Published March 14, 2014
Come this time of year Icelandic households start receiving glossy catalogues in the mail with package deals to sunny destinations like Crete and Benidorm. It’s all the same: page after page of hotels with swimming pools that are a stone’s throw away from the beach. After all, what else could you want from a vacation when you spend most of your life trapped on a cold island?
The truth is Iceland has felt particularly insular this last month, but it has more to do with the public discourse than it does with the fact that we are, geographically speaking, pretty isolated over here in the middle of the North Atlantic. Going back on their campaign promise, the government announced plans to cancel Iceland’s EU accession talks without consulting the nation via referendum (read more on page 12 of our issue). As if breaking promises wasn’t bad enough, some of what our ministers and members of parliament have uttered in the ensuing discussion has been downright embarrassing.
For starters, MP Vigdís Hauksdóttir claimed on the Icelandic TV programme ‘Mín skoðun’ (“My Opinion”) that Europe is currently in the grip of famine and that Malta is not a sovereign nation, comparing it to the Westman Islands where 4,000 or so Icelanders live. When the magazine ‘Kvennablaðið’ (“The Women’s Paper”) compiled these gaffes into an article called ‘Viskubrunnur Vigdísar’ (“Vigdís’ Fountain of Wisdom”), Vigdís took to her Facebook page to publicly encourage a cosmetics company to pull its advertisements. Similarly confused about how freedom of the press works, Minister for Foreign Affairs Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said that, due to perceived bias in EU reporting, he will no longer grant Iceland’s state broadcasting service interviews unless he is permitted to set the terms—as if that were a thing outside of, I don’t know, North Korea (more on page 8 of our issue).
An escape from Iceland does indeed sound pretty appealing these days, but I’m not sure if a simple sunny destination is the answer. I recently stumbled across an interview with Iceland’s aforementioned Minister for Foreign Affairs in which he was asked, “If you could jump on a plane and go anywhere, where would you go?” and he answered, “to the sun in Benidorm with the family.” Is it too presumptuous to suggest that he and perhaps others in government start soaking up something more than the sun when they go abroad?
Now turn to page 14 of our issue to read our feature interview with Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (not Hauksdóttir), Iceland’s former president and the world’s first democratically elected female head of state. At the age of 83, she has a thing or two to say about Icelandic discourse.