Icelanders Get Angry Over “Grandparent”

Crowds gathered at Austurvöllur to show solidarity with Norway.

The National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) is asking the public to help it coin new Icelandic words to reflect the reality of queer people, including a general neutral term for grandparent, which exists in English but not in Icelandic. The competition is being held for the third time but has sparked harsh reactions as many believed its intention was to replace the Icelandic words “grandma” and “grandpa” with a gender-neutral term. National Broadcaster RÚV has been criticised for its coverage of the controversy, which many assert did not clear up this misunderstanding and made room for bigotry towards queer people.

Only want what English and Danish already have

The English language already has a gender-neutral alternative to the words “grandma” and “grandpa:” the word “grandparent,” as do many languages even more closely related to Icelandic, such as Danish. Although Icelandic, like English, does have gender-neutral terms for other family members, such as parent (foreldri) and sibling (systkini), the Icelandic language currently only has the gendered terms afi (grandpa) and amma (grandma) to refer to the parents of someone’s parents. (You can also build gendered compound words to refer to grandparents such as móðurmóðir, mother’s mother.) The Queer Association’s competition calls on the public to submit suggestions for a gender-netural term such as grandparent that could be adopted into the Icelandic language. It also asks for submissions for other terms that are lacking in Icelandic but exist in other languages to reflect the lived experience of the LGBTQ+ community.

No intention to replace “grandma” and “grandpa”

An mbl.is article on the competition engendered some 1,000 comments on social media, many in protest of the initiative. A closer look revealed that many authors misunderstood the nature of the competition and believed the Queer Association was looking to replace the words “grandma” and “grandpa,” amma and afi, in Icelandic. “This isn’t about changing the way people talk,” Ásta Kristín Benediktsdóttir, one of the competition’s judges and an Assistant Professor of Icelandic Literature at the University of Iceland told RÚV. “It’s just about the language needing more words.” Asked why she thinks the competition has received negative reactions, she stated: “I think it’s about some sort of fear that someone’s trying to change the language without people being able to have a say in it.”

RÚV criticised for not correcting misunderstanding

Ásta later criticised RÚV’s editing of her interview, however, saying it had left out the key points she made on the issue. Others from the queer community criticised RÚV’s coverage of the issue as well, pointing out that the broadcaster prioritised asking people on the street what they thought about the competition rather than clarifying what it was about and prioritising expert analysis. “It is not especially responsible, especially now that there is a backlash against queer rights, to use news space to talk about the reactions rather than using the opportunity to correct a misunderstanding that seems to have made a lot of people quite upset,” stated Samtökin ’78 Vice-Chair Bjarndís Helga Tómasdóttir.

Third Executive to Leave Íslandsbanki Since Last Week

Atli Rafn Björnsson, director of business consulting at Íslandsbanki bank has left his position at the bank, RÚV reports. He is the third executive at the bank to leave his post since the middle of last week. Íslandsbanki was fined around ISK 1.2 billion last month due to breaching regulations in the sale of 22.5% of the bank last year. It is the highest fine on a financial institution in Iceland’s history.

Atli Rafn had been in his position since 2019, and will be replaced by Ellert Hlöðversson. Ásmundur Tryggvason, who was CEO of Íslandsbanki’s Business and Investment Division, also left his position last weekend, and the bank’s CEO Birna Einarsdóttir resigned last week. She was replaced by Jón Guðni Ómarsson, who stated that his priority was to restore trust in the bank following the poorly-handled private stock offering of last year.

Background to the sale

In early 2020, Iceland’s government began preparation to sell the state-owned Íslandsbanki in stages. The first partial sale was carried out in June 2021, a successful public stock offering of a 35% stake in the bank. Following that sale, 65% of the bank remained state-owned.

The next stage of the sale took place in March 2022, this time a private stock offering of a 22.5% stake in the bank. Unlike the first offering, it was only open to professional investors. The sale was successful, reducing state ownership in the bank from 65% to 42.5%. The private stock offering was immediately criticised for its lack of transparency and for the discount given to investors despite high demand. As public pressure mounted, the list of investors who took part in the share was published, revealing several who had access to inside information on the sale, such as employees of the consulting company that had been hired to manage the sale as well as the father of Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson.

Read More: Íslandsbanki Private Stock Offering

Left-Green Movement MP Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir who also chairs the parliamentary Budget Committee, has demanded Íslandsbanki publish the employment termination agreement made with former CEO Birna Einarsdóttir. The chairperson of the Íslandsbanki board says the board has not discussed Bjarkey’s demand, but that it will do so. The bank has called a shareholders’ meeting for July 28.

Íslandsbanki CEO Jón Guðni Ómarsson stated that those in charge of the private share offering had now shouldered responsibility by leaving their positions and that there would be no further resignations or layoffs of executives at the bank for the time being.

Gas Pollution and Water Level Rise Near Mýrdalsjökull Glacier

Katla volcano

Hot water is flowing out from the geothermal system underneath Mýrdalsjökull glacier in South Iceland and conductivity remains high. Activity has, however decreased as compared to several days ago and there are no signs of volcanic unrest, RÚV reports.

An earthquake swarm was detected beneath the glacier last week, with the largest quake measuring M 4.4 and occurring on June 30 at 2:45 AM. Earthquake activity in the area has calmed since but continues nevertheless, with M 3.1 and M 2.2 earthquakes detected around 11:00 PM last night.

Gas pollution has also been detected near the site, and the Icelandic Met Office is warning travellers against being in the Katla volcano area due to the associated gas pollution risks. The Met Office also warns of a possible rise in water levels in Múlakvísl river due to the geothermal activity beneath Mýrdalsjökull.

Iceland’s Popularity Grows – Among Walruses

Köfunarþjónustan ehf. / Facebook. A walrus takes a break in Sauðárkrókur, Northwest Iceland

No fewer than four walruses have wandered over to Iceland so far this year. Walruses are not native to the country but since the start of this year, individuals have made stops in East Iceland, the Westfjords, Northwest Iceland, and the capital area. Walruses can be dangerous and readers are warned against approaching them.

Last Thursday, archaeologists working on a dig in Arnarfjörður in the Westfjords spotted a walrus out in the water. It was later spotted sunning itself on the shores of the fjord near Hrafnseyri, RÚV reports, and stayed on into the weekend. Just a few days earlier, a different walrus made himself at home on a floating dock in Sauðárkrókur harbour in Northwest Iceland. “It’s our new pet,” port security officer Ágúst Kárason told reporters. “He’s damn big and hefty, an adult with big tusks.”

Followed to work by walrus

In early June, a staff member of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Hafnarfjörður, in the capital area, was accompanied by a walrus on his morning commute. “I was biking and he followed me from Herjólfsgata street to Fjörukráin restaurant by Strandgata street. There he turned around and swam out into the fjord,” Jón Sólmundsson told reporters. “He was also curious, there were some people that stopped to watch him and he seemed to be considering them too.”

Yet another walrus spotted in Breiðdalsvík, East Iceland in February turned out to be celebrity walrus Thor, who had spent the winter sightseeing around the UK with stops in the Netherlands and France. Walruses seen in Iceland generally arrive from the shores of Greenland or from northern Norway, but Thor may have travelled from the Canadian Arctic. There were no indications that any of the four walruses were the same animal.

Swam from Ireland to Iceland

More walrus visits have occurred in Iceland over the past few years. One was spotted on June 17, 2022 in the town of Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland. A GPS tag on the animal revealed that it had swum over from the Faroe Islands. In September 2021, a walrus spotted in Höfn, Southeast Iceland turned out to be Wally the Walrus, who had been previously spotted in Spain, Wales, and the Isles of Scilly (off the UK coast). Wally had last been seen in Cork, Ireland before being spotted in Iceland, meaning he had swum over 1,000 km [620 mi] to reach the island.

Icelandic subspecies went extinct after human settlement

Iceland used to be home to a special subspecies of walrus, but it became extinct around 1100 AD, most likely due to overhunting by humans. Walrus tusks were considered precious at the time and were sought-after by royalty in Scandinavia and elsewhere. Other factors, such as rising temperatures and volcanic eruptions, may have been factors in the animals’ extinction as well.