Rather than simply select a Person of the Year, we’ve decided that the magic of 2017 simply cannot be confined to a single personality. These are five Icelanders who, for better or worse, helped define the year past.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Our new Prime Minister, as she’s been covered by media both at home and abroad, has been giving us some serious 2009 vibes, reminding us of then-Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir—and not solely because they’re both women. They both rose to power after a crisis, when people’s faith in government was sorely shaken, bringing with them the promise of brighter days. Katrín certainly has her work cut out for her, but her becoming Prime Minister is arguably the best thing to emerge from last autumn’s political bombshelling.
Bjarni Benediktsson. We have received unconfirmed reports that the former Prime Minister is actually made entirely of Teflon. Unsurprising if true—he’s been at the centre of every political scandal this past year, including the one that brought down the previous government, but has miraculously managed to come out of it unscathed. Perhaps it’s because he’s a master of deflection, somehow able to make other people look responsible for the mistakes he himself made, or because he can maintain his cool no matter what you throw at him. Bjarni represents everything the Independence Party (itself an Icelandic icon) stands for: total self-interest, unapologetic greed, and unflappability.
Bishop Agnes Sigurðardóttir. When historians look back at 2017 many years from now, they will see Agnes’s tenure as one that presided over the beginning of the end for the Church of Iceland. Supposedly the spiritual leader of the country, she only seems to speak up whenever the status quo is being questioned. She actually spoke up against the media reporting from leaked documents, as just one example of many, and has defended the idea of police carrying guns. She has attributed decline in church registration to immigrants, and fought to get a pay rise at a time when she was already earning 1.2 million ISK per month while only paying 90,000 ISK in rent. Even prominent members of National Church clergy have been baffled by her remarks. She is, in other words, the walking embodiment of every argument in favour of separation of church and state.
Sema Erla Serdar. There is no social strata in Iceland as marginalised as asylum seekers are. They don’t even have the right to work, let alone live where they want, and their access to basic goods and services that the rest of us take for granted is severely restricted or blocked altogether. Plenty of politicians pay lip service to improving their conditions, but nothing really substantial has been done; not least of all under a Minister of Justice who seems to actively hate foreigners. Fortunately, there’s Sema. Not only has she has worked tirelessly to bring individual asylum seeker cases to national attention, but she also took matters into her own hands and formed Solaris, a volunteer NGO that collects donations of clothing, furniture, books and other essentials from the general public to donate to asylum seekers. She has been instrumental in shifting the conversation about this sector of the population, despite being a lightning rod for some of the ugliest racism in Iceland. No matter what threats are thrown her way, she continues to soldier on. She can’t be praised enough.
Literally everyone who spoke up as a part of the MeToo campaign. We often forget that here in Iceland, The Feminist Paradise, some awful examples of misogyny still exist. This fact was underscored by those who came forward as a part of international #MeToo campaign. Two very important elements of the Icelandic campaign: seldom was any one man singled out by name, and not all of the examples of misogyny were brutally violent. The first element is important because while some individual men are demonstrably worse than others, the problem here is one of a culture that encourages and rewards men for their misogyny; naming individual men has the potential to give the impression that this isn’t a cultural problem but “just a few bad apples.” The second element is important because it brings home the concept of microaggressions—that one demeaning remark about a woman’s breasts, one pinch of an ass, or one “joking” request for a kiss might not be in and of itself a big deal, but when they happen over and over, day after month after year, they have a cumulative effect. These two elements are crucial in working towards a more tolerant society, and everyone who took part in this campaign is thanked for their courageous efforts.