Activists Climb Masts of Hvalur Vessels

hvalur whale demonstration reykjavík

Early this morning, two activists climbed into the masts of Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9 to oppose the lifting of the whaling ban. As of the time of writing, they continue to occupy the masts.

One activist named Eliza occupies Hvalur 8. Vísir states that she is associated with Sea Shepherd and its founder, Paul Watson, but is here independently. The other activist, one Anahita Babaei, occupies Hvalur 9 and has previously participated in demonstrations here in Iceland against whaling with the filmmaker Micah Garen.

A special unit of police and the fire department were quick to the scene. An aerial work platform was quickly deployed and authorities spoke with Anahita, who refused to come down. According to Micah Garen in an interview with Vísir, authorities confiscated Anahita’s supplies that she had taken with her, including food and water.

Given the recent lifting of the whaling ban in Iceland, the two Havlur ships were scheduled to begin their hunting season soon. Many activists have opposed the government’s decision to allow the whale hunt again. Prominent voices have included international media figures and True North, an Icelandic film production company.

In a post on social media, Anahita provided the following statement:

“My name is Anahita Babaei and I am part of the growing group of people here in Iceland that is against whaling. We are doing what we can to stop these ships from leaving the harbor and kill up to 209 fin whales. Right now I am in the mast of Hvalur 9 where I will be staying for as long as I can to stop the ships from going out to sea. The reason why I am doing this is not to cause trouble for anyone directly apart from the owners of Hvalur hf. I understand though that my actions will affect other groups of people indirectly, and to them I would like to apologize in advance. The actions of the owners of Hvalur hf affect many people and so action against them will also do the same. If a law is unjust, one is not only right to disobey it, one is obliged to do so. #stopwhaling now.”

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Women, Life, Freedom: Candlelight March in Solidarity with Activists in Iran and Afghanistan

UN Women in Iceland hosted a candlelight march against gender-based violence on Friday night. RÚV reports that this is the first time the march has been held since the COVID-19 pandemic began and took place under the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom,” echoing the rallying cry that has taken up by feminist activists and protestors in Iran and beyond.

The march began at Arnarhóll and ended at Bríetartorg, a small square in downtown Reykjavík that commemorates activist and suffragette Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir (1856 – 1940). Harpa concert hall was illuminated in orange during the event, as orange has come to symbolize a better, violence-free future for women and girls around the world.

First Lady Eliza Reid and Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir

According to a Facebook post about the event, the candlelight march marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, “an international campaign that commences on 25 November—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women—and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day.” This year, the 16 Days of Activism campaign continues with its ongoing mission to end femicide, “the murder of women  because they are women.” Event organizers say that 81,000 women and girls were killed globally in 2020, around 47,000 or 58% of whom died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member. This equates to a woman or girl being killed every 11 minutes in their home.

“By taking part in UN Women Iceland’s Candlelight March,” concluded UN Women in Iceland, “we show solidarity with the brave women and girls of Afghanistan and Iran who are leading the fight against their countries’ regimes’ repressive treatment of women and girls, while being met with brutal and often lethal force.”

‘There’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to’

Zarah Mesbah speaks at the 2022 Candlelight March

Friday’s march was led by activist Zahra Mesbah, an Afghan woman who was born in Iran, Iranian Zoreh Aria, and UN Women in Iceland director Stella Samúelsdóttir. Individuals from both Afghanistan and Iran were invited to walk in front. In her speech, Zahra emphasized unity, saying: “The only thing that matters is that I am a person, and all people deserve freedom and to live with dignity.”

For her part, Zoreh urged attendees to show their support for the Iranian women who are risking their lives every time they protest. “In their minds, there’s only one way forward and there’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to,” she said. “They are fighting for freedom and dignity. We ask people to stand with peace, freedom, and the Iranian nation and to ask the government to take action.”

All photos taken by Heiðrún Fivelstad on behalf of UN Women in Iceland.

13th Annual Nature Conservation Award Goes to Ómar Ragnarsson

ómar ragnarsson nature conservation iceland

This past Friday, September 16, Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson awarded the 13th annual Nature Conservation Award to Ómar Ragnarsson.

A pioneer for green energy

Ómar, an entertainer and activist, is well-known throughout Iceland for his work in raising environmental awareness. His work in advocating for nature conservation in Iceland is actually the grounds for the prize being award on September 16, his birthday.

Among Ómar’s many other climate actions, he organized a protest walk against the controversial Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric dam and also rode an e-bike from Reykjavík to Akureyri at the age of 75 to advocate for the energy change.

See also: Ómar’s coverage of the Holuhraun eruption

The minister highlighted Ómar’s ability draw attention to environmental issues in an engaging way.

“Icelandic nature would be so much poorer if it weren’t for passionate people who are ready to give everything for it,” Guðlaugur stated at the ceremony. “I, like many Icelanders, am lucky enough to have had Ómar as a window into things that are so incredibly important but few care about. Individuals matter and Ómar Ragnarsson is a clear example of that. It will never be possible to measure what he has done, in his unique way, for Icelandic nature. My generation and many others got to know the nature of Iceland because of the interest and energy of Ómar Ragnarsson. For that I am grateful.”

 

Kamila and Marco are Reykjavík Residents of the Year

Two young activists whose “freedge” in downtown Reykjavík has strengthened the community and reduced food waste have been named Reykjavík residents on the year. Kamila Walijewska and Marco Pizzolato, two friends who set up a public fridge in the city centre last summer, are the recipients of the annual honour this year. The fridge is regularly replenished and emptied by members of the community.

“We think it’s great to see the project take on a life of its own. People spread the word, bring food donations, and sometimes we hear about people that have met and gotten to know each other through the fridge. We see a lot of possibility of connecting people and at the same time increasing awareness of food waste and our planet at the same time.”

One “freedge” becomes three

Kamila is originally from Poland while Marco is from Switzerland. They both moved to Iceland around two years ago. Their freedge was inaugurated on June 29 last year as part of the international movement freedge.org. Located at Bergþórugata 20 outside radical social centre Andrými, the original fridge has inspired two other freedges in the capital area, one in the Breiðholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík and another in the municipality of Kópavogur. All three fridges are well used.

This is the twelfth time that the City of Reykjavík has selected a resident of the year. As per tradition, the winners were invited to inaugurate the salmon fishing season in Elliðará river in east Reykjavík, and both Marco and Kamila caught their first salmon on the occasion.

Members of Pussy Riot Currently in Iceland

Russian political activist and member of performance art group Pussy Riot Maria Alyokhina is currently in Iceland. Alyokhina fled Russia after the country’s authorities announced that her house arrest would be converted to a 21-day sentence in a penal colony. Alyokhina told the New York Times she hopes to return to Russia.

Alyokhina is currently in Iceland along with other members of Pussy Riot, who are rehearsing for an upcoming European tour. Alyokhina herself first fled her home country for Belorussia, where her first two attempts to cross the border into Lithuania were unsuccessful. The Times reports that Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson played a part in securing a travel document from a European country for Alyokhina, which helped her successfully board a bus for Lithuania.

Sveinn H. Guðmarsson, communications officer at Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to RÚV that the band members are in Iceland as refugees, but declined to provide further information. The band plans to perform in Iceland this fall.

Titanic LEGO Master Builds Icelandair Replica, His ‘Coolest Model Yet’

Friends Brynjar Karl Birgisson and Mikael Þór Arnarsson are building a 2m [6 ft] LEGO replica of an Icelandair Boeing MAX 9, a project that they’ve been working on since summer 2021. RÚV reports that the pair is completing the model over the weekend at the Smáralind shopping mall and will place the final brick on Sunday.

This is not the first time Brynjar Karl, who has autism, has made headlines for a monumental LEGO project. In 2018, he completed an 8 m [26 ft] LEGO replica of the Titanic, using actual blueprints of the ill-fated ocean liner. It took Brynjar Karl, then 15, over 700 hours and 65,000 LEGOs to build. The replica is the largest LEGO model of the Titanic in the world and currently on display in the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, TN. At the time Brynjar Karl credited the project with helping him “out of my autistic fog,” saying, “I was totally unable to communicate when I started the project. Now I’m standing on stage and giving interviews.” Ever since, he’s used his Titanic-building experience and LEGO construction endeavors as a means of building awareness around autism; he gave a TED Talk in 2016 called “My Autistic X Factor,” and a documentary, “How the Titanic Became My Lifeboat,” was made about his experience.

See Also: Icelandic Teen’s Giant Lego Titanic On Display in US

While still very proud of his Titanic project, Brynjar Karl is even more excited about the Icelandair model. The pair have put a great deal of effort into making the model as precise and accurate as possible.

The cross-section of the Icelandair replica, via Brynjar Karl, Facebook

 

“From my perspective, even though I made the Titanic, this here is the coolest [model] I’ve made because of how it looks and also because I’m working with as brilliant a builder as my friend Mikael,” he said.

A side view of the Icelandair model in progress, via Brynjar Karl, Facebook

Brynjar Karl and Mikael will complete the model at Smáralind mall on Sunday. Check Brynjar Karl’s Facebook page for livestream videos and updates; or his website (in English) for more information about his autism advocacy work.

46 Years Since First Women’s Day Off in Iceland

2018 Women's Day off Protest kvennafrídagurinn

Yesterday marked 46 years since Iceland’s first “Women’s Day Off,” when women left their workplaces and took to the streets to protest the gender pay gap. Around 25,000 women attended that first protest in Lækjartorg square, which sparked similar movements around the world. Women’s average salary in Iceland is still just 77.2% of men’s average salary, according to the newest figures from Statistics Iceland.

The first Women’s Day Off was held in 1975, and five more protests have been organised in Iceland since then: in 1985, 2005, 2010, 2016, and 2018. No public protest was held this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the Women’s History Archives held a feminist history walk yesterday in downtown Reykjavík.

Despite legislation intended to ensure equal pay, Iceland’s gender pay gap persists. As of last year, women still filled less than 25% of CEO and chair positions in Icelandic businesses and the proportion of women on boards for companies with more than 50 employees was just under 35% in 2019.

Authorities Remove Graffiti Supporting New Constitution

A message painted on a wall in downtown Reykjavík last weekend asking “Where is the new constitution?” was removed only two days later, reportedly by government authorities. The removal may have had the opposite effect of that intended – as there has been an uptick in signatures on a petition urging Iceland’s government to adopt the crowdsourced constitution Icelanders voted on in 2012. The movement in support of this constitution appears to have been gaining steam lately.

Between 2010 and 2012, Iceland “crowdsourced” a new constitution which was handed over to Parliament. A national referendum followed, where a majority voted for the document to be used as a foundation for constitutional reform. Yet it was never adopted. Eight years later, a movement in support of that constitution is growing.

Sign painting company Reykjavík Sign Painters revamped a graffiti-covered wall on Skúlagata street in downtown Reykjavík last weekend by covering it with huge lettering reading: “Where is the new constitution?” The wall was on public property and the painters reportedly asked for permission before initiating the project. Just two days later, cleaners appeared in an unmarked van and pressure-washed the wall to remove the message.

Read More: Where is Iceland’s Updated Constitution?

Twitter users expressed outrage at the incident. “What is happening!!!!!! A wall that has been covered in graffiti for many years and is not privately owned is cleaned two days after “Where is the new constitution?” is written on it. Who ordered this and why?” asked Steiney Skúladóttir.

Stundin reports the removal was ordered by Umbra, a management company in the ownership of government ministry offices. The removal of the work appears to have caused a surge in support for the new constitution. A petition demanding Iceland’s government adopt the document has gone from 28,500 signatures to over 31,500 since the message was removed.

Supporters of the 2012 constitution insist it is a much-needed overhaul that better reflects the will of the people on key issues like human rights and use of natural resources. Its critics have claimed its lofty language may cause legal conundrums or its ideals are impossible to achieve. Iceland’s Parliament is currently working on its own revisions of the constitution in a cross-party committee with little direct involvement from the public.

Vigil to Commemorate Nuclear Bombing Victims Will Be Virtual This Year

The annual candle floating ceremony to commemorate the victims of the US nuclear bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will not take place in person at Tjörnin pond in downtown Reykjavík this year, Vísir reports. In deference to the more stringent social distancing measures now in place to quell a recent jump in community transmitted infections, organizers will record a smaller, more sparsely attended event and stream it online.

The victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings have been memorialized during the annual candle floating vigil every year since 1985.

This year’s online vigil will be streamed on August 6, although the event itself will take place at 11pm on the evening before, to mark the time that the nuclear bomb exploded in Hiroshima 75 years ago.

We All Protest!

At the heart of downtown Reykjavík lies the small, sheltered Austurvöllur square, criss-crossed by walking paths and lined with lilac trees. In the middle of the square, facing the unassuming two-storey structure that houses Iceland’s parliament, is a statue of Jón Sigurðsson, leader of Iceland’s 19th century campaign for independence from Denmark. At a national meeting called by the Danish government in 1851, Jón led Icelandic representatives in opposing a new constitution which would limit Icelanders’ rights. “We all protest!” they famously called out. “Vér mótmælum allir!”

The statue of this celebrated Icelandic protester has since fittingly looked down upon many other activists who have occupied Austurvöllur, which has since become the gathering place for locals who want to speak out on any issue. While many are familiar with Iceland’s mass protests following the 2008 banking collapse, the country’s history of protest in the modern era is much longer and more complex, spurred by issues ranging from women’s liberation and nuclear disarmament to, most recently, action on climate change and asylum seekers’ rights.

Yet by many measures, Icelanders are among the happiest people on earth, and Iceland one of the best places to live. So, what is it that drives locals of a wealthy, peaceful country to protest in the streets? And have these protests, miniscule on a global scale, spurred any tangible changes?

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