A Diamond In the Rough

There are three things that make Iceland distinct. Firstly, the relatively small land itself is full of glaciers, volcanoes, and its stark beauty. Secondly, the remarkable people who populate the land and whose ancestors only survived countless catastrophes with a combination of tenacity, hope, and stubborn love of their petulant land. And finally, the peculiar Icelandic language which is spoken by fewer than 350,000 people worldwide and is notoriously difficult to learn. This last aspect of Iceland, the Icelandic language, is perhaps one of the most difficult to appreciate for foreigners.

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The Westman Islands Army

Friðrik Gíslason. Westman Islands

Iceland’s largest town throughout the pre-modern period was not Reykjavík, which for most of its history was little more than a collection of small farms. One of its largest was Heimaey, or “Home Island,” in the Westman Islands archipelago, just off the south coast. The first Icelandic census of 1703 shows only 318 people living […]

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The Foreman

The crimeIn the small hours of a cold and dark night in 1827, Hjörtur Jónsson’s slumber was interrupted by the distant sound of wood cracking. Wielding a long iron bar, someone was violently prying open the wealthy farmer’s front door; hinges creaked, groaned, and then gave way with a faint bang. Now fully awake, his heart […]

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Western promises

While most people today are very much aware of Europe’s exploration and colony building in what was optimistically called the New World, you would be forgiven for not knowing that Icelanders founded a self-governing colony in the Americas as well. New Iceland was established on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba in the late 19th century, beginning with the settlement of Gimli, named after “the most beautiful place on Earth” in Norse mythology. It is estimated that nearly 25% of the entire population of Iceland emigrated to North America over the four decades that followed.

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Alcoholic Beverages To Be Sold Online

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir

Alcohol made by Icelandic producers may eventually be purchased in online stores in Iceland if a bill the Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir intends to submit to Parliament in March is approved. If this happens, the ÁTVR, the State Alcohol and Tobacco Store’s decades-long monopoly on alcohol sales in Iceland will essentially be abolished.

If the bill indeed becomes law, alcoholic beverages will be available to Icelandic customers for the first time in online stores without the ÁTVR’s involvement. According to current law, the ÁTVR has a monopoly on all retail sales of alcohol in Iceland. However, alcohol can be purchased through foreign online stores and sent directly to buyers’ homes if the producers pay taxes in another country, although VAT and Iceland’s alcohol fees are still due. A recent government declaration states that the Minister of Justice intends to present a bill in March that will amend the current and long-standing restrictive alcohol laws.

Under this proposal, beverage producing companies such as craft beer brewers would be permitted to sell their products on-site so that they could be consumed on the premises, as well as selling them online and shipping directly to customers.

Next year, the government will accept a European directive that prohibits discrimination in the sale of goods and services by an individual’s residence. This means, for example, that online stores will be required to ship products to any country within the European Economic Area (EEA). Currently, numerous companies, such as Amazon, are prohibited from sending certain products to Iceland.

This Directive will mean that online stores selling alcoholic beverages will be required to serve customers both in this country as in any other EEA country. Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir pointed out four years ago how easy it is to order wine from abroad without the involvement of ÁTVR. She said that it’s strange that foreign vintners can sell alcohol here without paying taxes, but if an Icelander wanted to do the same, he would have to send the alcoholic beverage first abroad and have it shipped to customers in Iceland in order to comply with current laws.

Andrés Magnússon, Director of the Federation of Trade and Services, says the bill is a logical response from the government to a changing environment. “Online stores are increasingly popular here and everywhere else. There is no viable argument that an online store selling alcoholic beverages should not be allowed to compete and thrive as with any other product. We truly hope that this is the first step in easing the current alcohol retailing arrangements,” says Andrés.

Benefits of Retrieving the Manuscripts Unclear

Njáls saga manuscripts.

It is unclear how beneficial it will be for Iceland to recover more of the Icelandic manuscripts that have been kept in Denmark since the 18th century, RÚV reports. Moving them could jeopardize important scientific work in the field of Ancient and Nordic studies, according to Dr Viðar Pálsson, associate professor of History at the University of Iceland.

The Ministers of Education of Iceland and Denmark decided yesterday to establish a consulting committee on items of common cultural values between the two Nordic countries. Lilja Alfreðsdóttir and Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen discussed Lilja’s proposal to review how the manuscripts are being shared. Lilja has repeatedly expressed interest in Iceland recovering some more of the manuscripts preserved in Denmark, where there remain about seven hundred Icelandic manuscripts.

“In the past centuries, people defined what manuscripts were considered Icelandic. Many of the manuscripts would fall into a grey area, but virtually all manuscripts that we can say are mainly Icelandic have been brought back. But there are also some manuscripts that we could describe as rather Icelandic than anything else that we may nevertheless want to recover at some point. Of course, there are manuscripts in the Danish archives containing prized Icelandic sagas, but then there were manuscripts containing more prosaic legal material, royal narrative material and so on that originate in Iceland but are not necessarily Icelandic in content,” says Dr Viðar.

Unknown consequences

According to Viðar there are general ideological and cultural arguments for calling for the recovery to Iceland of all and any manuscripts that could possibly be considered Icelandic. “First of all, there’s the new University building for Icelandic studies, which means there’s improved conditions to preserve the fragile manuscripts. Secondly, budget cuts in Copenhagen have resulted in the cancellation of teaching positions in Icelandic and the humanities in general at Danish universities, a worrying trend. Third, it has been pointed out that these developments reflect a dwindling emphasis on Nordic scholarship in Denmark. Whether these are temporary circumstances or not remains to be seen. These arguments are keeping this issue alive, but it is uncertain how bringing these manuscripts to Iceland promotes international studies of old Icelandic and old Norse scholarship, for example in Denmark. Could retrieving the manuscripts hasten the development that’s already started and that we’re trying to avoid?” Says Viðar.

The Manuscript issue is sensitive by nature

In the eighteenth century, Icelandic-born archivist Árni Magnússon donated his massive collection of Icelandic manuscripts to the University of Denmark, which was considered to be a safe choice given the rudimentary nature of scholarship and conservation of artefacts and manuscripts in particular in Iceland at the time. Negotiations between Iceland and Denmark in the 1960s resulted with the Danes handing over some of the manuscripts to Iceland, the first ones delivered at a solemn ceremony in 1971. Dr Viðar emphasized that the manuscript issue is sensitive by nature. There are, it must be realized, some possible disadvantages in getting the manuscripts to Iceland.

“From a purely academic point of view, if the manuscripts go home to Iceland, I do not know in what way, if any, it would strengthen scholarship there. They are already very accessible to scholars. They are well looked after, and the University of Copenhagen is a world-class research centre in these studies. Also, in Copenhagen, there has been a long-term scientific work in the field of Ancient Icelandic and Old Norse studies. This is a very powerful and valuable job and it is a question of whether we are jeopardizing it all by raising this issue,” Dr Viðar says.

“The manuscript issue was always inherently very sensitive. In fact, a very successful outcome was reached in that matter at the time that was amenable to all involved parties. Then, however, there is a question of whether in the long-term manuscript studies in Copenhagen is losing its heft. I don’t think we need to panic or rush to conclusions. We can only keep track of how matters develop.”

“RÚV’s Funding Must Be Secured if Services Are Not to Be Reduced”

RÚV headquarters.

If the national broadcasting service RÚV is to be taken off the advertising market, its funding must be secured through other means, according to RÚV’s General Director. “I am in favour of finding ways to improve the environment of the national media, as we all want a thriving private media alongside the ballast which is a powerful state media,” Magnús Geir Þórðarson General Director of RÚV told Vísir. The results of a survey earlier this week showed that the majority of the public wants to see less state advertising activity or that RÚV, the state broadcasting company, should perhaps disappear entirely from the advertising market, breaking a decades-old tradition and a major source of income to the state broadcaster. Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Education, has plans to do just this but announced that the income loss would be completely made up for to ensure that RÚV’s services are not reduced.

“RÚV as an entity has no opinion on how it should be funded, as this is a political question,” says Magnús Geir. “On the other hand, the surveys confirm that the public makes extensive use of RÚV services and does not want to see these services impaired.”

Magnús Geir points out that surveys confirm that Icelanders are quite satisfied with RÚV’s service and people’s attitude regarding the state broadcaster is more positive now than it has for many years. He wants the media market as a whole to be examined in light of major changes in the external environment of national media with the advent of foreign content providers, such as the BBC and CNN. “In order to be able to provide this comprehensive service to the population, especially as the means of communication has become increasingly complex, it is important that total revenues are not cut and that the independence of the public service is ensured.”

The Minister of Education and Culture has announced that RÚV will indeed disappear from the advertising market, but also announced that the expected revenue loss would be made up for and that RÚV’s services will not be reduced. Magnús Geir and the Minister have discussed these issues regularly. “We have agreed on the fundamentals that form the basis of powerful national media. Likewise, we agree on the emphasis changes that have occurred on RÚV in recent years with increased emphasis on national content, cultural material and services for children through KrakkaRÚV [Kids’ RÚV], ”he says. “It’s nice to be able to say that national content has increased by 23% in the RÚV program at the same time as American content has decreased by 45% over the last five years. The debate on RÚV financing arrangements will undoubtedly continue, but the main premise must be that RÚV can continue to play an important role in Icelandic society.”

He believes that funding must come from other means if advertising revenue is reduced and if RÚV services are not to be reduced. “In my opinion, it has rarely been important, but now Icelanders have a wide range of quality Icelandic material available in the Icelandic language, as a plethora of foreign entertainment material in foreign languages is available through foreign content providers and social media,” says Magnús Geir.

“We as a nation have a strong desire to see that new generations will be brought up with stories and other content in the Icelandic language, from Iceland itself.” To that end, RÚV has increased a significant proportion of national content in the program, strengthened national cultural coverage as well as more programs for children than ever before. “At the same time, those watching and listening to RÚV services has increased a lot and is now the highest its been in years. The supply of Icelandic-made material is likewise more than we have seen for decades. All this is important now that foreign entertainment is so close. In order for us to continue to perform this important service, the total revenue of the RÚV must not be reduced. “

Environment, Equality, and Reasoned Debate on Prime Minister’s Agenda

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir delivered her policy speech in Parliament on Wednesday, in which she covered topics ranging from the climate crisis and populism to living standards and the promotion of non-discrimination. Discussions on the Prime Minister’s policy then continued late into the evening.

Mankind is responsible for the situation

The Prime Minister said the climate threat was our biggest challenge and that mankind is largely responsible for the current deteriorating environmental situation. The task before us is of reducing the rate of climate change; minimising the damage and securing the future of the entire biota on this planet.

Prime Minister Katrín stated that she would be proud to lead a government that provides the first funded action plan to combat climate change; economic incentives will be used to achieve climate goals. Then the climate goals will be the main goal of a new government food policy that will be presented this winter.

 “I welcome the increased awareness among the public of the importance of combining all our efforts. But we cannot expect the public to take on the formidable challenge without support from the public sector. The government, the state and municipalities, employers and workers’ organisations must combine their energies. A concerted effort is a prerequisite for real success. “

Outrage instead of a matter-of-fact discussion

The Prime Minister mentioned that MPs had been absurdly accused of treason in discussions on the proposed energy deal and some even called murderers for supporting the law to keep abortion legal.

“The rage, unfortunately, gets a lot of attention in the news and sadly sometimes at the expense of reasoned debate. In many parts of Europe popular movements are growing, undermining human rights and unfairly blaming immigrants. Fairness gives way to excitement and extremes. Then the way will become even easier for those inexperienced to come to power and encourage public contempt for politics, parties, democracy and parliament.”

However, the Prime Minister maintained firm faith in the parliamentary debate. She also views democratic political movements as one of the basic principles of a democracy that protects human rights, the rights of those who are otherwise disenfranchised and of democratic institutions as well. She noted that it was a positive sign how much opportunity there was for political participation in Iceland.

“But we need to be vigilant in adapting to the evolving nature of politics and, not least, against attempts to gain power and influence through anonymous misleading propaganda if we are to continue to ensure transparency that is the basis of democracy.”

Need for constitutional change

The recent uproarious debate on energy resource management shows how much the need “is for Parliament to make amendments to the Constitution, not least with provisions on national ownership of resources and environmental considerations for resource utilization,” she said.

“It must be a priority to ensure that all the quality that nature has given us is commonly owned – whether it is the water, geothermal power, the wind, the sea or whatever.”

She said work on such constitutional provisions should be completed later this year. Furthermore, proposals for a clearer legal framework regarding transactions for land utilization and ownership, including the status of national and water rights, would be a priority.

The need to increase social stability

Agreements had successfully been reached on the general labour market this spring. The Prime Minister said the government’s actions in drawing up wage agreements have been aimed at increasing social stability.

The proposed three-level tax system sought to avoid burdening the lowest income groups. Maternity leave and increase child benefit would remain unchanged. Housing policy should also be made to help the neediest. In addition, the government is increasing public investment to meet the slack in the economy. “The government will live up to the expectations of the least endowed,” the Prime Minister said.

Face up to the fourth industrial revolution

Proposals for measures to address the fourth industrial revolution and its impact on the Icelandic labour market will be submitted this winter, she said. New jobs will be created, some will change, others will disappear. Then you need to increase investment in innovation and increase people’s opportunities to apply for new education and move into new jobs.

The challenge is to increase value creation in all sectors while at the same time ensuring that the benefits of technological change are fairly distributed.

Actions on human rights are pending

Prime Minister Katrín said that further measures aimed at improving policy on human rights are now pending. A gender equality action plan will be presented in this parliamentary session. The Judiciary Committee is also working on proposals for comprehensive improvements in cases of survivors of sexual offences. An international conference on the MeToo movement will be held in Iceland next week.

Iceland, the best in the world

“Iceland is the best in the world in a number of issues, but we can get even better, and that we should all agree on. Our 75-year-old Republic continues to develop and grow in every way. That is why I am proud to belong to this vibrant community as we deal with various issues, standing together as one nation. Disagreement is nothing to fear but presents a common challenge to all of us who share the desire to live here in this country. Our fundamental duty is with our community and it is the community that makes us one nation. ”  The Prime Minister concluded.

Five Belatedly Admitted to Medical School after Test Result Miscalculation Discovery

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

Five applicants were belatedly admitted to the University of Iceland’s undergraduate medical program after an error in the admission examination test result calculations was discovered.

According to initial results, they were far from being accepted. More than 400 applicants were registered for the notoriously difficult medical school entrance exam in early June. At the beginning of July, the examination results were available and 55 were offered admission, but Árni Daniel Árnason and Þórður Björgvin Þórðarson were not admitted. Árni Daniel came in 150th place and Þórður Björgvin managed 130th place.

“I felt maybe I had actually done better so I just asked for a breakdown of the results, that way I would know what I could do better if I would try again later,” says Árni Daniel told RÚV.

Þórður Björgvin Þórðarson also requested a breakdown of the test results. “When I saw this number, I knew that some mistake must have been made, either by me or by the medical school examiners.”

In mid-August the individual test results were available and they both asked to see the exam results. Those applicants whose results were closest to passing were offered a first look. But then Þórður Björgvin was called.

“At first I thought it was just an office manager calling to let me know that I would finally be able to check exam results.”

“I sat there in a philosophy class at the University of Iceland’s law school, where I had been studying for three weeks, when I got this call,” says Árni Daniel.

It was Engilbert Sigurðsson, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, who invited them to begin their studies in the Faculty of Medicine. According to Engilbert, a student had discovered a calculation error when he was going over his examination results. The Faculty of Medicine contacted the mathematicians who calculated the tests and asked them to review the calculations who discovered that five more had actually qualified for admission. The Faculty of Medicine subsequently decided to increase the student body to 60. Engilbert emphasised that no one who was already admitted to the Faculty of Medicine was there on false grounds. According to the correct results, Árni Daniel came in 23rd place and Þórður Björgvin in 28th place. On Friday when Þórður Björgvin went to his job where he works part-time in addition to his math studies, everyone was happy for him.

“There was a bouquet of flowers and a card with my name on it, and a surprise party. It was absolutely priceless. I’m completely surrounded by good people all around me.”

“For three weeks I got to try the Law studies which I have long wanted to do, and that gave me a little bit of an introduction to law but I also got to chase the dream and go into medicine,” says Árni Daníel, who has just begun looking at Medical school textbooks for the first time at 12:30 in the morning.

National Broadcasting Service to be Removed from Advertising Market

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is one of the people nominated for Person of the Year.

Minister of Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir announced ambitious plans to remove RÚV, the state-run Icelandic Broadcasting Company, from the advertising market. Although no such plans have been formally announced by the government, the Minister of Education wants to open discussion on the proposal. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is open to the idea but wants to see increased funding for the RÚV. An Independent Party MP stated that before deciding on state funding, RÚV’s role and obligations must be clearly defined.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir agrees that it is a realistic possibility to take RÚV out of the advertising market. “That is the arrangement in several of our neighbouring countries but that arrangement has a long history. What I would like to suggest is to examine what effect the change in policy would have on the Icelandic advertising market; that is, whether the more than two billion (US$16 million) that the RÚV receives in advertising revenue would end up going to other national media outlets or whether the money ends up, for example, abroad,” says the Prime Minister.

She wants the RÚV to be compensated financially for the amount it will lose if it leaves the advertising market. “I would like to make up for the budget shortfall by raising the radio fee,” which is paid by all Icelanders. “I don’t think the funding for public media should be part of the government’s budget. “

Independence Party MP Óli Björn Kárason says that there are two separate issues; on the one hand what should be the level of funding to the state media and, on the other, whether the state should be in an unfair competition with private companies. “One point is to reach a decision as to whether or not to continue funding RÚV. If we are going to do so, let’s do it in a way that has the least negative impact on Iceland’s private media. RÚV’s dependence on advertising revenues destroys and distorts Iceland’s independent media. It is therefore right and natural for RÚV to disappear from the advertising market, not only for that reason,”

“With the so-called revenue loss that may come once RÚV ceases to sell advertising, it’s simply another matter. This has nothing to do with whether or not state-owned enterprises should be allowed to compete unfairly with private companies, in this case the advertising market. The question of funding to RÚV is quite different and relates to the obligations and role RÚV should fulfill, which would reasonably be answered in due course before we start thinking about whether to make up for a loss of revenue, in quotation marks, from advertising sales. I believe it should start with this question. Once that’s decided one can debate whether RÚV needs to secure increased income or whether it will make less money than it currently has,” Óli Björn explains.

Education Minister Lilja says it is unclear when she will announce her plans for RÚV to the Government. “At some point, I will. I am now considering the matter and am looking at how best to realize this idea. I think debate on the issue is important and that the process is best done incrementally.”