When we arrive on the third floor, the press conference has already started. My shoes make horrible squeaking noises on the parquet and people turn around to look at me. I lean against the nearest wall as if it were an old friend, assuming an attitude that is at once outwardly cool and inwardly neurotic.
In front of me, seated at the table – along with his coach, a fellow teammate, and a representative of the Icelandic Handball Association, I’m guessing – is my subject. He is staring down at the table and fidgeting incessantly with his pen. Remaining silent for almost the entirety of the news conference, he interjects only once, when head coach Guðmundur Guðmundsson fields a question about the team’s video analysis of opponents.
“We watch more than enough videos,” my subject says, grinning. “There’s nothing that we … that we don’t get to see,” he concludes, in a statement that seems almost lecherous – accidentally full of sexual innuendo.
Hilmar Snorrason doesn’t care what you think.
Last December, he attended a Christmas buffet with his family, and as the dinner was set relatively close to home, he suggested they walk. Adorning himself in his most elegant suit, thrusting his toes into his polished dress shoes, Hilmar stepped into the foyer, where, in the eyes of his family, he proceeded to ruin an otherwise fashionable ensemble – with the addition of a bright-yellow safety vest.
“Fashion, to us Icelanders,” Hilmar muses, from inside his office on the ship Sæbjörg on the Reykjavík harbour, “is often synonymous with the colour black, but I’m not going to walk in the dark wearing dark clothes.”
It’s not an unreasonable statement to make – in a country where December affords four hours of daylight – especially not if one is the headmaster of the Maritime Safety and Survival Training Centre.
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.
About a year ago, Helgi Seljan, pictured above, had had enough of his job. After more than 15 years with the state-run broadcaster RÚV, he was one of the nation’s best-known reporters, but he had worn himself out and was about to take some sick leave. He toyed with the idea of going to sea. Though a fisherman’s work is physically taxing – with long hours and rough conditions – he still considered it more restful than working as a journalist.
But Helgi never got his vacation. Instead, he landed himself in another fishy situation: uncovering allegations of Icelandic seafood company Samherji bribing government officials in Namibia in order to obtain lucrative fishing rights. A former Samherji high-up who had himself participated in briberies told Helgi he was willing to be a whistleblower, and that he had files and emails to back up his story.
The Samherji scandal was big news. The kind of story every young journalist dreams of working on. According to Helgi, it’s the kind of news journalists could be reporting if they spent less time “shovelling their work into the perpetuum mobile that is the internet,” and more time sorting the wheat from the chaff. So why aren’t they?
One of the biggest news stories to break last year alleged that one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies, Samherji, had bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes. The story was reported collaboratively by Kveikur, Stundin Newspaper, and Al Jazeera Investigates, after months of investigations sparked by the confessions of whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson, a former project manager for Samherji in Namibia. The following report is based on their extensive research.
A few days after Greta Thunberg voyaged across the Atlantic on a carbon-neutral sailboat, I boarded a cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale headed for Mexico. Hurricane Dorian had just decimated the Bahamanian island of Abaco and the death toll was rising.
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.
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.
Sóley is imagining the end of the world, and it’s lifting her spirits.
“I heard some people talk about Iceland in a student kitchen in London one night. That is the first time that I can ever remember hearing about it, which is mind-blowing to me. How can I never have seen anything about this place before 2013? That’s so strange.”
I’m on my way to meet a national pageant winner, who after a thorough examination by a qualified judge was selected as the most beautiful in all the land. The pageant winner is perhaps not quite what you would expect, however.
Firstly, he’s male. Secondly, he’s three years old. Thirdly, he’s covered in a thick coat of luxurious fur.
His name is Einir, and he’s an Icelandic sheepdog.
Icelandic New Year’s Eve parties are notorious for their ill-advised combination of copious quantities of alcohol and ample access to explosives. Yet amidst the pollution and chaos of the night, every party has a distinct, hour-long lull. The reason is the TV comedy special Áramótaskaupið, which has satirised the top news stories of the year with skits and songs since its debut on radio in the 1940s.