Year in Review highlights the most significant news stories of 2018 in Iceland. Part 1 covers January through March.
The #metoo movement, which took shape in 2017, continued to make headlines in January as more groups in Iceland stepped forward with stories of gender-based violence and discrimination. Icelandic female athletes and priests released statements and shared accounts of harassment in their professions, as well as women of foreign origin residing in Iceland. The severity of foreign women’s accounts, which ranged from stories of workplace discrimination to domestic violence and rape, shocked Icelanders and confirmed the group’s vulnerability within Icelandic society. Icelandic political parties hosted a meeting that month to discuss an action plan in response to the revelations of #metoo within politics.
Icelandic researchers reconstructed the genome of Hans Jónatan, considered to be the first man of African descent to have settled in Iceland. Readers were captivated by Hans Jónatan’s story, which began in St. Croix Island in the Caribbean, where he was born into slavery in 1784, and led to the small town of Djúpivogur, East Iceland, where he settled a free man. Hans eventually married a local and his descendants in Iceland now number over 700. Kári Stefánsson, deCODE genetics CEO, said Hans appears to have been welcomed by the locals. “This reaction from Icelanders in the early 19th century, who were isolated and not at all worldly, shows that racial prejudice is not innate,” he remarked.
The Icelandic government approved the formation of a cross-political committee to examine the establishment of a national park in the central highlands. The central highlands of Iceland are one of the largest land areas in Europe without permanent inhabitants. Conservationists have been calling for protecting the area for years in order to safeguard it from environmental damage. The committee is expected to define the boundaries of the national park, as well as divide the area into territories and identifying opportunities for regional development and industry that could be provided by the park’s formation.
Icelanders were shocked and dismayed to learn an Icelandic airline, Air Atlanta, had transported hundreds of thousands of weapons from central Europe to Saudi Arabia with a license granted by Icelandic authorities. The weapons most likely ended up in Syria and Yemen, where human rights violations are rampant. Despite holding a license, the company’s activities went against Icelandic laws and international agreements to which the country is a party. The company suspended all transport of weapons when the story broke while the Icelandic government decided to review the licensing process in response.
Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson died unexpectedly on February 9 at the age of 48. Jóhann received two Oscar nominations for his film music, as well as winning a Golden Globe for Best Original Score for The Theory of Everything. Along with scores for films such as Arrival and Sicario, Jóhann leaves behind him several solo albums, and music made with the bands HAM and Apparat Organ Quartet. His collaborators and fans from around the world remembered his life and legacy on social media and through touching tributes.
With a population of around 70, Grimsey island off Iceland’s north coast seems like just the place to get a good night’s rest. Not so last February, when its residents were kept awake by a seismic swarm featuring thousands of earthquakes, the largest of which measured 5.2 in magnitude. Locals, however, seemed more annoyed than worried. One resident, Jóhannes Henningsson, complained it was “hard to sleep from the damn bother. People are constantly being shaken awake.” Activity calmed down abruptly the following month, giving the islanders the chance to get some shut-eye again.
More info on Grímsey quakes: North Iceland Earthquakes May Be Connected
News of a proposed circumcision ban in Iceland made headlines around the world. MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir was behind the bill, which proposed a legal ban on the practice to the Icelandic Parliament on January 30. Female circumcision, known as genital mutilation, has been banned since 2005. It is considered assault and is punishable by a 6-year prison sentence. The proposed bill suggests that the law should cover young males as well. It is still being discussed by Parliament.
Activist and anarchist Haukur Hilmarsson’s death was confirmed after Haukur had been missing for some time. Haukur fought with the People’s Protection Unit militia in Syria, who confirmed his death in a Facebook post. Haukur is believed to have been killed during a Turkish air raid on Afrin on February 24. Haukur’s family has criticized the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their handling of the matter. The whereabouts of Haukur’s remains is not known at this point.
Lea Marie Galgana broke the national ice bathing record at the third annual ice bathing championship in Grindavík. Lea sat in a bath at a temperature of 0°C [32°F] for an astounding 42 minutes and 20 seconds. The competition aims to draw attention to the health benefits of cold bathing.