From Iceland — Letters


Published May 6, 2005


Dear Mr. Bart Cameron
I picked up the latest issue of Reykjavík Grapevine yesterday and came across the
following quote from an interview a journalist had with me about the matter of Bobby Fischer:
“Paul F. Nikolov, who works for the AFP, reported what was required of him but did
not sent along the more embarrassing local quotes: a member of the group that
imported Fischer claiming Iceland would be good as it has no Jewish problem for
Congratulations! So you found an Anti Semite? Wrong! Not my words baby!
When I gave an interview to Reykjavik Grapevine a few weeks ago and helped your staff to gather material for a big article about Bobby Fischer I did not expect the journalist not to put some lines in my mouth. I don’t like it, mister. I think most Icelanders find it hard to understand the hatred that has been professed against Jews for centuries. Here in Iceland, Jewish people have most certainly enriched the society. Icelanders in general do not tolerate racism and take pride in claiming that we do not have problems associated with hatred against Swedes, Norwegians, Arabs, Jews etc. In this context I want you to understand my words: There is no such thing as a Jewish problems here in Iceland.
If you had taken the time to read the interview more carefully you might have come across a line which form the basis of my own private philosophy; that every individual should be judged by his or her own merit.
Since you are so worried about the stance the Icelandic parliament, Althingi, has taken towards Bobby Fischer who has been on the run since 1992 having played some chess back, perhaps you could maybe explain to me why the US, your own country, invaded Iraq as a result of which more than 100,000 have lost their lives according to a recent estimate. No respect for children’s birth rights there.
By the way, some press agencies are only counting the American dead bodies – and may I say I think it is a horrible destiny for these fine young Americans to lose their lives for the likes of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and their values. I fail to understand how the international committee can tolerate such an act especially given the words of Kofi Annan general secretary of UN who declared the invasion illegal i.e. a blatant violation of international law. Not only the invasion but the threat of invasion hanging over the people of Iraq for months.
As an American in Reykjavík you must be very qualified to explain to us this very urgent matter.
Helgi Olafsson is an international chess grandmaster and a member of the RJF group.
Dear Helgi,
Thank you for clarifying. By “no Jewish problem”, I gather from this letter that you meant “no racist problems.” “No Jewish problem,” would be a fascist ideal; saying “no racist problems” would be an ideal for most of Western society. I am glad to have this cleared up. It appears you’re more anti- SEMANTICS than anti-SEMETIC.
Regarding the invasion of Iraq, I can only give you my opinions. I voted and protested against the war, but a slight majority of my countrymen disagree with me. Of course, I miss the connection between Fischer and the war in Iraq. Are you saying Fischer invaded Iraq? Ah ha, now it all makes sense.
Iceland: a rehab for racists?
As a non-Icelandic resident of Iceland I keep on reminding myself how important it is to appreciate the good things that Icelanders have achieved, for example in creating a modern infrastructure, while being frequently frustrated at backward, inefficient, or downright unsuitable for a non-native social practices and institutions. This was a polite way to introduce what I am going to suggest next: importing Bobby Fischer was a great idea in terms of re-educating a racially bent mind. Moreover, I think we should offer Icelandic passports or at least resident rights to all those who subscribe to some kind of a racist, fascist or intolerant ideology, or just enjoy ranting in public. My much admired, educated, but occasionally inconsistent and over-the-top fellow countryman, Mr. Zherenovsky, is the first name that comes to my mind: after all, the man has already earned some brownie points (and displayed profound geographical insights) by pointing out that Iceland would be an ideal location for a new GULAG, so, applying the same logic that Althingi used on Bobby Fischer, why not grant a citizenship to him? He is also filthy rich, although, regrettably for us, not on the run from the government in Russia. Mr. Zherenovsky may also put Iceland on the map by staging some outrage here, bringing the international exposure that we crave so badly.
Furthermore, while it is wrong to use a catch-all “racist” term to denote a range of systems of beliefs concerned with ethnicity and race – some intellectual, and some dumb, some reflecting real concerns or conflicts for economic resources and lebensraum, and some just pinning the blame on someone else – exponents of the most crude, primitive and hateful ones, such as white supremacists, would definitely benefit from some time “on the rock”, and not just as tourists, but as tax-paying residents. Those who hate coloured faces may find themselves craving some ethnic diversity in a virtually all-white land, the simplistic world view of Jew haters attributing all underhanded craftiness to that one specific race may be shattered by Icelandic sleight of hand in issues legal and financial. As to Mr. Fischer himself, my bet is that he goes off the Jews and starts ranting about the evil Vikings once he gets his first tax bill in this country. Good luck, Mr. Fischer!
Stanislav Smirnov
Stanislav also reminded us in another email that we need to proofread a little better. We said we would. He kind of scares us. Note his correct usage of “sleight of hand”. I taught English for four years. Nobody ever gets that right. This man just may be a letter-writing ninja or something. It got me to wondering, if Michael Dudikoff joined forces with Humbert Humbert, could they write a letter like this? I think not.
They Do Give Service
Just a few words of praise to the un-sung heroes of SVR (The Reykjavík Bus Company). The drivers are friendly, helpful, the buses are clean, and what’s more important on time whatever the weather. (Unlike their UK counterparts.) They have served me well for the past three years and I just wanted to say thank you.
A Happy Commuter, 101 Reykjavik.
Word. I see no need to be frontin’ on the UK, but you speak the gospel truth about the SVR. If anyone else has some love for Reykjavík services or companies, feel free to send it in.
Another thing… Grapevine published a lot of nice cartoons/drawings (I don’t know the English word for it) of Bobby and Spassky. Where am I able to get a hold of those?
That’s it for now. Hopefully you’ll be able to help me out here. I also want to congratulate you on one of the finest free papers I’ve ever come across.
Yours sincerely,
Alex Bergan
A gentleman of the Norwegian Press
Member of the International Federation of Journalists
Okay, so this is just part of a long letter that included some criticism of the local press and Fischer. But two key points: drawings from the last issue were by Tómmi Ómarsson. We didn’t credit him but we’re grateful for the work. We also didn’t credit Mývatn photographer Lasse Svensson of Sweden, or barista photographer Mark Cohagen. Still think we’re a fine free paper? Well, how about this… we’re not free! That’s right! We cost 500 ISK. You ripped off a shopkeeper, mister Norwegian gentleman. We sent a husky Icelander from the West Fjörds named Geir to break the poor shopkeeper’s shoulders because he didn’t pay us for the Grapevines that YOU stole. How do you feel about that? Feel guilty? Yeah? Well, don’t. I was kidding. We are free. We just have trouble with compliments.
Hello Bartolomeo.
I was reading the early may letters.
One problem.
I’m sure that in the last letter, Alex Bergan, is not asking about the drawings by Tommi Ómarsson in issue 4, because he asks about the drawings of Fischer and Spassky… in the last issue we had one drawing of Fischer and Sæmundur. But in the feature in issue 3, we had a couple of very nice drawings of that
famous duel. Helgi Ólafsson, the icelandic chess champion helped me and Höddi to
find a book about Fischer at the Hrókurinn headquarters. There we saw these drawings on the wall, like 40 or 50 of them, in nice little frames. I took pictures of them and edited in photoshop so they could be used in print. I’m not sure if they were ever published in a book, but they are the most famous pictures the artist made. Of these 40+ drawings we could only use a few in issue 4.
The artist is Halldór Pétursson, a well known Icelandic graphic designer and artist. He’s one of the makers of the old icelandic money bills, which are not used anymore. I found some more info in Icelandic, which I’m gonna translate, just if you need any info about Halldór: He was born in 1916 and soon became famous for his drawings, he drew for many books and publishings. He had much interest in icelandic horses and drawings of horses were kind of his “logo”. He was also a great cartoonist (as we can see in the Fischer and Spassky pictures). He also made the logo for Reykjavík city… that’s kind of an acheivement… and ran an icelandic Ad agency from 1938-1940… one of the first Icelandic ones, along with his sister, Ágústa Pétursdóttir, which was also one of the first woman graphic designer in Iceland (they both studied in Denmark). The pictures he drew for the Fischer Spassky duel in 1972 were published all around the world. He died in 1977.
Best regards,

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