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Land Rising Again Near Volcano Þorbjörn, But No Volcanic Unrest

Grindavík - Þorbjörn
Land rise has begun again in the near surroundings of volcano Þorbjörn near Grindavík. As of yet, there are no imminent signs of volcanic unrest. This follows an earthquake that rattled the Reykjanes peninsula on March 12.
Meteorologists have kept a keen eye on the area following initial land rise early in the year, which had slowed down in February. The land rise now is happening at a slower pace than the original land rise in January, but it is rising in the same area as the initial rise. The science council of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management will meet to discuss the matter next week.

Eruption not imminent

Results from crust measurements have been clarified in the last couple of days. It’s now clear that expansions that cause land rise has begun anew in the area surrounding Þorbjörn. This is confirmed both by GPS measurements in the area as well as satellite data. Scientists from the Icelandic Met Office, The Institute of Earth Sciences of the University Iceland as well from the Iceland GeoSurvey, met this morning to analyse the newest measurements and data.

“The land rise this time around seems to be quite slow, considerably slower than in January. 20mm is really quite a small land rise and it is difficult to analyse such small changes with the technology at hand. In such cases, we need to collect data for several days to confirm that land rise has taken, or is taking place,” said Benedikt Gunnar Ófeigsson, a meteorologist at the Icelandic Met Office.

“Even though we’re seeing signs of land rise beginning again, it does not mean that the course of events surrounding Þorbjörn is catching speed, nor that an eruption will begin soon. It’s a known quantity for magma to gather for a long time, months, even years before it comes to an eruption,” said Kristín Jónsdóttir, a project manager at the natural disaster shift at the Icelandic Met Office. “Events, like we’re witnessing in the Reykjanes peninsula, can take quite a long time and differentiate, as volcanic activity dies down for a short time without it being fully over.”

Reykjavík City and Efling Union Reach Agreement in Wage Disputes

Reykjavík pond

Efling union and Reykjavík City reached an agreement for a collective bargaining agreement last night, following a three-week-long strike of Efling workers. The strike had a disruptive effect on kindergartens in the capital area. Full-time employees in the lowest wage bracket will see a wage raise of ISK 112,000 per month ($875, €770).

Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson states that the agreement is in accordance with what the city had previously offered Efling workers. “The way I see it, this a breakthrough agreement,” Dagur commented. The two sides agreed on a ISK 15,000 ($117, €103) special allowance for the lowest wage brackets, with a lower amount for those in higher wage brackets.

Along with the wage raise, an agreement for the shortening of the workweek was also reached. The workweek of shift-work employees will be shortened from 40 hours to 36, while those who work at all hours of the day will see a shortening of the workweek to 32 hours. Employees working at office hours in the daytime will also be able to shorten their workweek to 36 hours, from the aforementioned 40.

Furthermore, kindergarten staff is ensured to receive 10 overtime hours per month in the form of a special allowance. Kindergarten staff will also have added leeway to sit courses and seek education. Educating kindergarten staff members will be given extra emphasis as part of salaries so that staff can save for paid education leave.

COVID-19 effect

The two sides celebrated the conclusion of the negotiation using sign language, refraining from shaking hands due to updated work procedures connected to the COVID-19 virus. Dagur also commented that the virus had undeniably put further pressure on the two negotiating committees. “We have daily meetings with the city’s emergency management team to prepare society for the outbreak of COVID-19, and the work needed to be done there is an unpleasant fit with the reality of strikes and wage disputes,” Dagur stated.

Reykjavík city officials have reached an agreement with six thousand Efling workers in the last two days, or close to 65% of those employed by Reykjavík city.

Next steps

Following the strike of Efling workers in Reykjavík, 300 Efling union members went on strike yesterday in adjoining capital area municipalities Kópavogur, Mosfellsbær, Seltjarnarnes, Ölfus, and Hveragerði. Efling president Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir expects a swift resolution to the wage dispute in those municipalities.

Hand-Knitted Icelandic Sweater Receives Protected Status

lopapeysa Icelandic sweater

The term ‘Icelandic sweater’ (Icelandic: íslensk lopapeysa) is now a legally protected product name, having received a Designation of Origin status today from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority. The Icelandic hand-knitted wool sweater is a traditional Icelandic garment. By receiving a Designation of Origin, the sweater becomes the second product name to receive such legal protection in Icelandic, following in the wake of Icelandic lamb meat.

The Handknitting Association of Iceland (Icelandic: Handprónasamband Íslands) formally applied for the designation of origin with The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority. The application stated that the sweaters are an original design unique to Iceland, which has origins in Icelandic knitting- and pattern traditions from the middle of the 20th century. The craftsmanship in the sweaters when it comes to making them, as well as the patterns, are derived from Icelandic cultural traditions.

Conditions to be met for the designation of ‘Icelandic sweater’

Certain conditions have to be met for sweaters to officially receive the designation of origin connected to the term ‘Icelandic wool sweater’, including that the wool in the sweater comes from Icelandic sheep, as well as having to be handwoven from virgin wool. The main conditions follow:

  1. The wool used to make handcrafted Icelandic sweaters shall be cut from Icelandic sheep.
  2. Only virgin wool shall be used as material for the sweater (wool that has not been recycled).
  3. The sweater shall be knitted from unspun wool, such as unspun plötulopi wool, thinner léttlopi wool, Álafosslopi wool, etc..
  4. The sweater shall have a circular knitted yoke with pattern shapes and/or pattern benches from the shoulder area to the neck.
  5. The sweater shall be handknitted in Iceland.
  6. The sweater shall be knitted in a circle without stitches.
  7. The sweater shall have an open front or be whole.

Designation of origin

In December 2014, the Icelandic parliament enacted the Product Names Protection Act, which allows for the protection of product names on the basis of origin, territory, or traditional uniqueness. Such laws, often manifested as Designation of Origin, are widespread in Europe, where they are often applied to artisanal products such as French cheese and Spanish ham. The first product name to receive such protection in Iceland was “Icelandic lamb,” which was protected last year.

The proposal suggests that increased demand for Icelandic sweaters has led to the widespread production of the traditional design with its decorative collar. “Increased foreign production of ‘lopapeysa’ sweaters made of foreign wool or synthetics also makes it urgent that buyers have the possibility to differentiate between ‘Icelandic sweaters’ and imitations,” states the proposal.

Dirty Little Secrets

Reykjavík sewage Veitur

I’d wager you’ll sit down at a toilet today. Who knows what you’re doing in there, but if you’re in Reykjavík – you’ll flush the remains. But have you ever wondered what happens after the flush? Where all of it goes? The short answer: out to sea. For the longest time, that was the long answer, as well, as sewage went untreated into the ocean.

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In Focus: Proposed Highland National Park

Landmannalaugar

The Icelandic highland is one of the largest uninhabited, uncultivated areas in Europe. Almost all of Iceland’s population lives near the coastline, owing both to the barrenness and the coldness of the highland, and to Iceland’s fishing-based economy. The government is now planning to designate the entirety of the Icelandic highland as a national park, which would make it one of the largest national parks in the world, covering 30% of the country. But not everyone is on board with the idea.

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Off the Hook

Stöðvarfjörður East Iceland

Stöðvarfjörður, East Iceland is home to 181 people. In 2011, its old fish-processing plant, once the beating heart of the town, had fallen into disuse and was set to be demolished. That’s when a team of creatives with big ideas stepped in, acquiring the building at an auction for the give-away price of ISK 101,000 ($805/€731).
It’s the largest building in town. But it wasn’t even windproof. No electricity, no heating. Heaps of industrial waste were strewn all over its 2,800 sq m (30,100 sq ft) surface area, after years of labour and tonnes of fish. An immense task lay ahead of the team. Nowadays, there’s little fish to be found in the Fish Factory, but instead it has breathed a different kind of life into Stöðvarfjörður.

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Coronavirus Contingency Plan Activated

Keflavík Airport

Icelandic authorities have activated a contingency plan for infectious diseases due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. The Chief Epidemiologist for the Directorate of Health along with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management are already working according to the plan, following on-hand contingency plans. A plan for disease prevention at international airports has also been activated specifically for Keflavík International Airport. The Icelandic Tourist Board will assist with ensuring that information about the virus reaches travellers around the country. 

Airport control

The operations at Keflavík airport are focused on detecting diseased individuals as well as those possibly infected. Passengers arriving in Iceland via Keflavík airport will be asked to report whether they have signs of respiratory disease. Passengers who have been in Wuhan, China in the past fourteen days, or have been in contact with individuals who have contracted the disease or are suspected of it are also asked to report. If arriving passengers fulfill any of these three requirements, a medical will take place at the airport. The results from the medical will determine the next course of action, but the quarantine of individuals is a possibility. 

The operations aim to find the diseased or possibly infected, to stop the spread of the disease in Iceland as soon as possible. Past experiences show it to be too costly and ineffective to measure every passenger using a thermometer, as well as placing a questionnaire. 

Health institutions activated

All health institutions in Iceland have been alerted about the new virus. They have been encouraged to update their contingency plans and look into other ways to prepare, such as creating quarantine facilities. Instructions for the public have been issued by the Directorate of Health on their website. The instructions specifically cover how individuals should act if suspicion of infection arises.

Coronavirus

The coronavirus is believed to have originated in a food market in Wuhan, China. The infection has now been confirmed in about 600 people, but the number of infected persons is probably significantly higher. Human to human transmission has been confirmed but does not yet appear to be common. No individual has yet been diagnosed in Europe, but the virus has been detected in a person in the United States that travelled from Wuhan city. There have been unconfirmed reports of infection in Scotland and Finland.

The current contingency plan that has been activated in Iceland is largely based on the 2002 outbreak of SARS

Further information on the Directorate of Health website (in English). Updates on the situation will be posted there, along with further instructions.

A Króna for Your Thoughts

Central Bank of Iceland governor Ásgeir Jónsson

To some, he is the face of the financial bubble as the chief economist of Kaupþing, ahead of the 2008 financial crash. To others, he is the perfect man to shape the Icelandic economy, with his expertise in monetary policy. The new man at the helm of the Central Bank of Iceland is Governor Ásgeir Jónsson.

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Year in Review 2019: Most Entertaining

sheep on the road Iceland

Now that we’ve covered some of the heavy hitter news articles this year, it’s time for a different tune. There’s always some news which are just too weird, too random, or even mind-boggling, for us to not mention them in the Year in Review. Last year we witnessed NATO troops drinking Reykjavík dry as 7,000 thirsty troops descended upon the capital. “They were hardworking, the dear boys,” a brewery employee remarked when asked about the military invasion. This year, there’s a lot to look at. Without further ado, here’s the year’s most entertaining news.

Oldest McDonald’s Burger in the World?

In 2009, Hjörtur Smárason purchased the last McDonald’s burger sold in Iceland before the fast-food restaurant ceased operations in the country for good. One decade later, the burger, and its accompanying fries, still look as good as new. The order is currently being displayed at a guesthouse in South Iceland, which provides a live stream of the peculiar exhibit. “I had heard something about McDonald’s never decaying, so I just wanted to find out for myself whether this was true or not,” Hjörtur explained. Hjörtur gifted the burger to the National Museum of Iceland, who sought advice from a Danish specialist on how to preserve the item. The specialist deemed the task impossible – though Hjörtur pointed out it seemed to be doing just fine. “I think he was wrong because this hamburger preserves itself.” Hjörtur eventually reached out to friends who run Snotra House in Þykkvibær, South Iceland, and the burger and fries are now on display in the lounge of the guesthouse. Ten years since their purchase, neither seems to show any signs of decay. McDonald’s opened its doors in Iceland in 1993. In October 2009, the chain announced that it would be closing

Bright start

The year started out with two mini controversies that prove Icelanders have an opinion on everything. The mayor of Westfjords town Bolungarvík complained to Google Maps as satellite images of the town always show it covered in a blanket of snow. Apparently, it isn’t always like that! He got his wish in the end – just have a look for yourself. Bolungarvík hit the news again later as they intend to use piglets for weed control. You do you, Bolungarvík.

In other news – palm trees in Reykjavík? January saw an uproar for planned outdoor palm trees in a glass case which were due to be placed outside Reykjavík apartment complex. Maybe it isn’t the correct climate, as that same month a very rare occurrence happened on a capital-area golf course – picture-perfect snow rolls. Later that month, nude paintings on the walls of the Central Bank of Iceland were taken down due to employee complaints.

Cloning a dog and McAfee

August came and went, with scientists discovering an unidentified creature on Iceland’s ocean floor and the bra fence in Brekkukot continued to grow. Oh, and Parliament passed a bill which finally allowed Icelanders to play bingo on Sundays.

Things took a weird turn as former president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson cloned his dog Sámur and named it Samson. Diligent Iceland Review readers will have known that although there’s a naming committee for humans, you can name animals whatever you want. Unless it’s a horse, of course. Then you must go through the Horse Naming Committee.

John McAfee, founder of McAfee Antivirus, was discovered to have been in hiding in Dalvík, North Iceland. The owner of the restaurant which he supposedly lived above didn’t spot him at least. Maybe McAfee knew that Icelanders don’t exactly love talking to strangers.

Iceland vs. Iceland

Iceland – the country – finally won a years-long legal battle against the supermarket chain of the same name, who had secured an EU-wide trademark for the word “Iceland” in 2014. Icelandic authorities sued to have the trademark invalidated on the basis of being far too broad and creating a monopoly that prevented Icelandic companies from registering their products with reference to their country of origin.

This year, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) closed the case, ruling in favour of the country, and invalidating the supermarket’s trademark entirely, noting that “It has been adequately shown that consumers in EU countries know that Iceland is a country in Europe and also that the country has historical and economic ties to EU countries, in addition to geographic proximity.”

Sports can be entertaining – right?

In June, a dishwashing brush and an airport wait strained the diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Iceland. A Belgian man stuck a dishwashing brush in star players’ Emre Belozoglu’s face like a microphone while he was being interviewed by reporters. This happened following an unusually long wait at the airport. The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note to Iceland denouncing what it is calling “disrespectful” and “violent” behaviour against the country’s men’s national football team. Iceland won 2-0, but Turkey has not lost a single match since then.

This July, the Icelandic Cricket Association (an association that, yes, does exist, and is doing quite well) went viral in India as it offered Indian cricket star Ambadi Rayudu to play in Iceland. The offer was not accepted. In November, a Moldovan female choir amazed Icelanders with their beautiful rendition of Iceland’s national anthem before a EURO 2020 qualifier in Moldova.

December delights

December saw contestants in the Great British Bake Off attempt to make Icelandic Christmas delight laufabrauð. Earlier that month, Hollywood felt threatened by a single star in the small town of Hafnarfjörður, as musician Björgvin Halldórsson had his star removed. The beginning of the month saw the Christmas Cat arrived in downtown Reykjavík. The Christmas Cat is a favourite Icelandic Christmas tradition – it will eat children who do not get clothes as Christmas present. Fun? Maybe not. Entertaining? Very much so.

Headline highlights

Iceland Review writers did their part to provide entertainment with some exquisite headlines. Dunkin Donuts’ arrival in Iceland was a failure, having arrived in 2015 and left in 2019. But we did get this headline: ‘Iceland Did Not Go Nuts for Dunkin Donuts’.

Another one to mention is an unfortunate event in Kenya when an airplane once owned by an Icelandic airline went off the runway. But we got the headline ‘Old Icelandic Fokker Skids Off Runway’.

Hope you enjoyed the most entertaining news of the year as much as we did! Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Year in Review 2019: Politics

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir meets with US Vice President Mike Pence.

The political scene in Iceland in 2019 was chaotic like it most often is. Even though the political scene isn’t large by any means, with 63 MPs in the Icelandic Parliament and 23 seats in the Reykjavík City Council, the close quarters lead to intense fighting. Often, the only saving grace for Icelandic politicians is the fact that Icelanders move on to the ‘next scandal’ extremely quickly. Yesterday’s news becomes yesterday’s news in a matter of days. That’s why we have a recap such as this one. From Eurovision scandals and Mike Pence’s controversial visit to nefarious Namibian dealings, and everything between. Step into the tumultuous political scene in Iceland with us.

Fallout from Klaustur

The year started with the fallout from the Klaustur Scandal, where six MPs made sexist, ableist, and homophobic remarks about their colleagues at the Klaustur bar in downtown Reykjavík. Even though the scandal took place in 2018, the case rattled Icelanders so that ripples were felt through the new year. The court case of whistle-blower Bára Halldórsdóttir came to an end as Miðflokkur (The Central Party) MPs had charged her for invasion of privacy. Bára was made to delete the recordings. Meanwhile, The Central Party became the second-largest party in Iceland, polling at 14.8% of voters in October.

Third Energy Package

The Third Energy Package sounds like something you would guzzle down while running a marathon, but it’s anything but. The matter split opinions at the beginning of the year as politicians and the public alike debated it hotly. The Third Energy Package was approved by the EU in 2009, and was to be adopted by EU and EEA member states. Ten years later, Iceland was the only country not to have approved the package. Many believed Iceland would give up a part of its sovereignty, and force Iceland to build up a power link to the EU. Eventually, the package was approved in September by a Parliamentary vote of 46 to 13.

Strikes, strikes, strikes

The gap between the lowest and highest earners of society has led to wage disputes and strikes. The spring of 2019 saw tourism industry workers strike for higher wages, with hotel staff striking and bus drivers following in their wake. Later in 2019, journalists striked to demand fair wages. That debate is currently still ongoing, but newspaper Morgunblaðið saw it fit to have part-time staff members violate the strike as well as laying off fifteen journalists.

On a happier, yet still, somewhat grim, note – the youth in Iceland took part in the global youth climate strike movement led by Greta Thunberg. Minister of Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson met with protesters.

Flags and dishwashing brushes

Anti-capitalist, BDSM wearing, industrial techno band Hatari represented Iceland at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Israel and managed to stir the pot. Band members held up banners bearing the Palestinian flag during the revelation of the votes, much to the displeasure of Israeli officials. Eventually, national broadcaster RÚV received a fine and the flag-scene was removed from the official Eurovision DV.

In June, a dishwashing brush and an airport wait strained the diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Iceland. A Belgian man stuck a dishwashing brush in star players’ Emre Belozoglu’s face like a microphone while he was being interviewed by reporters. This happened following an unusually long wait at the airport. The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note to Iceland denouncing what it is calling “disrespectful” and “violent” behaviour against the country’s men’s national football team. Iceland won 2-0, but Turkey has not lost a single match since then.

Bills, bills, bills.

Bills, bills, bills is not only a Destiny’s Child song but also what the Parliament started to approved in droves in the spring- and summertime. A new plan was approved to build up tourism infrastructure, while a plan to ban single-use plastics was approved, a widely supported move.

In May, the Government passed an abortion bill which legalises the termination of a pregnancy within the first 22 weeks regardless of circumstances. Abortion was previously legal within the same timeframe, however, a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy after the 16th week required approval by a committee. That decision is now solely in the hands of the pregnant person.

This June, the Directorate of Health proposed a sugar tax on soft drinks and sweets to work towards long term goals in public health. The Icelandic Dentist’s Association has yet to release a statement on the matter. Later that summer, calls for stricter regulations on foreign land ownership started to rear their head. It’s an oft and long-discussed subject which appears to be stuck in political purgatory. But what should be done, and who’s land is it anyway?

USA – Iceland and Mike Pence

This summer, the Iceland – USA relationship was a hot talking point. US military presence is returning to Iceland, as the US Air Force and US Navy will construct facilities at Keflavík airport. The Air Force had facilities there from 1946 to 2006 and is going to spend ISK 7 billion ($56.2 million/€49.5 million) on military infrastructure. Meanwhile, Iceland increased its defence budget by 37%, due to “…increasing temporary presence of NATO forces at Keflavík Airport due to worsening security conditions in Europe, including in the North Atlantic.”

Vice President’s Mike Pence’s official visit to Iceland in August hit the news. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir originally intended to miss the meeting due to commitments at the convention of Nordic trade unions. Eventually, Pence extended his stay to speak to Katrín about Arctic issues as well as defence matters. His visit was controversial and proved to somewhat unpopular with road closures, high cost and last but not least it was protested by numerous organizations due to his pro-war and anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.

Deportations debated

The public has called for the government to make major improvements to the handling of asylum seekers in Iceland. In August, authorities’ handling of two Afghan families seeking asylum in Iceland were heavily criticized. Later, in November, the Directorate of Immigration deported an asylum seeker who was just shy of 36 weeks pregnant. Both cases were met with outrage, as they were considered inhumane.

Move the clock – or not?

Few issues have garnered as much attention – and feedback – as the contentious suggestion to move the Icelandic clock back one hour to better align with solar time. Should Iceland move the clock?

Fishrot Files

Last but not least are the Fishrot Files. Icelandic fishing company Samherji is accused of tax evasion and bribery in Namibia to ensure access to fishing quotas in the country. Samherji is one of Iceland’s biggest companies and the fallout has been according to that. The government issued additional funding to investigate Samherji’s wrongdoings, and Icelandic tax authorities have opened an investigation into the case. Namibian ministers have resigned, as well as the CEO of Samherji. The case is still being resolved.