Year in Review 2019: Most Entertaining

sheep on the road Iceland

Now that we’ve covered some of the heavy hitter news articles this year, it’s time for a different tune. There’s always some news which are just too weird, too random, or even mind-boggling, for us to not mention them in the Year in Review. Last year we witnessed NATO troops drinking Reykjavík dry as 7,000 thirsty troops descended upon the capital. “They were hardworking, the dear boys,” a brewery employee remarked when asked about the military invasion. This year, there’s a lot to look at. Without further ado, here’s the year’s most entertaining news.

Oldest McDonald’s Burger in the World?

In 2009, Hjörtur Smárason purchased the last McDonald’s burger sold in Iceland before the fast-food restaurant ceased operations in the country for good. One decade later, the burger, and its accompanying fries, still look as good as new. The order is currently being displayed at a guesthouse in South Iceland, which provides a live stream of the peculiar exhibit. “I had heard something about McDonald’s never decaying, so I just wanted to find out for myself whether this was true or not,” Hjörtur explained. Hjörtur gifted the burger to the National Museum of Iceland, who sought advice from a Danish specialist on how to preserve the item. The specialist deemed the task impossible – though Hjörtur pointed out it seemed to be doing just fine. “I think he was wrong because this hamburger preserves itself.” Hjörtur eventually reached out to friends who run Snotra House in Þykkvibær, South Iceland, and the burger and fries are now on display in the lounge of the guesthouse. Ten years since their purchase, neither seems to show any signs of decay. McDonald’s opened its doors in Iceland in 1993. In October 2009, the chain announced that it would be closing

Bright start

The year started out with two mini controversies that prove Icelanders have an opinion on everything. The mayor of Westfjords town Bolungarvík complained to Google Maps as satellite images of the town always show it covered in a blanket of snow. Apparently, it isn’t always like that! He got his wish in the end – just have a look for yourself. Bolungarvík hit the news again later as they intend to use piglets for weed control. You do you, Bolungarvík.

In other news – palm trees in Reykjavík? January saw an uproar for planned outdoor palm trees in a glass case which were due to be placed outside Reykjavík apartment complex. Maybe it isn’t the correct climate, as that same month a very rare occurrence happened on a capital-area golf course – picture-perfect snow rolls. Later that month, nude paintings on the walls of the Central Bank of Iceland were taken down due to employee complaints.

Cloning a dog and McAfee

August came and went, with scientists discovering an unidentified creature on Iceland’s ocean floor and the bra fence in Brekkukot continued to grow. Oh, and Parliament passed a bill which finally allowed Icelanders to play bingo on Sundays.

Things took a weird turn as former president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson cloned his dog Sámur and named it Samson. Diligent Iceland Review readers will have known that although there’s a naming committee for humans, you can name animals whatever you want. Unless it’s a horse, of course. Then you must go through the Horse Naming Committee.

John McAfee, founder of McAfee Antivirus, was discovered to have been in hiding in Dalvík, North Iceland. The owner of the restaurant which he supposedly lived above didn’t spot him at least. Maybe McAfee knew that Icelanders don’t exactly love talking to strangers.

Iceland vs. Iceland

Iceland – the country – finally won a years-long legal battle against the supermarket chain of the same name, who had secured an EU-wide trademark for the word “Iceland” in 2014. Icelandic authorities sued to have the trademark invalidated on the basis of being far too broad and creating a monopoly that prevented Icelandic companies from registering their products with reference to their country of origin.

This year, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) closed the case, ruling in favour of the country, and invalidating the supermarket’s trademark entirely, noting that “It has been adequately shown that consumers in EU countries know that Iceland is a country in Europe and also that the country has historical and economic ties to EU countries, in addition to geographic proximity.”

Sports can be entertaining – right?

In June, a dishwashing brush and an airport wait strained the diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Iceland. A Belgian man stuck a dishwashing brush in star players’ Emre Belozoglu’s face like a microphone while he was being interviewed by reporters. This happened following an unusually long wait at the airport. The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note to Iceland denouncing what it is calling “disrespectful” and “violent” behaviour against the country’s men’s national football team. Iceland won 2-0, but Turkey has not lost a single match since then.

This July, the Icelandic Cricket Association (an association that, yes, does exist, and is doing quite well) went viral in India as it offered Indian cricket star Ambadi Rayudu to play in Iceland. The offer was not accepted. In November, a Moldovan female choir amazed Icelanders with their beautiful rendition of Iceland’s national anthem before a EURO 2020 qualifier in Moldova.

December delights

December saw contestants in the Great British Bake Off attempt to make Icelandic Christmas delight laufabrauð. Earlier that month, Hollywood felt threatened by a single star in the small town of Hafnarfjörður, as musician Björgvin Halldórsson had his star removed. The beginning of the month saw the Christmas Cat arrived in downtown Reykjavík. The Christmas Cat is a favourite Icelandic Christmas tradition – it will eat children who do not get clothes as Christmas present. Fun? Maybe not. Entertaining? Very much so.

Headline highlights

Iceland Review writers did their part to provide entertainment with some exquisite headlines. Dunkin Donuts’ arrival in Iceland was a failure, having arrived in 2015 and left in 2019. But we did get this headline: ‘Iceland Did Not Go Nuts for Dunkin Donuts’.

Another one to mention is an unfortunate event in Kenya when an airplane once owned by an Icelandic airline went off the runway. But we got the headline ‘Old Icelandic Fokker Skids Off Runway’.

Hope you enjoyed the most entertaining news of the year as much as we did! Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Year in Review 2019: Politics

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir meets with US Vice President Mike Pence.

The political scene in Iceland in 2019 was chaotic like it most often is. Even though the political scene isn’t large by any means, with 63 MPs in the Icelandic Parliament and 23 seats in the Reykjavík City Council, the close quarters lead to intense fighting. Often, the only saving grace for Icelandic politicians is the fact that Icelanders move on to the ‘next scandal’ extremely quickly. Yesterday’s news becomes yesterday’s news in a matter of days. That’s why we have a recap such as this one. From Eurovision scandals and Mike Pence’s controversial visit to nefarious Namibian dealings, and everything between. Step into the tumultuous political scene in Iceland with us.

Fallout from Klaustur

The year started with the fallout from the Klaustur Scandal, where six MPs made sexist, ableist, and homophobic remarks about their colleagues at the Klaustur bar in downtown Reykjavík. Even though the scandal took place in 2018, the case rattled Icelanders so that ripples were felt through the new year. The court case of whistle-blower Bára Halldórsdóttir came to an end as Miðflokkur (The Central Party) MPs had charged her for invasion of privacy. Bára was made to delete the recordings. Meanwhile, The Central Party became the second-largest party in Iceland, polling at 14.8% of voters in October.

Third Energy Package

The Third Energy Package sounds like something you would guzzle down while running a marathon, but it’s anything but. The matter split opinions at the beginning of the year as politicians and the public alike debated it hotly. The Third Energy Package was approved by the EU in 2009, and was to be adopted by EU and EEA member states. Ten years later, Iceland was the only country not to have approved the package. Many believed Iceland would give up a part of its sovereignty, and force Iceland to build up a power link to the EU. Eventually, the package was approved in September by a Parliamentary vote of 46 to 13.

Strikes, strikes, strikes

The gap between the lowest and highest earners of society has led to wage disputes and strikes. The spring of 2019 saw tourism industry workers strike for higher wages, with hotel staff striking and bus drivers following in their wake. Later in 2019, journalists striked to demand fair wages. That debate is currently still ongoing, but newspaper Morgunblaðið saw it fit to have part-time staff members violate the strike as well as laying off fifteen journalists.

On a happier, yet still, somewhat grim, note – the youth in Iceland took part in the global youth climate strike movement led by Greta Thunberg. Minister of Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson met with protesters.

Flags and dishwashing brushes

Anti-capitalist, BDSM wearing, industrial techno band Hatari represented Iceland at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Israel and managed to stir the pot. Band members held up banners bearing the Palestinian flag during the revelation of the votes, much to the displeasure of Israeli officials. Eventually, national broadcaster RÚV received a fine and the flag-scene was removed from the official Eurovision DV.

In June, a dishwashing brush and an airport wait strained the diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Iceland. A Belgian man stuck a dishwashing brush in star players’ Emre Belozoglu’s face like a microphone while he was being interviewed by reporters. This happened following an unusually long wait at the airport. The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note to Iceland denouncing what it is calling “disrespectful” and “violent” behaviour against the country’s men’s national football team. Iceland won 2-0, but Turkey has not lost a single match since then.

Bills, bills, bills.

Bills, bills, bills is not only a Destiny’s Child song but also what the Parliament started to approved in droves in the spring- and summertime. A new plan was approved to build up tourism infrastructure, while a plan to ban single-use plastics was approved, a widely supported move.

In May, the Government passed an abortion bill which legalises the termination of a pregnancy within the first 22 weeks regardless of circumstances. Abortion was previously legal within the same timeframe, however, a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy after the 16th week required approval by a committee. That decision is now solely in the hands of the pregnant person.

This June, the Directorate of Health proposed a sugar tax on soft drinks and sweets to work towards long term goals in public health. The Icelandic Dentist’s Association has yet to release a statement on the matter. Later that summer, calls for stricter regulations on foreign land ownership started to rear their head. It’s an oft and long-discussed subject which appears to be stuck in political purgatory. But what should be done, and who’s land is it anyway?

USA – Iceland and Mike Pence

This summer, the Iceland – USA relationship was a hot talking point. US military presence is returning to Iceland, as the US Air Force and US Navy will construct facilities at Keflavík airport. The Air Force had facilities there from 1946 to 2006 and is going to spend ISK 7 billion ($56.2 million/€49.5 million) on military infrastructure. Meanwhile, Iceland increased its defence budget by 37%, due to “…increasing temporary presence of NATO forces at Keflavík Airport due to worsening security conditions in Europe, including in the North Atlantic.”

Vice President’s Mike Pence’s official visit to Iceland in August hit the news. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir originally intended to miss the meeting due to commitments at the convention of Nordic trade unions. Eventually, Pence extended his stay to speak to Katrín about Arctic issues as well as defence matters. His visit was controversial and proved to somewhat unpopular with road closures, high cost and last but not least it was protested by numerous organizations due to his pro-war and anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.

Deportations debated

The public has called for the government to make major improvements to the handling of asylum seekers in Iceland. In August, authorities’ handling of two Afghan families seeking asylum in Iceland were heavily criticized. Later, in November, the Directorate of Immigration deported an asylum seeker who was just shy of 36 weeks pregnant. Both cases were met with outrage, as they were considered inhumane.

Move the clock – or not?

Few issues have garnered as much attention – and feedback – as the contentious suggestion to move the Icelandic clock back one hour to better align with solar time. Should Iceland move the clock?

Fishrot Files

Last but not least are the Fishrot Files. Icelandic fishing company Samherji is accused of tax evasion and bribery in Namibia to ensure access to fishing quotas in the country. Samherji is one of Iceland’s biggest companies and the fallout has been according to that. The government issued additional funding to investigate Samherji’s wrongdoings, and Icelandic tax authorities have opened an investigation into the case. Namibian ministers have resigned, as well as the CEO of Samherji. The case is still being resolved.