The Top Five News Stories In Iceland Of 2019 — The Reykjavik Grapevine

The Top Five News Stories In Iceland Of 2019

Published January 1, 2020

Photo by
Anna Maggý

2019 was an eventful year for news, and some of it was actually good news, too. There were some stories, however, that stood above the rest—they may have attracted international headlines, profoundly affected the political landscape, or proved lively and resilient in the public discourse.

While this list is by no means definitive, these were the stories that, from the point of view of this news desk, truly stood out in 2019.

WOW Air goes bankrupt
“Nobody goes bankrupt overnight,” as one would-be passenger who got her flight cancelled told us. That’s on observation that still resonates as we’re still feeling the effects of Iceland’s discount airline suddenly ceasing all operations last March. There was great uncertainty, as these cheap flights dropped off the map just as the tourist high season began, with worries about how this might affect the economy. Looking back now, the economy did just fine, even if much-lauded announcements of impending budget airlines have yet to materialise.

Sharkgate
Two fishermen start a Facebook Live video of them on the job.At one point, they caught what was obviously a juvenile shark and cut its tail off before dropping back into the sea with a mocking “try and swim now you little bastard!” Unfortunately for them, someone was recording the stream, and the subsequent video went viral. The backlash against them spread across international headlines, the fishermen lost their jobs, and then public discourse raised questions about proportionality of response.

Gender determination law
In a major step for the rights of trans and nonbinary Icelanders, Iceland passed a law that was years in the making. It granted people the freedom to register their actual gender; not just the one they were assigned at birth. It also eschewed the tedious gatekeeping of having to endure half a dozen interviews over months or longer just to get access to hormone replacement therapy and other medical care that some trans people want. It was a major step forward for Iceland, even if some people got left behind: intersex children are still not protected from unnecessary cosmetic surgery on their genitals, and nonbinary folks will have to wait at least a year before they can register as “X” in the gender field at the National Registry.

The Fishrot Files
This bombshell dropped in the last month of 2019 but still proved one of the most important stories of the year out of Iceland. A whistleblower who used to work for the Icelandic fishing giant Samherji handed over 30,000 documents to Wikileaks, detailing how the company bribed Namibian officials to get access to massive fishing quotas, and then subsequently squirreled the money into tax havens. In Namibia, this led to immediate sackings of the officials involved and the arrest of half a dozen people facing corruption charges. In Iceland, no such response has been forthcoming, but it re-ignited the debate about the importance of a new constitution, and shone a spotlight on the corruption within our own ranks.

Cyclone hits Iceland
Another December story, this story became very important for primarily two reasons. A literal cyclone touched down on Iceland, delivering snow and wind speeds unprecedented in this country. While Reykjavík escaped relatively unscathed, the countryside did not fare as well—power outages, disrupted phone service, blocked roads, missing livestock and at least one death were reported across North Iceland. It was a sobering reminder of how the climate crisis is sparing nobody, no matter how remote. Also, as even the President of Iceland pointed out, it was a reminder that rural Icelanders often do not have access to the same resources that we Reykjavíkings take for granted, and we need to do better.

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