From Iceland — Why Don't You Kids Just Keep Debating That Airport?

Why Don’t You Kids Just Keep Debating That Airport?

Published November 10, 2014

Debates on Monday #9

Why Don’t You Kids Just Keep Debating That Airport?
Haukur Már Helgason
Photo by
Helgi Jóhann Hauksson
Snorri Ásmundsson

Debates on Monday #9

Last week gave a lesson on the utility of noise as an antidote to critical thought and solidarity.

1. The airport: still no noise restrictions

Last Thursday, the Progressive party’s members of Alþingi, all but the party’s ministers, officially proposed that organizational control over Reykjavík’s airport will be transferred to the state. This proposal enters the long-standing debate about whether to move the airport elsewhere, freeing up the central area for development, or keep it in the city center for the sake of frequent commuters and medical emergencies. At times, the disagreement seems to polarize people according to their place of residence, if not birth: whereas many inhabitants of Reykjavík are willing, and some eager, to see the airport move elsewhere, those who want it to stay proclaim they speak on behalf of the countryside. To say that the debate has at times been heated, would be a gross understatement.

In the municipal election, earlier this year, when the Progressive party’s candidates desperately reached out for some xenophobic votes, the party wasn’t travelling alone. In all publicity material for the election, they called themselves “Framsóknarflokkurinn og flugvallarvinir” — “The Progressive party and Friends of the airport,” or airportophiles, if you will — referring to a group campaigning to keep the airport where it is.

On occasion of Framsókn’s proposal, author Einar Kárason trolled around on Facebook, expressing his bad feelings towards Reykjavík airport after, reportedly, living close to it for decades. “But the impertinence of the countryside’s mob is so crass, that I propose we tell them to just please make Þórshöfn at Langanes their capital (or whichever village they prefer).” He went on a bit. And then received a minor tsunami of comments, ranging from laughter, to dismissal, to hate. “Too bad that I don’t find these two books from Einar in my stuff, because if I find them it shall be recorded on video when tear them apart and set fire to them while declaring never again to buy another scrap of anything Einar puts his name on,” is the beginning of one example, quoted by Einar himself and, subsequently, news media. All in all these were 500 comments, it seems.

In a day or two, as far as I can see, everyone entered the debate, one way or another. Everyone as in: all those who use any medium to express their opinion, be it Facebook, blog or a newspaper. Even those who didn’t want to get involved at least said as much, commenting on the futility, senselessness, vulgarity or stupidity of the whole thing. Which just keeps on rolling.

2. The Satanic energies

The Progressive party used to be represent farmers. Since they are no longer a sufficiently large part of the constituency to keep the party going, it seems to have found, at least a temporary solution, by unifying any resentment of deviations from their established or imagined sets of normal conduct. In between xenophobic election campaigns, many supporters now seem eager to have a go at the arts or “arts” as they prefer. And “artists”. Quotation marks are popular these days. An informal mental assessment, conducted in private earlier this morning, found that not one person receiving an arts grant from the state this year voted for the Progressives, nor did any close relatives on good terms with the artist. According to my entirely inadequate evaluation, there is literally no overlapping between the two groups. And that’s a rough, unsubstantiated, estimate. The real figure might be even lower.

Here comes, then, last week’s other debate involving Progressive party members against artists. Interviewed by Vísir, artist Snorri Ásmundsson commented that “there is some Satanic energy around the Progressive party.” The occasion was an exhibition he had announced, and opened a few days later, called, befittingly, “The Progressive party member”. The Progressive party member reveals a mannequin standing in a street-level window by Laugavegur, facing away from the world outside and the audience. The mannequin sports a cowboy hat and a lopapeysa, while wearing its pants on its kneels. Somewhat open to interpretation, one way or another, the work expresses the sentiments of many. At the opening, the gossip medium Séð og heyrt caught one of the party’s Alþingi members attempting to correct Snorri’s conception of the party, before warning him that she just hoped “this won’t come back to haunt you”.

The video circulated through news and social media. Other among the party’s members of Alþingi then commented in support of their partner. That series reached its peak, if peak is a word for bottom, in MP Þorsteinn Sæmundsson’s words that Snorri is an “attention-whore”, and that better media outlets would ignore him.

Snorri Ásmundsson's Framsóknarmaðurinn - The Progressive party member - updated

Snorri has now retaliated, “updating” his work, as seen above. Icky, brown stuff, resembling excrement, has been smeared on the mannequin’s bottom, inner thigh and hand, while the same substance has been used to write xB on the wall behind. XB as in: vote Framsókn.

3. This is not class struggle. I repeat: this is not …

The above debates, people calling each other stupid through a variety of media, were so noisy that when I sat down to write this summary, I could not remember if any other disputes took place in the days before. The state’s recent mass-import of machine guns was not debated at all, as far as I remember, which must mean the guns have already been returned to Norway. Surely, the matter cannot have been silenced or forgotten.

Doctors remain on strike. Being equipped to provide vital services, and thus able, for example, to relocate to Norway or Sweden at their whim, providing the same services in exchange for more money, they have a lot of leverage. Music teachers are also still on strike. They have less leverage, but perhaps receive more sympathy. While everyone sort of suspects that music may have been Iceland’s only output of any enduring significance, in recent times, music teachers’ total wages remain substandard, even compared with the country’s generally substandard wages. Various other groups, on all levels of the wage-scale, are currently threatening strike action: administrative workers, swimming pool staff and university professors, to name a few. Sentences like “there’s a long way to shore”, or even “a heaven and an ocean remains between us” will predictably remain frequently heard. Until now, though, there has been little evidence of solidarity actions, such as sympathy strikes, between these diverse groups.

This is where I first concluded this summary. No solidarity. End of story. What a shame. Then last Monday was brought to my attention. I had to look it up. Last Monday? Really? It sure felt longer.

Last Monday saw a protest gathering outside Alþingi. Solidarity was certainly on display that day. In the video below, you can see the crowd gather to hear folk musician Svavar Knútur’s pretty impresive speech. That’s thousands of people. The official number is 4,500, which according to unofficial protocol means they were probably closer to 7,000. They gathered on Austurvöllur square in support of each other’s demands, in a common struggle. As true to color as it gets, Prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson has now recommended, interviewed by RÚV, that the people split up again and each go their own way. The minister expressed admirable solidarity with his own class, when he said, a propos the demonstration: “It is disputable whether mixing up diverse matters of emphasis is a good way to advance them. Perhaps people might start choosing different dates to better focus on particular matters.” He might as well have said: why don’t you just keep debating that airport?

As we all know, 25 years ago, a wall came down and supposedly marked the end of the working class. A lot of people, of course, still own next to nothing, control next to nothing, and depend on the daily exchange of work for wages, but as long as they stay divided on their own accord, we all gain, they say, in “stability”, even “growth”. That’s two words, at least, that deserve quotation marks.

On Facebook, thousands have again RSVP’d for the protest announced today, outside Alþingi. No doubt, Sigmundur Davíð will be able to talk some sense into those people. Why not take the mic and tell them: “People. Listen, I just hope that this won’t come back to haunt you.”

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Enough. Stop. Now.

Enough. Stop. Now.


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