Calls on Icelandic Authorities to Tackle Hate Speech

keyboard computer typing

If hate speech has no consequences for the individuals who spout it in Iceland, that could serve as a certain recognition that it is acceptable, according to Doctor of Anthropology and Assistant Professor of Police Science Eyrún Eyþórsdóttir. Eyrún told RÚV it is up to Icelandic authorities to take concrete measures against hate speech.

Icelandic media outlet Kjarninn withdrew an interview with deputy MP Lenya Rún Taha Karim from online circulation yesterday after the article received a flood of personal attacks against Lenya, including racism and hate speech, on social media. In the interview, Lenya Rún describes the disrespect and racism she has had to endure in Iceland as a person of foreign origin in the public sphere.

“The fact that people appear under their own name [on social media] and express themselves in this way, that can perhaps be traced to the fact that there have in fact been few consequences for people in Iceland who have [used hate speech],” Eyrún explains. “Perhaps a precedent has even been set for hate speech, and if it is left undisturbed, then it creates a certain recognition that it is maybe just OK.”

Authorities silent

“Nothing has been heard from the authorities, they haven’t condemned this type of hatred that is put forth against certain members of society, and that’s a shame,” Eyrún observes. “In many countries, authorities have laid down plans, invested money, created hate crime units within the police and other such things, as a strong emphasis is placed on tackling [hate speech].” Eyrún previously headed such a unit within the Capital Area Police Department, but it has since been dismantled.

The authorities themselves have been embroiled in a controversy regarding a racist remark made by Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson at a conference last month. Sigurður Ingi has been accused of violating the Parliamentary Code of Ethics by making the comment. Besides publishing an apology on his Facebook page, the minister has refused to discuss the incident.

“Hate speech is of the nature that the more well-known and powerful the people that use it are, the worse its effect is in society,” Eyrún says. It can cause others to take up such language, “because they think that if the nation’s officials can allow themselves to talk this way then it’s OK.”

Government to Dismantle State Investment Company

government press conference November 2021

The Icelandic government will introduce a parliamentary bill to abolish Icelandic State Financial Investments, the government’s holding company on the financial market. The decision is made in response to widespread criticism of how the government handled the sale of 22.5% of Íslandsbanki bank last month. No further sale of the state’s shares in Íslandsbanki will take place until a new system is in place, a notice from the government states.

The sale of 22.5% of formerly state-owned bank Íslandsbanki last month through a private stock offering has been harshly criticised by opposition MPs as well as the general public. Several hundred gathered in Austurvöllur square last Friday to protest the way the sale was handled. One of the speakers at the event, Pirate Party MP Halldóra Mogensen, called on Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson to resign.

Insiders make short-term profit

The government has been criticised for the share offering’s lack of transparency, and for the 5% discount buyers received on the shares’ market value, despite high demand for the shares. Many have also criticised the fact that smaller, short-term investors were permitted to take part in the sale, and that Íslandsbanki staff and staff of the consulting company that managed the sale were among the investors.

While the government’s stated aim for the share offering was to attract long-term investors, shareholder lists revealed that many smaller investors sold their shares in the bank just days after the sale, for a significant profit. The list of purchasers included a holding company owned by the Finance Minister’s father.

Government ministers lay low

Government ministers have refused interview requests from reporters over the past week to discuss the sale of the bank. The government notice released today states that “It is clear that the implementation of the sale did not fully live up to the government’s expectations, e.g. on transparency and clear dissemination of information.”

 

50% Chance of Another Reykjanes Eruption this Year, Expert Says

Geldingadalir eruption lava

Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson reckons there is a 50/50 chance that an eruption will begin on the Reykjanes peninsula by the end of the year. It could occur on land, like last year’s Geldingadalir eruption, active between March and September of 2021, or out in the ocean near the Reykjanes coast. While last year’s eruption was minimally disruptive to the surrounding area, there is always the possibility that another could cause air pollution, ashfall, or disruptions to international flights through Keflavík Airport, Þorvaldur told RÚV.

Earthquake swarms on Reykjanes

Earthquake swarms occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula last week and over the weekend. The second swarm began on Sunday morning and included two earthquakes over M3 in magnitude. The activity has since calmed down, but Þorvaldur says it’s possible the earthquakes are a sign of magma moving under the surface. There are, however, no signs that an eruption is imminent.

At sea or on land?

Eruptions at sea carry different risks to eruptions on land, according to Þorvaldur. “If it’s a sort of small, neat tourist eruption like the one in Fagradalsfjall then it’s good to have it on land, but if it’s bigger and more powerful, then the situation is different, and there there is maybe more at risk both in terms of lava flow and also in terms of sulphur pollution,” he stated. “There is much more sulphur pollution from eruptions on land simply because eruptions at sea or underwater create a lot of steam, and this steam condenses in the plume and takes out the sulphur. If the eruption is on land then we don’t have so much steam and much less of the sulphur is removed immediately, so it falls to the ground or spreads further and causes pollution. That’s the downside of an eruption on land.”

However, an eruption at sea that breaches the water’s surface could cause significant ashfall on land across the Southwest region, including as far north as Hvalfjörður, Þorvaldur says. He adds that if an eruption does occur, it’s even possible magma would breach the surface in several locations at once.

Experts have stated that the Geldingadalir eruption likely marks the start of a period of increased volcanic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula. Read more about the peninsula’s geology.