From Iceland — Letters


Published June 11, 2004


One of our editors was in Reykjavik recently and he picked up a copy of your newspaper. I really liked the pull-out center section, “Guide to the City Center,” and I’d like to get in touch with the person who wrote that. Do you think it’s possible to send me that writer’s e-mail address, or to give mine to her or him?
Jason Cochran
Senior Editor
Budget Travel magazine
We would, but it sounds like you want to give him an assignment. We find that when people start offering our writers money for their work they become much harder to deal with. So we´re sorry but we are unable to help you.
I wanted to thank you for an amusing article on the exhibition in our museum in your paper in issue 1, year 2. It was nice to get such a lively commentary on this exhibition, I hope you´ll pass that on to the writer involved.
Regards and thanks
Harpa Þórsdóttir
Head of Exhibitions
National Gallery of Iceland
Fine, praise them if you must, as long as you don´t start offering them money.
In the style of “101 Reykjavík”, I tried to ‘live’ in Hallgrímur Helgason’s head and share his thoughts and observations. I found it a rather mystifying place to be. In particular I had a problem with the Icelandic society, which apparently is the “best the earth has ever seen.” I wondered if the society where ‘nobody goes hungry to bed, no one is cold at night, the healthcare system covers everybody, most people travel abroad three times a year and every home has an Internet connection’ was the same society that I was living in. Then it struck me that I did not have the benefit of Hallgrímur’s rose-tinted double-glazing. I was also puzzled that he spent five years in Paris and ‘there was nothing going on’ and that he felt more isolated there than in Reykjavík. But I guess when in Paris he was an unknown wannabe, whereas later in Reykjavík, a celebrated author, artist, essayist, playwright, competition judge and town planning expert, clearly a serious case of Big Fish/Small Pond Syndrome. As for his theory about a small society turning against one that becomes too big, I feel confident that he has nothing to worry about.
Hassan Harazi
101 Reykjavík
Dear Hassan
In response to your query, we sent a reporter and a Catholic nun on location to see if poverty exists in Iceland. See page 8. They failed to find it in the first attempt, but that doesn´t mean its not there. Anyone wanting to send pointers or even write articles about the subject please get in touch.
Grapevine -Here to help.
Dear Grapevine,
I’m delighted that you’re back! I missed your fresh commentary on Icelandic society during the winter months. As chairperson of the Multicultural Council I was happy to see an article about the new law about foreigners recently passed by the Icelandic Parliament. I was involved in the month-long protest against the passing of that law, along with 12 other organizations, and was one of the people who testified to Members of Parliament about some of the clauses which would violate the human rights of foreigners.
Unfortunately, there are a number of inaccuracies in the article that appeared in the Grapevine and I would like to clear them up.
This law has nothing to do with what age a foreigner must be before being able to apply for a bank loan to buy a house or apartment. The 24 year age limit has to do with residence permits for foreign spouses of Icelanders. It says that foreign spouses of Icelanders who are younger than 24 can no longer automatically get a residence permit solely on the basis of being married to a native.
1) The author mixed up the names of 2 different institutions as well as the people who head them. He said that a meeting on Friday May 21st was held by the Multicultural Centre. There is no such place in Reykjavik. There is an institution called the Intercultural Centre. In fact, the open meeting was held by the Reykjavik Cultural Committee.
2) Later in the article the author gives the name, phone number, and e-mail address of Halldóra Gunnarsdóttir as the contact person This woman does not work at the Intercultural Centre but in fact works at City Hall as an information task manager in the Development and Family Department of the city government.
3) The open meeting about cultural activities had nothing whatsoever to do with the new law about foreigners.
4) Neither did the Multicultural Carnival which was advertised as being held in first Ingólfstorg and later Lækjartorg and NOT at Stjórnarráð, as mentioned in the article.
I would like to point out that if anyone is interested in more information about services for foreigners, to drop in at the Intercultural Centre on Hverfisgata 18, directly across the street from the National Theatre and pick up the current and back issues of their magazine which has articles in many languages, including English, about foreigners’ services and rights.
Respectfully yours,
Hope Knútsson
chairperson, Multicultural Council
Paul Fontaine-Nikolov responds:
I was pleased to hear that someone was fighting for us, the forgotten Icelanders, when this dreadful set of laws was passed. While I appreciate your clarification on the “age 24” law, I would like to point out:
1) This group was called the “Multicultural centre”, in English, several times in the meeting.The name Halldóra Gunnarsdóttir was given several times at this meeting as the person to contact if any foreigners had any ideas as to how to make Reykjavík more multicultural. I spoke to one Halldóra Gunnarsdóttir about this meeting, told her what was said, and asked if she was indeed the contact person for this group. She confirmed that she was.
2) The open meeting might not have had anything directly to do with the new laws, but the purpose of this meeting – to make Reykjavík more multicultural – is both pertinant and relevent within the context of these new laws especially.
3) They did indeed discuss providing services to foreigners, e.g., a datebase website of every foreigner organisation in Iceland, and not just involving foreigners in more cultural activities, as you assert.
3) In no point in the article did I say that the festival took place at Stjórnaráð. I said that I went to a “meeting” (which ended up being a hoax) at Stjórnaráð, while “the festival set up across the street” – which would be Lækjartorg.
While these laws seek to marginalize, these events seek to include. Aren´t we all working towards the same goals, after all?

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