Singer Ásdís Pops in Germany

Singer Ásdís María Viðarsdóttir

Ásdís María Viðarsdóttir, known professionally as Ásdís, has become a mainstay of the Germany pop charts and performed at the Brandenburg Gate to ring in the new year.

In a radio interview with Rás 2 this weekend, the singer discussed her career, with an upcoming supporting gig for pop star Zara Larsson in Reykjavík and two songwriting credits in Söngvakeppnin, the Icelandic Eurovision preliminaries. “It’s mostly been an incredibly good journey, but also an incredible amount of work,” she said.

Musical influence from her family

Ásdís has been performing publicly since she was young with her first big gig coming in the upper secondary school song competition, which she won in 2013. Growing up in the Breiðholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík, she credits her older siblings as musical influences. “I know I was a real brat, because as fun as I think it is to sing, it’s even more fun to talk,” she said.

Her father was her biggest supporter in music and after he passed away in 2016, she decided to take the leap and move to Berlin to study music. “It was his biggest dream that I become Elvis,” she said, adding that moving away from her mother to another country has been difficult.

Gold record hits

After seven years in Berlin, she’s made a career for herself as a songwriter and performer in Germany’s pop music industry, earning multiple gold records for her hits. Her recent songs include “Beat of Your Heart” with Grammy award-winning DJ and producer Purple Disco Machine, while her televised New Year’s Eve performance at Brandenburg Gate was an added honour.

She said that she felt that her career was on the right track these days and that she enjoys performing. “It’s been a through line in my life and I’ve come to understand now that I have to do it, especially in light of my upbringing,” she said. “If not for me, then for my parents.”

Central Bank Governor to Stay On

Ásgeir Jónsson, Governor of the Central Bank of Iceland

Ásgeir Jónsson, the Governor of the Central Bank of Iceland, will stay on until the year 2029, RÚV reports.

The Governor’s term was set to end August 20 this year. According to law, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir would have had to inform Ásgeir with a six months notice if the position were to be opened for other candidates. This did not take place and Ásgeir’s tenure was therefore automatically extended for five years.

Tumultuous term in office

Ásgeir was appointed in 2019 and has faced challenges during his term. The Covid-19 pandemic affected the economy greatly and the Central Bank’s response was to drive down interest rates to fuel economic activity. At their lowest, they were 0.75%, the lowest rate in Iceland’s history.

After the pandemic, inflation has been high and persistent. Since mid-2021, interest rates have steadily gone up and now stand at 9.25%.

Palestinian Refugees Arrive with Volunteer Help

Keflavík Airport

Eleven Palestinians arrived to Iceland yesterday, all of whom already had Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. They were assisted in crossing the border into Egypt by Icelandic volunteers in the area, Vísir reports.

More to be assisted

Among those who arrived is a father with three children, one of whom is a boy injured during the Gaza conflict. Three mothers with a child each are also in the group. One of the children is a chronically ill girl. “She’s been without medicine for a long time,” said Gunnhildur Sveinsdóttir, one of the volunteers arriving back from Cairo.

Gunnhildur said that the group of volunteers has been in touch with the Ministry of Social Affairs and that the International Organization for Migration had escorted the refugees after they crossed the border into Egypt. The volunteers in Cairo are still looking to help 17 more people cross the border and are hoping that this will come to pass in the next few days.

Hard, exhausting work

Gunnhildur added that the volunteers pay for their own expenses while on the mission. They have helped the refugees get accommodation and necessities when in Egypt, while supplying the local authorities with information about Icelandic visa holders. “It’s been a lot of work,” she said. “You arrive back pretty exhausted, but it’s absolutely worth it. The stay in Cairo was good and we were well received.”

Iceland to Increase Funding for Ukraine

bjarni benediktsson

In a meeting of the cabinet of ministers yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Bjarni Benediktsson introduced a motion of Iceland’s support for Ukraine from 2024 to 2028. Funding for Ukraine will be increased from last year and Iceland’s funding will be on par with what the other Nordic countries have pledged.

“Today marks two years since the beginning of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Bjarni said in a press release from his ministry. “This war of aggression is the most serious security threat facing Europe since the end of World War II. A long-term plan of support will mark a turning point demonstrating our serious commitment to support the struggle of the Ukrainian people for as long as necessary.”

Broad political support expected

Should the motion pass, a minimum amount of funding for Ukraine will be secured for the next few years, even if funding will be determined in the annual budget each year. The motion will be presented to all parties in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, and in the Foreign Affairs Committee in the coming days.

The press release goes on to say that support for Ukraine in Alþingi has remained strong across party lines. “Ukrainians have been fighting for our fundamental values for two years now,” Bjarni said. “Iceland’s sovereignty is based on compliance and respect for international law by all, thus it is no hyperbole to state that our long-term support for the security and independence of Ukraine is also a long-term support for the security and independence of Iceland.”

Unions Split on Wage Negotiations

vr union iceland, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson

The coalition of unions engaged in wage negotiations with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) suffered a setback yesterday when VR, one of the largest unions, pulled out of the talks. The other unions will go forward with their negotiations as they’ve reached an agreement on major points of contention, Morgunblaðið reports.

Negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement had been halted for two weeks after a disagreement on a clause in the proposed four-year deal to protect workers from downside risks if inflation and interest rate targets were not met. An agreement on salaries had already been made in principle.

Negotiations to proceed

Talks began again Wednesday and apart from VR, the unions accepted a compromise on the aforementioned clause. “We disagreed on whether the clause went far enough and we decided to step aside,” VR President Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson said. “I sincerely hope that they reach an acceptable deal for their constituents and that could be the foundation that we could build from and reach an agreement on what we need for our constituents.”

SA Director Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir said that it was a disappointment to not be able to reach an agreement with the coalition as a whole. She is still hopeful for a long-term agreement that would create the conditions to lower inflation and interest rates.

Whaling Company Seeks 10-Year License

Whaling ships

Iceland’s only whaling operation, Hvalur hf., has applied for a license to hunt fin whales. The company is seeking a five to ten year license from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Heimildin reports, arguing that this would create “normal predictability” for the company’s operations.

No company has had an active whaling license since the beginning of the year. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups. The Alþingi Ombudsman concluded in January that Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir did not act in accordance with the law when she temporarily stopped whaling last summer. Svandís announced in June that she would postpone the start of whaling season due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

Current law allows for whaling

Hvalur’s application was submitted at the end of January and the ministry is looking to process it as soon as possible. The company first received a whaling license in 1947 when a law on whaling was passed and has operated sporadically since. The law was passed “to secure the protection, development and maximum utilisation of the whale resource”, with consideration to the interests of “the consumers of whale products”.

In January, Svandís said that an independent party would be tasked with reviewing the legislation and administration of whaling. Hvalur hf., however, argues that the application must be processed according to current law and with speed, as preparations for the summer whaling season are underway. Svandís is now on medical leave, with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responsible for her duties in the meantime.

New National Opera to Launch Next Year

Icelandic Opera

A new National Opera will begin operations next year as a division of Þjóðleikhúsið, the National Theatre of Iceland. The opera will stage its shows in Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík, as well as Hof in Akureyri and other venues across the country, Mbl.is reports.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, minister of culture and business affairs, has introduced a draft bill on the new opera, which estimates operating costs of ISK 800 Million [$5.8 Million, €5.4 Million] per year. The opera will employ 12 solo singers and a choir of 16 part-time employees, as well as other staff. The opera will also be responsible for educational activities, collaboration with music companies, theatre companies, and choirs outside of the capital area, and other grassroots work. The opera should aim to stage at least one Icelandic work every year.

Opera in flux

A national opera has been in the pipeline for years as a part of the government coalition platform. A director of the opera will be appointed for a five year term, and will have artistic and operational independence to run the opera, despite ultimately answering to the artistic director of the National Theatre. Two more members will be added to the National Theatre’s board, both of whom should have experience with operatic works.

The state of opera in Iceland has been in flux in recent years. The Icelandic Opera, the leading opera company, lost its public funding last year after the union of opera singers criticised its administration. The union supported a national opera being founded in its stead.

Popular Town Festivals Coming to an End

Mýrarboltinn mud football

Town festivals in Iceland have long been popular summer attractions that receive visitors from all across the country and abroad. However, many notable ones have come to an end in recent years, Vísir reports. The “mud football” tournament Mýrarboltinn in Ísafjörður no longer takes place, the Great Fish Day in Dalvík is not celebrated anymore, Mærudagar in Húsavík has been scaled back, and the heavy metal festival Eistnaflug in Neskaupsstaður is in hibernation. Recently it was announced that LungA Art Festival in Seyðisfjörður will be hosting its final edition this summer.

Stressful for organisers

The festivals tend to focus on music, arts, food or other cultural activities, and most of them take place in the summer, with the music festival Aldrei fór ég suður in Ísafjörður kicking off the season around Eastertime.

According to Þórhildur Tinna Sigurðardóttir, an organiser at LungA, the reason for the festival coming to an end is limited funding and a heavy workload for the people involved. “There is a lot of volunteer work and struggle,” Þórhildur Tinna said. “The format is such that most of the work falls on one week in the summer. It takes its toll and isn’t emotionally sustainable. Not to mention the financial side.”

25th and last LungA

Þórhildur Tinna called for more public funding for town and arts festivals across the country and argued that the financing has gone down in real terms. “If this is to be sustainable for small festivals, town festivals, arts festivals and music festivals, these grant systems need to be revised,” she said, adding that it’s appropriate that the 25th edition of LungA this summer will be its last. “We’re ending the festival with the hopes of something new being created in its place by the younger generations.”

Police Reassess Grindavík Risks

Grindavík crevasse

The Reykjanes police commissioner will maintain the restrictions for access to Grindavík that have been in place for the last five weeks, despite the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s order to evacuate having expired yesterday. The situation is being reassessed, RÚV reports.

The January 14 volcanic eruption near Grindavík destroyed three houses, caused crevasses to form across town, and displaced the 3,800 inhabitants for the foreseeable future. The town had already been evacuated once before, on November 10 last year, due to seismic activity. The latest eruption on February 8 damaged a hot water pipeline, cutting off heating for Reykjanes homes.

Eruption risks remain

Access to Grindavík will be controlled by the Reykjanes police commissioner going forward. According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, there is still major risk of crevasses in Grindavík, while crustal uplift by nearby Svartsengi continues and likelihood of further eruptions remains.

“The conclusion of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s crevasse risk assessment is that stay and work activities in Grindavík are acceptable in light of the countermeasures in place,” the department announced in a notice. Dangerous areas of the town have been fenced off and access to them limited.

Popular Flea Market Seeks New Home

Kolaportið

Reykjavík authorities are looking for a new space to house long-time flea market Kolaportið. The popular weekend attraction has been located in the Tollhúsið building in downtown for 30 years, but will soon make way for the Iceland University of the Arts, according to a notice from Reykjavík authorities.

Kolaportið was first opened on April 8, 1989 in the parking garage under the Central Bank of Iceland on Arnarhóll hill in downtown Reykjavík. Its name, which roughly translates to The Coal Yard, is derived from that location and its history. Five years later, the market was moved to Tollhúsið on Tryggvagata, which previously served as the customs office for the downtown harbour.

Search for a new location

The City Executive Council decided Thursday to launch market research for a new location, with the goal of soliciting new ideas and information from interested parties. The city will advertise in the hopes that owners of fitting properties will be encouraged to reach out.

The design studio m / studio_ was tasked with analysing the requirements for a new flea market. The current location is 2,250 square feet, but 1,200 would be considered a small sized space. “We look at examples from abroad and put forward ideas of some Reykjavík locations that could be exciting to pursue and analyse them based on our requirements,” the analysis reads.

Importance of public markets

The analysis goes on to emphasise the importance of public markets for city life, as they are a meeting place for people with different social and cultural backgrounds. They will therefore need to represent the diversity of their society so everyone can have a reason to visit and feel welcome.

Other important factors are the experience of tourists, product diversity that can both be predictable and surprising, low-cost rent for stalls, organisation of various events, good location and an accessible space, which is suitable, memorable, attractive and has a good flow.