculed and have since promised that they will return the arms. Eventually. Probably.
Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on the film ‘Theory Of Everything,’ while coastal patrol vessel Týr rescued 408 migrants drifting some 165 nautical miles off Malta’s coast. Good job! And during the middle of Alþingi’s discussions about the government’s budget proposal, PM Sigmundur Davíð decided to take a vacation without notifying the relevant people. When the Grapevine reported on his impromptu vacay, the PM’s press secretary got in touch and urged us to “reconsider” the story (which we promptly failed to do). Meanwhile, the PM was discretely awarded the highest national order of Iceland for his exemplary service. Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that his predecessor, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, had been offered said order three times, but refused every time, stating that she did not believe her work to be any more important or worthy of recognition than that of others. Bravo.
EXTRA EXTRA: That Whole Ministry Leak Affair
The biggest story of 2014 was without doubt the leak of incriminating (and false) information about Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos that led to him being deported and separated from his girlfriend and unborn child. After months of denial, all leads pointed to the information having come from the Ministry of the Interior, supposedly to influence public opinion of the deportation, and a police investigation confirmed as much. Throughout the drawn out affair (which lasted the entirety of 2014) Interior Minister Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir and her staff refused to assume responsibility, rather opting to cast suspicion on others, such as the Red Cross, lying to parliament, trying to get journalists that covered the story fired, and applying pressure to the police commissioner (who eventually resigned from his post). Even after her assistant, Gísli Freyr Valdórsson, was charged for the deed, they both maintained his innocence, right up until new evidence surfaced that proved his guilt without doubt. Gísli confessed, getting an eight-month probationary sentence, and Hanna Birna resigned from her post (but chose to stay on as MP and Independence Party vice chair. Oh, and Tony Omos is still separated from his family.