From Iceland — Good Ol' Traditions

Good Ol’ Traditions

Published December 15, 2014

Debates on Monday #14

Good Ol’ Traditions
Haukur Már Helgason
Photo by
Páll Ivan frá Eiðum

Debates on Monday #14

The Debates on Monday

One of last week’s loudest debates has to do with next year’s State Treasury budget, which Alþingi has been debating, as tradition has it, these last days before Christmas. Among the proposed changes in taxation is the lowering of VAT on electric appliances, and a corresponding raised VAT on food products.

The What

Since the proposal was first introduced, these two particular changes, seen as complimentary, have been disputed. The opposition’s reasoning seems obvious: food is an unavoidable expense, and expensive food will hit hardest those with already meager income. Electric appliances, however, remain a largely optional expense, and higher income groups will benefit most from their relative affordability.

In defence of the proposed changes, some apparently valid economic reasoning has been heard: spokespeople of the government insist that the benefit system is better suited to specifically target lower income groups and ameliorate their situation, than taxes on consumption. While both disputable and dependent on implementation, this at least sounds like an argument.

Last Thursday, however, Vilhjálmur Bjarnason, a member of Alþingi on behalf of the right-wing Independence party, now as habitually in government, entered a good old tradition as he Marie-Antionetted the whole debate during debates at Alþingi. The Left-Greens’ Steinunn Þóra Árnadóttir had just noted that people don’t buy TV sets and refrigerators that often, compared with food, which most prefer to consume daily. To this, the conservative responded:

“I first intend to address the last comment of the honorable parliamentarian, about household appliances being a rare purchase: precisely, it is good that those who are better off can buy household appliances to replace theirs, so that those worse off can buy decent appliances second hand, at low prices – to everyone’s benefit.”

Vilhjálmur then went on to claim that he, himself, has “endless needs”, the autobiographic variant of his more philosophical claim seconds later, that “needs are endless”. Both statements seemed intended to explain that there is no significant difference in the need for food and the foreseeable need for the latest firmware update for the iPhone 17 which we all know will be surgically inserted.

It was the former statement, however, which became an instant classic, probably a recognisable point of reference for any political debate, at least until spring. Effectively, it amounts to: Why don’t they eat second-hand electrical appliances? Yes, this is the otherwise universally abandoned trickle-down theory, only the feudal variety.

The Where

During last week, many also expressed their opinions on school visits to churches during the advent of Christmas. The visits are not compulsory, but children are assumed to participate unless their parents notify school authorities otherwise, in which case teachers amuse them at school, while the other children go to Church.

The debate seems to have started when Líf Magneudóttir, City Council member on behalf of the Left-Greens and Chair of the city’s Human Rights Council, posted a note on Facebook, objecting to such visits, reasoning that the city’s public schools should not take part in evangelisation.

The religious organisation in question, singled out for such visits, is The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, member of the Porvoo Communion, of which 75 percent of Iceland’s inhabitants are registered members.

Ólafur Stephensen, former editor-in-chief of Fréttablaðið, is among those who disagree, stating, also on Facebook: “The large majority of parents who are perfectly fine with the church visits should not condone this nonsense, but answer it. We shall simply not let a loud minority deprive our children of a good old tradition, which is part of our Christian culture.” He further commented: “It is not possible to erase a thousand years of Christian culture and say: we are neutral and Christendom plays no part in schools”.

In his own way, the Prime Minister sort of entered the debate, when he wrote, yet again on Facebook, after attending a Christmas song-and-dance event, that the Yule Lads Stúfur and Window Peeper showed up, but upon singing the Christmas hymn Silent Night “Window Peeper asked people to monitor the windows and sound an alert if an agent of the city’s Human Rights Council showed up.”

Others have pointed out that visiting churches before Christmas is not a school tradition at all, and started, at most, 20 years ago. The forecast does not see facts of this matter standing in the way of a good old debate, right until the night before Christmas, the time of the year when, also according to a good old tradition, everyone goes off Facebook for an hour or two. And members of Alþingi vacation for a month.

The How

Last week, the Reykjavík Grapevine also played a part in a dispute or two. As a relevant party, it would make no sense to report on those here at any length. In shor,  and fashionably vague: A certain government’s public relations manager has said that he did not overstep any boundaries, when he called and wrote this paper’s offices to voice his opinion on a news item. In particular, the PR manager noted that he did not threaten the paper’s journalists. Which is absolutely correct. Last week, the government’s public relations manager did not threaten a local streetpaper’s journalists. According to a good old tradition, he merely made some suggestions to improve what he considered improper phrasing, otherwise known as independent reporting.

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Enough. Stop. Now.

Enough. Stop. Now.


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