Climate Change at Forefront of Coalition Talks

The chairpersons of the three coalition parties continue to “discuss the issues” in their ongoing coalition talks. Emphasis will be placed on matters relating to climate change, RÚV reports, although the three parties admit to espousing different visions.

Coalitions talks “progressing nicely”

After maintaining their majority in the recent elections, the leaders of the three governing parties have spent the past two weeks discussing the possibility of extending their coalition for another term.

Chairpersons Katrín Jakobsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson of the Progressive Party, and Bjarni Benediktsson of the Independence Party have kept their cards close to their vest. Following a meeting today, PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV that the talks were progressing nicely. “In reality, we’re still going over these different sets of issues and diving deeper into individual points.”

When asked if the three chairpersons were in agreement upon issues relating to climate change and social welfare, Katrín replied in the affirmative: “Yes, I think we can expect to reach an agreement on these issues.”

Taking time to prevent difficulties later

When asked about the state of affairs, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson remarked that the leaders were reviewing the list of assignments. “We’re trying to reach a united vision on those issues that have yet to be settled from our last term. There are a few points that require additional time, which we’re willing to give, in order to prevent difficulties down the road.”

Bjarni also stated that something needed to be done regarding the clumsy structure of the Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilization (i.e. Rammaáætlun), especially when it comes to decisions relating to green energy. “We’re excited for the opportunities, to create jobs, to work toward energy transitions, etc.”

Climate change looms large

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson revealed that although the parties haven’t changed the emphasis have shifted. The threat of climate change looms large and will play a significant role in the challenges to come over the next four years.

Citing the discussion around green investment during the ongoing Arctic Circle Assembly, Sigurður stated: “Mankind needs to extricate itself from the difficult position that it has gotten itself into. We can rightly be proud of our successes over the past decades, but we also have opportunities, and we can continue to be a role model for other countries, which is something that we’ve been discussing; we’re approaching some kind of agreement.”

13 Legal Complaints Filed with Parliament Over the Elections

parliament Alþingi

Parliament has now published the 13 legal complaints that have been filed since the elections took place on September 25, RÚV reports. Most of the complaints originate from candidates who lost their seats due to a recount in the northwest constituency.

Shortcomings in the northwest

On Sunday, September 26, Iceland briefly celebrated a female-majority parliament – before a recount redistributed five of the parliament’s 63 seats and thereby invalidated what would also have been a landmark election in Europe.

Two days after the recount, two candidates filed charges against election proceedings in the northwest constituency on the basis that the election supervision committee had failed to seal the votes after it had completed the initial count. Furthermore, the two candidates complained that the committee had left the ballots unattended at Hotel Borgarnes after election staff went home.

The youngest parliamentarian … almost

As reported by RÚV this morning, parliament has published the now thirteen legal complaints that it has received regarding the elections. Five have been submitted by candidates who lost their seats due to the recount in the northwest constituency: Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir, Karl Gauti Hjaltason, Guðmundur Gunnarsson, Hólmfríður Árnadóttir, and Lenya Rún Taha Karim – the latter of whom would have become the youngest parliamentarian in history at the age of 21 (22 days younger than Jóhanna María Sigmundsdóttir). The Chairman of the Pirate Party’s district council in the northwest, Magnús Davíð Norðdahl, also brought charges to parliament against the legitimacy of the election.

Besides the abovementioned charges, three residents of the northwest constituency – Sveinn Flóki Guðmundsson, Ólafur Jónsson, and Sigurður Hreinn Sigurðsson – also filed legal complaints, along with lawyer Katrín Oddsdóttir and economist Þorvaldur Gylfason. In his complaint, Þorvaldur argues that Ingi Tryggvason, Chairman of the Head Election Supervision Committee in the northwest constituency, had admitted to violating voting laws in statements to the media. Katrín Oddsdóttir maintains that the shortcomings of the election process in the northwest violated the citizenry’s right to free elections.

Rúnar Björn Hererra Þorkelsson, head of the NPA Centre (a support organisation for the disabled) also filed a complaint based, on the one hand, on the shortcomings of the count in the northwest and, on the other hand, on the fact that he, as a disabled person, had been prevented from casting a secret ballot in the Reykjavík south constituency.

Preparatory commission meets

A preparatory commission tasked with investigating the election held an open meeting earlier today. Trausti Fannar Valsson, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Iceland, and Ragnhildur Helgadóttir, President of the University of Reykjavík, were invited as guests.

As noted by RÚV, Trausti Fannar told the commission that he could find no legal basis for banning the recount of votes during parliamentary elections but that the issue was whether or not laws had been violated during the recount. Ragnhildur stated that the decision rested with parliament: “There was a strong, democratic rationale for the clause being included in the Constitution at the time.”

It remains unclear when the preparatory commission will conclude its investigation.

New Film Casts Iceland’s Polish Community in New Light

Wolka arrives in Icelandic theatres today, RÚV reports. The Polish-Icelandic production made its debut at this year’s Reykjavík International Film Festival and is the last film made by director Árni Ólafur Ásgeirsson, who died last spring at the age of 49, just three months after being diagnosed with cancer.

Wolka tells the story of a Polish woman who has just finished a 15-year sentence in prison for murder. For reasons known only to herself, she breaks parole and travels to Iceland in search of a woman.

The film, Árni Ólafur’s fourth, was in the works for some time—almost a decade, in fact. Árni Ólafur, who was married to Polish set designer Marta Luiza Macuga, had lived in Poland and wanted to make a movie about Polish society in Iceland. After moving back to Iceland, he met screenwriter Michal Godzic. They began working on the script together and nine years later, the film is finally ready for audiences.

In addition to its debut at RIFF, a special screening of Wolka was also held in the Westman Islands. “It was certainly emotional for my son and I,” said Marta. “It was so strange to be there without Árni. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the Westmans. Wherever I went, I felt like Árni should be there with us. It was easier here in Reykjavík, the team was with me so it was more bearable. I could enjoy it more and celebrate the movie coming out. It’s done and people will appreciate it.”

Olga Bołądź, one of Poland’s most prominent film stars, played the leading role of Anna. “I met Árni Ólafur in Poland,” she recalled. “He called and asked if I wanted to play Anna. I read the script and fell for it, it was such a beautiful role that offered up so many possibilities. I said yes—yes, thank you. He was one of the most remarkable directors I’ve ever worked with.”

Filming in the Westmans during the winter was difficult, Olga noted, but she recalled it positively. “It was hard because of the weather, it was freezing. But Iceland is such a beautiful country and the people friendly and showed me such kindness, especially the Poles because everywhere I went, I met Poles. They were really proud that there was a film being made about Poles who live in Iceland. I hope that they’ll like it.”

Olga believes that Wolka is a story that will have a broad appeal. “The film is part mystery and part adventure, but it is also a family drama. I think that everyone can relate to family drama.” And while the story may have particular significance for Poles living in Iceland, Olga believes that it will expand people’s notions about this community. “The story is certainly about Polish society [in Iceland], but it shows it in a new light. Árni wanted to show that Poles are not just a labour force, but also people with feelings, who laugh and cry. We are normal people like all other nations.”

An earlier version of the article falsely stated that Árni passed away last year. 

The Fourth Longest Eruption Since the Start of the 20th Century

Geldingadalir eruption lava

Since the beginning of the 20th century, only three volcanic eruptions in Iceland have lasted longer than the one in Geldingadalir, according to geologist Sigurður Steinþórsson. Although scientists have yet to declare the formal end of the eruption, no lava has emanated from fissures for almost a month.

“You should’ve had something else to drink”

It was on the evening of Friday, March 19, when the paramedic Einar Sveinn Jónsson received a call from Bogi Adolfsson, head of the Grindavík search-and-rescue chapter. Bogi, having noticed a “yellow glow” emanating from behind the mountains, and being familiar with the view from his colleague’s home, asked Einar Sveinn to step outside and take a closer look.

Einar Sveinn had been hosting a dinner party for a few friends and stole away to follow his companion’s curious instructions. Having admitted to Bogi that that “yellow glow” could not be attributed to the “lights from Vogar” (a neighbouring town), he returned inside with a chill running down his spine. His wife Erna, noticing that something was awry, and drinking a canned cocktail called Eldgos (Icelandic for “Volcanic Eruption”), asked him what was the matter.

“You should have had something else to drink,” Einar Sveinn responded before pantomining an eruption with his hands; the volcanic eruption in Geldingadalir had officially begun.

A period of 183 days

“The eruption in Geldingadalir,” writes Sigurður Steinþórsson, in an article on Vísindavefurinn published yesterday, “must be considered relatively lengthy when compared to other continuous eruptions in the 20th and 21st centuries.” In the article, Sigurður, professor emeritus of geology at the University of Iceland, maintains that only three other eruptions since 1900 have lasted longer than the one in Geldingadalir (183 days): the Hekla eruption between 1947 and 1948 (390 days), the Surtsey eruption between 1963 and 1967 (1290 days), and the Krafla eruption between 1975 and 1984 (3180 days).

Sigurður assumes, as a premise for his article, that the eruption in Geldingadalir ended on September 18, the day when lava ceased issuing forth from fissures in the valley. Scientists have, however, yet to declare the eruption as formally over. (The eruption has seen a hiatus in the past but never for this long.)

“It might seem that the Hekla eruption between 1980 and 1981 was longer,” Sigurður writes “but it was actually two short eruptions (three and seven days respectively), with a seven-month hiatus between them.” Referring to the Krafla eruption, Sigurður also observes that that eruption was actually “a series of smaller eruptions separated at length with periods of inactivity,” suggesting that only the Hekla eruption between 1947 and 1948 and the Surtsey eruption between 1963 and 1967 lasted longer than the one in Geldingadalir.

The four phases of the eruption

As noted in an article on RÚV yesterday, the Faculty of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland has divided the eruption in Geldingadalir into four phases. The first phase lasted approximately two weeks and was characterized by rather steady lava flow (an average of 6 m3/s). The second phase also lasted for two weeks and was marked by the emergence of new fissures north of the original caldera, with lava flow being quite variable (between 5-8 m3/s. The third phase lasted for two and a half months, with the volcanic activity confined to a single crater and flowing into Geldingadalir, Meradalir, or Nátthagi at a rate of approximately 12 m3/s. The final phase began at the end of June and was characterized by sporadic lava flow (8-11 m3/s).

Arnaldur Turns to History, Not Crime, This Christmas

World-famous author Arnaldur Indriðason will not be putting out a new crime novel during this year’s jólabókaflóð, or Christmas Book Flood, reports. Arnaldur has released a new book every November 1st for the last 24 years, and his crime novels—whether they star Detectives Erlendur, Konráð, or Flovent and Thorson—are a particularly popular part of the season. This year, however, Arnaldur is trying something new and releasing a work of historical fiction.

Many of Arnaldur’s novels are set in the past, but on top of being distinctly un-criminal in nature, his new book, Sigurverkið (a title which can mean both ‘Winning Entry’ and ‘Watchworks’) moves to an entirely new era. It takes place in the southern part of the Westfjords in Iceland and Copenhagen, Denmark during the 18th century and tells the story of Jón Sívertsen, an Icelandic watchmaker working in a Danish palace to restore magnificent, old clock. One day, the King himself, Christian VII, comes into the Jón’s workshop. Although still king in name, Christian, who suffers from mental illness, has been sidelined by his son and court. In the course of their conversation, Jón tells Christian about his father and foster mother, who were killed at the behest of the previous monarch.

In his interview with Morgunblaðið, Arnaldur said that the idea for the story “came to me very suddenly. I got the idea for the book last summer and immediately sat down to write and finished it in about six months.” The book takes inspiration from real people and events, although Arnaldur has combined and refigured details to suit his narrative. And as the era is not one that he’s written before, he enlisted the assistance of a historian while writing. “It was a lot of fun for me to write about the 18th century because it is, of course, a new arena for me as an author, but it’s also an interesting possibly new arena for contemporary Icelandic literature.”

Arnaldur says that he wants to continue to surprise himself as a writer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be writing a lot more historical fiction from here on out. He’s not sure what the future holds on that count but will be making a return to crime fiction soon. “Konráð, the rather skewed protagonist of my last books, will be in full swing next Christmas,” he said. “That I can I promise.”

Dream of a Scrapie-Free Iceland May Be a Reality Within 10 Years

Karólína Elísabetardóttir, sheep, scrapie research

It may be possible to eradicate scrapie in Iceland in the next ten years, RÚV reports. This hopeful news comes via a study led by sheep farmer Karólína Elísabetardóttir and a team of scrapie experts from four countries, who have isolated a genotype in the Icelandic sheep population that should protect the animals from the disease.

Scrapie, an incurable, degenerative disease that effects the nervous system of sheep and goats, has plagued the Icelandic sheep population for some time, not least in Skagafjörður, Northwest Iceland, where farmers were forced to slaughter over 2,000 animals last year when a scrapie outbreak was detected at several farms.

See Also: Scrapie Detected in Skagafjörður

Samples were taken from 2,500 sheep in Iceland and Greenland. “First, we found one sheep and then we started systematically looking in its relatives and then we found other sheep, such that now we have a trail and based on that, the outlook is really good.” This is the first such study to be conducted in Iceland in 20 years.

Karólína’s team is comprised of two doctors from a German institute that studies prion diseases experts from England and Italy, and locally, two experts from the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Centre and a scrapie specialist from Keldur, the Institute for Experimental Pathology.

Now that the protective genotype has been identified, Karólína says the next step will be to find a ram who shares this and then organize breeding from there. “I’d even say that it might be possible, if farmers are diligent in their efforts, that this could work within ten years.” A scrapie-free Iceland, concluded Karólína, is “the dream.”