From Iceland — Seeking Foreigners

Seeking Foreigners

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Published May 19, 2006

Once upon a time, the Reykjavík Grapevine was packed with Germans, Dutchmen, Finns, Canadians, and the occasional American crank, all joining together to voice our curiosities about Iceland and to try to create a community of foreigners interested in sticking around for the long haul. Scanning the pages of this issue of the Grapevine, I can’t help noting: we lost our foreigners.

I know the foreigners are there, or at least some are there. In fact, I even know the foreigners are reading our paper, as they email regularly, and our pick up rates are doing well.The question is, why aren’t foreigners writing in the Reykjavík Grapevine? On the one hand, we are political and we don’t pay well. But we never paid well and we were always political—though we used to stick to one side more than we now do. And then, we’re not any less popular, we have constant applications for writers and staff, they just all happen to be Icelandic.

The answers to where the foreigners went became apparent as I read Gunnar Hrafn Jónsson’s interview with Intercultural Center Director Einar Skúlason. Skúlason points out that foreigners should really be standing up, especially after a private citizen paid for a Gallup Poll to see if Icelanders were interested in a nationalist party. When the results came back that 30 per cent of Iceland was ready to ship people out, Skúlason booked a series of meetings for foreigners to voice their complaints.

I believe Skúlason’s heart is in the right place, but, as a foreigner, in the weeks after this Gallup Poll, I sure as shit wasn’t going to congregate with other foreigners, just as, in the weeks after Toshiki Toma, priest for foreigners, received a death threat, I was a little edgy. Come to think of it, in the last year there was also an extended campaign to deport “professional protestors” who came from abroad, there has been constant coverage of foreigners and drug trade, including coverage of Eastern European mafias in a popular local newspaper.

It’s a mixed bag. As the ground has gotten more hostile, the Grapevine, which is essentially a symbol of immigration and foreigners, has been growing in power, prestige and staff. With more money, we’ve reached out and found that foreigners don’t want to be anywhere near a vocal paper. The joke I get from writers or educated people, which is less and less amusing, is “I barely get my work permit stamped without making any waves.”

This is something to think about this Election Day. For tourists, welcome to a seat of democracy and a progressive country that is going through an awkward transition. For immigrants, please consider voting or getting involved in the discussion—maybe by writing for us, maybe by getting over to the Intercultural Centre, maybe by sponsoring a Gallup Poll. For Icelanders, thank you for supporting us and joining our team, but, please, take a look around. Immigrants made the Grapevine and a few other cultural institutions here, and now those key members of Icelandic society are disappearing. That should tell you something.

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