The Debates on Monday #2
To forge a synthesis: Last week, as evident in what follows, citizens of the volcano-plagued republic seem to have mainly wondered which things should be allowed entrance into their country and which should rather be kept out: should meat-products from elsewhere be allowed? How about people from elsewhere? How about only the best people from elsewhere? If locally produced people are supposed to stay, then who is supposed to accommodate them? How can the country attract all the best people and still get rid of all the ‘good people’? Should books stay or go? Last but not least: is there any valid reason to let Iceland stay in Iceland? While Scots wondered if they should leave the UK, Icelanders kept debating whether to keep running their own republic or if they might be better off handing sovereignty over to Norway.
Better People, Better Meat, Better Health
In Fréttablaðið/Vísir on Saturday, Pawel Bartoszek encourages the public and authorities to shift the focus away from asylum seekers, when speaking of immigration, and shape a policy to better ‘compete for the best people’ in terms of educated or otherwise skilled and trained migrants.
Somewhat on the same note, Svana Helen Björnsdóttir, engineer and chair of SI, the Federation of Icelandic Industries, reminds readers of the importance of innovation. She states that the federation has supported cross-industrial innovation and cluster-related projects in recent years, successfully in all fields except healthcare, seemingly implying that private companies should be given more free rein in the field. But only seemingly and only implicitly. Explicit bottom-line: we must succeed in ‘international competition, also about people and companies’.
Also, on a not totally unrelated note, comparing Iceland’s current restrictions on meat imports with the Soviet Union’s anti-capitalist agenda, Sigurjón Egilsson, chief news editor of Fréttablaðið/Vísir, urges authorities to facilitate such imports. Sigurjón quotes an article from economist Þröstur Ólafsson, who a week earlier called Iceland’s system of agricultural subsidies a ‘generous system of waste’. And compared it with the Soviet Union.
The Looming Extinction Of Literacy
Many raised objections the the government’s plans to raise the lowest VAT-step from 7% to 12%, mainly with regard to how that will affect two sorts of products: food and books. (Incidentally, these two apparently distinct types of product have a history of commingling in Iceland: during the period known as the Renaissance in the rest of Europe, Icelanders used to eat books to avoid starvation. That is totally besides the point and not factually accurate at that: those were manuscripts written on calf-skin. They don’t make them like they used to.) In any case: On Friday, Professor Gauti Kristmannsson writes that books carry no VAT, 0%, in the UK and Ireland, concluding: ‘The financial gain for the state budget is so meager that people will hardly notice them in the Ministry’s excel-documents. People will notice, however, here as elsewhere, when the oldest language in Europe, with its remarkable literary tradition and powerful cultural life, has bled to death for the sake of simplifying the Ministry’s records.’
Author Sindri Freysson also pulls out the big guns, as literally as a metaphor allows, penning an article titled ‘Playing with a bazooka in the library’. Sindri writes: “The Minister of Education’s reasoning that fifteen years ago the book tax was higher still and yet people bought books, sounds like the bawling shriek of a man who, falling into an abyss, doesn’t want the world to know: ‘I am Okaaaaay …'”
Kristinn Karl Brynjarsson, ‘member of the managerial board of the Independence Party’s workers’ committee’ replies the same day, stating that when looked at in whole, coming changes to the tax system will clearly benefit the public —’clear as a cow’ is the exact phrase he employs. The phrase is widespread. He says most everyone agrees that it is ‘outright wrong to pursue egalitarian objectives by controlling consumption’ through the taxation of consumption. He uses the phrase ‘the good people’ within quotation marks, an increasingly common turn of phrase within right-wing circles. Obviously this is a different sort of good people than the ‘best people’ Pawel Bartoszek, also member of the Independence party, wants to attract to the country.
Why Don’t They Stay In A Hotel?
Gylfi Arnbjörnsson, chair of ASÍ, i.e. the Icelandic Confederation of Labor, the umbrella organization of Icelandic workers’ unions, has declared, that in the light of the government’s budget proposals, the confederation will no longer co-operate with authorities on wage policies and is instead preparing its members for a struggle. He wrote an article, that appeared on Pressan.is, on Saturday, about the government’s lack of interest in the current housing crisis. The current budget proposals include, he says, ‘no additional funding’ for social housing solutions.
Last week and this weekend, several articles were published on the County Party’s website — that is the yet to be founded but increasingly influential single-agenda party for Iceland’ re-unification with Norway. One of these articles, ‘Housing Catastrophe’ by Guðmundur Guðmundsson, marks next year’s anniversaries of three social housing phenomena in the Nordic countries. The first is the Swedish 1965–1975 Millionprogrammet, a decade during which over a million (1.3) rental apartments were built, he says, co-operation between pension funds, communes, the Swedish State and workers’ unions. According to Guðmundur, ‘the premise of the project was that rent should not exceed a quarter of a worker’s income.’ The second anniversary next year is, he says, the Icelandic Workers’ Accommodations (Verkamannabústaðir), also started in 1965, involving the construction of several thousand apartments for workers. That system was designed around private ownership. The third anniversary, he says, is a death anniversary: around the turn of the century, he says, a free market ideology ruined the Icelandic social housing system.
Also on the County Party’s website, founder Gunnar Smári Egilsson published collected figures of migration to and from Iceland since 1961. Every decade since then, he points out, Icelandic citizens emigrating have outnumbered those immigrating, while the void left keeps being filled by foreign immigrants. Assuming that those leaving are mainly members of higher-earning professions and those moving in mainly on the lower end of the income spectrum, he concludes that recent xenophobic utterances from within the Independence and Progressive Parties should be seen as tactical maneuvers to keep the working class divided and labor costs low.
The Debates On Monday is a weekly summary of notable commentary and opinion-pieces from the Icelandic-language media, mainly the non-Facebook variety. Focusing on politics and relevant and/or erratic ideological tidbits, the column will appear on Mondays. By nature, this sort of endeavour is selective, which does not, however, mean arbitrary. In any case not fully arbitrary. Do let us know if you think we missed anything of importance.