“Vulgar, Galvanised Monstrosity” Vexes Breiðholt Residents

Stairs

The residents of Breiðholt are unhappy with a steel staircase that has been erected between the upper and lower area of the neighbourhood. A project manager with the City of Reykjavík maintains that the staircase was among the most popular projects voted for by the residents as part of Reykjavík’s consultation project in 2021.

A lack of consultation

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Steinunn Ásmundsdóttir, a resident of the Breiðholt neighbourhood in Reykjavík, complained of a lack of consultation with regard to the construction of a large steel staircase, erected on a forest path between the upper and lower area of the neighbourhood.

“This is an egregious form of visual pollution,” Steinunn observed, referring to the staircase as a “vulgar, galvanised monstrosity,” which was visible from her balcony at home. Steinunn added that she agreed with a friend, who had remarked that the staircase was reminiscent of something from an American prison. While conceding that she understood that the stairs had been designed to prevent the accumulation of snow, Steinunn – an old ranger and a nature conservationist – was convinced that the design should take its cue from the environment.

“We are always trying to make our environment humane and friendly. And this staircase is a bit grim, in that regard,” Steinunn remarked.

As noted by Vísir, Steinunn was not the only one displeased with the staircase. Another resident, who referred to the staircase as “a big blemish on the forest,” also contacted the outlet to complain that the city had failed to inform residents of the project. Other residents debated the staircase on a neighbourhood Facebook group.

Among the most popular projects

In an interview with Vísir today, Eiríkur Búi Halldórsson, Project Manager for the city of Reykjavík – who is in charge of the consultation project Hverfið mitt (i.e. My Neighbourhood) – stated that the staircase was “among the most popular projects” voted for implementation by Reykjavík residents via a consultation portal in 2021. The staircase was designed to be used all year round, Eiríkur observed, maintaining that it would blend better into the environment over time.

Eiríkur added that it was rare for a consultation project to turn out to be so controversial: “This was one of the most popular project ideas in the neighbourhood. Residents usually only vote on smaller projects but occasionally there are proposals for larger, more expensive projects that are also put to a vote. The staircase falls into the latter category. We put a lot of effort into promoting votes and introducing the subsequent projects chosen for implementation. These projects are then presented to the residential councils of respective neighbourhoods.”

Eiríkur explained that the staircase had been discussed in Breiðholt’s residential council and that a resting area with benches would be installed below the stairs, where running routes around Breiðholt and the Elliðarárdalur valley would be marked. The stairs were designed with the twofold goal of promoting neighbourhood fitness and improving access – which had been severely lacking – to the forest path: “Someone suggested that we construct the staircase out of wood, but I’m not sure such a thing would last beyond the summer. We wanted to ensure that the stairs would last and be usable by residents all year round,” Eiríkur observed.

Eiríkur further noted that the building material had been chosen with a view of minimising the impact on the soil. Furthermore, the construction of the stairs was still ongoing, with the project expected to be completed at the beginning of June. “Over time, the vegetation will grow and then the stairs will blend even better into the forest. I think this will turn out well and be a successful project of which we can be proud.”

Substitute MP Quits Left-Greens After Immigration Bill Passes

Iceland's Althing

After the Minister of Justice’s immigration bill was approved Wednesday, substitute MP and former executive director of the Left-Green Movement, Daníel E. Arnarsson resigned from the party. He does not intend to take a seat in parliament again even if he were to be called in.

Controversial immigration bill passes

Yesterday, Daníel E. Arnarsson, the executive director of the National Queer Association of Iceland and substitute MP, took to Facebook to announce his resignation from the Left-Green Movement. The decision was made in light of his party’s support for Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson’s immigration bill, which was approved by a parliamentary majority on Wednesday.

With the exception of Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, who were both absent, all members of the Left-Green Party voted in favor of the bill; numerous amendments were proposed, but none were accepted.

“Last night, the Minister of Justice’s immigration bill was approved, a bill that many human rights and aid organisations have fought against, as it restricts the rights of one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in our society: people seeking international protection. It is not without reason that the bill met with such strong opposition,” Daníel wrote.

No politics without responsibility

In his statement, Daníel reflected on his campaign for the primary election of the Left-Green Movement in 2021, during which he advocated for a more compassionate stance on immigration. “One of my key campaign pledges was to prioritize a more humane approach to immigration, and I was fortunate enough to garner the support of many like-minded individuals who shared this conviction,” he shared. “For this unwavering support, I will be forever grateful.”

He added that he had resigned from the party only a few minutes after the bill was passed: “There is no politics without responsibility, and I find myself grappling with this responsibility at present. Despite my efforts to impede its progression, the passage of this bill was ultimately unavoidable. As such, I must take ownership of a certain level of accountability. As soon as the Left-Green Party members voted in favor of the bill, I made the decision to step down from the movement. My resignation was, however, not entirely motivated by this sense of disillusionment.”

Heavy steps

As noted in his post, Daníel devoted seventeen years to the Left-Green Movement, which he views not simply as a political organization but as a family – the people who raised him: “This is why my actions weigh heavily upon me. I hold a deep affection for the members of the Left-Greens, but I am unable to align myself with a movement that condones the curtailment of fundamental rights for one of society’s most vulnerable groups.”

Finally, Daníel stated that even though he was a democratically-elected substitute MP for the party, he did not intend to take a seat in parliament if called in again; instead, he would refer to the next person on the party’s list in his constituency.

As noted by Vísir, Daníel took third place on the list of the Left Greens in the southern district of the Reykjavík constituency for the 2021 elections. Two of those on the Left Green’s list – Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir and Orri Páli Jóhannsson – were awarded seats in Parliament.

Another Left-Green member resigns

Yesterday, it was also reported that Elva Hrönn Hjartardóttir, a former member of the board of the Left-Green Movement, and vice chair in Reykjavík, had resigned from the party. She stated that she refused to be identified with a movement that “accepted the human-rights violations entailed in the newly-approved immigration bill”

This article was updated at 08:48 AM

Minister to Meet with CEO Vigdís Häsler in Wake of Racist Remark

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson

Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson will meet with CEO of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association Vigdís Häsler today to discuss a racist remark made by the Minister at the association’s annual conference last week. Vigdís hopes the meeting will allow her to “set the matter aside,” RÚV reports.

Words spoken in a “fit of frustration”

As reported by Iceland Review earlier this week, Minister of Infrastructure and Chairman of the Progressive Party Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson attended the annual conference of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association last week. 

After a night of “much singing, joy, and entertainment,” a few employees of the Farmers’ Association approached the Minister, asking him to partake in a photo-op. The photo-op involved lifting CEO Vigdís Häsler onto a makeshift plank. Finding the act inappropriate, the Minister refused to participate and uttered a racist remark about the CEO. (Vigdís is Icelandic but was originally adopted from Indonesia.)

Vigdís published a Facebook post on the incident on Monday, saying that she had “never imagined she would have to write such a statement: I’ve never let the colour of my skin, my race, sex, or anything else define me.” Vigdís wrote that the Minister had uttered an “extremely hurtful remark,” without getting into the details.

Shortly after Vigdís’ post, Sigurður Ingi published a written apology on Facebook. In an interview with RÚV on Tuesday, the Minister again apologised for his remark, adding that it had been spoken in a “fit of frustration.” According to Sigurður, he had tried to reach out to Vigdís on the morning after the annual conference and through the Association’s Chair on the following weekend. While pressed several times to clarify what exactly he had said, the Minister refused to repeat his remark.

Hopes to “set the matter aside”

As reported by RÚV last night, Sigurður Ingi will meet with Vigdís Häsler today. Vigdís hopes that she will be able to “set the matter aside” after the meeting, although closure will depend entirely on Sigurður Ingi. 

In a brief interview, Vigdís stated that she had received “numerous messages over the past few days,” from the parents of adopted children, among others, in which it became clear to her that “all types of racism are widely tolerated.” She did not comment further on the meeting. 

Harsh criticism from the opposition, the public

The Minister has received harsh criticism from the public, many of whom have called on him to resign. Opposition MPs have also criticised Sigurður Ingi. In a session in Parliament, Pirate Party MP Halldóra Mogensen stated that the Minister’s remark could be considered “a breach of law.”

In response to the opposition, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that Sigurður Ingi’s apology indicated that the remark had been unacceptable and should not have been uttered. “I don’t dispute the words of the CEO of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association in this matter, but we must also be able to accept it when people apologise,” Katrín stated.

Icelandic CrossFitters Criticize CEO’s Reponse to Protests

Following CrossFit’s controversial response to protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, Icelandic CrossFitters have taken to social media to criticize company leadership. The Icelandic gym CrossFit Reykjavík has also threatened to drop their affiliation with CrossFit unless “drastic changes are made.”

From 13 to 13,000

CrossFit is a branded fitness regimen and competitive sport founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000. Since its founding, CrossFit has enjoyed increasing popularity around the world. In 2005, the company was affiliated with 13 gyms. Today, it is estimated that CrossFit is practised by members of over 13,000 gyms worldwide. There are several CrossFit affiliated gyms in Iceland.

“Floyd-19”

Following protests centring around the death of American citizen George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman came under fire for a series of controversial tweets.

On June 6, after the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (a public health body) stated that racism was a public health issue on Twitter, Glassman responded by tweeting: “FLOYD-19.”

Three days earlier, Alyssa Royse – the owner of Rocket CrossFit, a nine-year affiliate gym – announced her intention of changing Rocket CrossFit’s name to Rocket Community Fitness and disaffiliating from CrossFit when it was time to renew. Among the reasons for her decision, was CrossFit’s failure to take a stand.

“The George Floyd murder threw our country into massive unrest. CrossFit is the only major brand I can think of that has failed to take a stand, make a statement, show support for social justice in general and Black lives in specific,” Royse wrote.

Glassman’s reply, later shared by Royse, stated that he sincerely believed that the quarantine had “adversely impacted” her mental health. The email went on to call Royse “delusional” and a “shitty person.”

On June 7, Reebok announced that it would not be extending its contract as the sponsor for the CrossFit Games.

That same day, sports scientist and performance director Mike Young published an article on Medium alleging that Glassman had repeatedly stated, “I do not mourn George Floyd,” to a Minneapolis CrossFit gym owner on a group video conference call.

Glassman later issued an apology on Twitter:

“I, CrossFit HQ, and the CrossFit community will not stand for racism. I made a mistake by the words I chose yesterday. My heart is deeply saddened by the pain it has caused. It was a mistake, not racist but a mistake. Floyd is a hero in the black community and not just a victim. I should have been sensitive to that and wasn’t. I apologize for that.”

Icelandic CrossFit athletes respond

In response to the scandal, Iceland CrossFit athletes have taken to social media and a few CrossFit gyms in Iceland, including CrossFit Reykjavík, are considering dropping their affiliation.

Writing on Instagram yesterday, Annie Mist Þórisdóttir – winner of the CrossFit Games in 2011 and 2012 – criticized the company’s response to the protests: “I have ALWAYS been true to myself on social media – and I will continue to be. CrossFit is the community NOT just the brand. CrossFit much more than just ONE individual. CrossFit is ALL of US. CrossFit is universally scaleable, CrossFit has room for everyone regardless of colour, gender, or sexual orientation.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBJoxorHHkY/

In a similar message on Instagram on the same day, Katrín Tanja Davíðsdóttir – who followed in her compatriot’s footsteps by placing first in the CrossFit Games in 2015 and 2016 – said that she was “ashamed, disappointed, and angry.” Referencing Glassman’s “Floyd-19” comment and his reply to Alyssa Royse, Katrín Tanja stated: “This is something that I DO NOT STAND FOR. This is not leadership. This is not good human nature.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBJGwcVJjUJ/

Ragnheiður Sara Sigmundsdóttir – who placed third in the CrossFit Games in 2015 and 2016 – also took to Instagram last night, stating that equality has always been central to her morality: “Fortunately, our community is MUCH stronger than the words of one man. His words do not represent us, and you can be sure that I will stand up for what is right with our community.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBLRVAFppJu/

Hatari Flew the Palestinian Flag at Eurovison

Icelandic Eurovision act Hatari held up banners bearing the Palestinian flag during the revelation of the votes at the 2019 Eurovision Grand Final. When the camera showed Hatari in the Green Room, Hatari members furled out the banners, releasing a clear statement. Much of the post-Eurovision discussion has revolved around Hatari’s act. Hatari’s song “Hatrið mun sigra” (Hate will prevail) is intended to portray what would happen in a hate-filled Europe without unity.

The contest was held in Tel Aviv, Israel, after Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest with her song ‘Toy’. Hatari finished 10th in the competition, having received 186 points from the public, and 46 from jury votes, resulting in 234 total points.
Hatari had previously stated that they intend to use the Eurovision platform to engage in a critical discussion, and had stated “Well we, of course, hope to see an end to the occupation as soon as possible and that peace will come. We are hopeful,” on their arrival in Israel. Pop artist Madonna also performed at the Eurovision Grand Final. Her performance was politically charged, as a white-clad dancer bearing the Palestinian flag performed with a black-clad dancer wearing the Israeli flag. The words ‘WAKE UP’ were also part of the performance. Performance organizers have stated that they were unaware of Madonna’s intentions and that the imagery had not been part of rehearsals ahead of the event.

Hatari comments
Matthísa Tryggi Haraldsson, one of Hatari’s two singers, had this to say: “This was all according to plan. We’ve always felt it is important to use art as a tool to raise questions, to push the state of things into a different context and to get people to ask themselves big questions. This was one way to achieve that. If people were looking for some kind of explosion from us, I believe that our show by itself was the explosion, but of course, we did this as well.” When asked about Hatari breaking the Eurovision rules, Matthías commented: “It wasn’t necessarily the plan to intentionally break the rules. There’s some undefined line there, and no-one knows where it lies. It’s a contradiction to say that this competition is un-political. We felt like we had no other choice. You cannot host such a competition, which is supposed to revolve around unity and peace among men, which is beautiful in itself, but when you compare it to what happens in this country [Israel], you cannot ignore it. Like we’ve stated, we want art to remind us of the bigger context. I hope we did that.” The atmosphere in the Green Room was mixed after Hatari’s act. “Israelis and other competitors either complimented us or cursed us. The reactions were unforeseeable.”

Palestinian reaction
Palestinian reaction to Hatari’s act has been mixed, ranging from ecstatic to denouncing the act. In the run-up to the Grand Final, calls for Hatari to boycott the competition had grown louder. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), denounced the act, stating “Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line #Hatari”

On the other end of the reaction spectrum, Palestinian marathon runner Mohammad Alqadi praised Hatari’s efforts.
https://twitter.com/ALQadiPAL/status/1129885235037048832

The European Broadcasting Union has released a statement on Hatari’s actions:
“In the live broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final, Hatari, the Icelandic act, briefly displayed small Palestinian banners whilst sat in the Green Room. The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and this directly contradicts the contest’s rules. The banners were quickly removed and the consequences of this action will be discussed by the Reference Group (the contest’s executive board) after the contest.”

It is not known what sanctions Hatari or Iceland might face for the band’s actions. It has been speculated that Icelandic national broadcaster RÚV, which organizes the Icelandic entry each year, might face a fine. It has also been mentioned that Iceland might be banned from Eurovision 2020, which will be held in the Netherlands.

The response of the delegation
The Icelandic delegation manager Felix Bergsson was caught by surprise by the act but has stated that the delegation waits for the decision of the European Broadcasting Union. Read more here. “I was undeniably surprised and had somehow not expected this. But it was unequivocally the decision of the artists. There will be some repercussions which I do not know exactly at this point in time. The European Broadcasting Union has already notified me that they will respond. We’ll just have to wait and see what the response will be. Everyone could have expected this, as these are opinionated folks who wanted to voice them. I hope it’s a storm in a teacup which will pass over tonight [last night] and tomorrow.

Icelandic Eurovision commentator Gísli Marteinn Baldursson stated that he wasn’t surprised by the band’s actions. “Realistically, I think that it wasn’t a tremendous surprise that Hatari did something like this. From my point of view, I had feared that they would do something even more drastic, which would have more severe repercussions than this act.”

Hatari’s performance in the Grand Final yesterday evening:

Eurovision staff confiscate flags
It has been released that not all Hatari members knew of the proposed stunt. A video was published on Hatari’s drum gimp, Einar Stefánsson, personal Instagram account, which depicts Israeli Eurovision staff confiscating the flags from Hatari members. One of the Hatari dancers can be heard in the background stating “I’m very afraid now. I want to go back to the hotel. I was not-,” before her voice trailed off.
https://www.instagram.com/p/Bxnxm0fg80r/

Hatari’s official Instagram page now depicts the Palestinian flag. https://www.instagram.com/hatari_official/

Madonna’s performance at the Grand Final
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2pqzm7VgYw

The flag incident during the vote revelation, along with Hatari interview
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PEpacwZUN0