Icelandic Swimming Pool Culture Nominated for UNESCO Status

Swimming pool in Iceland

Icelandic “swimming pool culture” could be added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, minister of culture and business, has confirmed a nomination for it to be added, Heimildin reports. This is Iceland’s first independent nomination for the list, which includes things like Chinese shadow puppetry, Inuit drum dancing and singing, French baguette bread and Finnish sauna culture.

Physical and spiritual

The nomination comes with multiple statements of support from municipalities, sports and swimming societies and swimming pool guests. They include stories, experiences and attitudes towards swimming pools in Iceland with discussions on their meaning and importance, according to a statement from the ministry.

The nomination has been prepared fro some time by the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and the National Museum of Iceland. “Swimming pool culture holds a special and important place in the daily life of Icelanders,” said Lilja. “Meeting in the hot tub or taking the family swimming is a social connection which is invaluable and makes its mark, not only physically, but spiritually as well.”

Big part of everyday life

According to a recent survey, 79% of adults in Iceland go to swimming pools. Some 120 public pools operate in Iceland and are a big part of everyday life all around the country.

The process for UNESCO evaluation is 18 months, so it will be revealed in December 2025 whether Icelandic swimming pool culture will be added to the list.

Authorities Combat Fake Volcano News

eruption, Stóra-Skógfell, Sundhnjúkargígarröð

Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, has spent ISK 100 million [€670,690 / $725,584] on marketing to respond to and correct international news coverage on the volcanic activity in the Reykjanes peninsula over the last few months.

The current eruption has been ongoing since Saturday, making it the longest-lasting in the recent spell of volcanic activity on the peninsula.

Imprecise reporting

The Icelandic Tourism Board, social media influencers and others have received public funding from the ministry, Vísir reports. “It’s very important that the correct information gets out there,” Lilja said, pointing to a BBC online article which indicated that Iceland was in a “state of emergency”. This would be an imprecise translation of the civil protection alert levels which the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management decides on at any given time.

Effect on tourism

Other news articles have connected the volcanic activity to tourism and questioning whether anyone would want to go to Iceland. “Tourism is the industry responsible for most of our foreign currency income, around 35%,” Lilja said, adding that tourism was an important pillar in securing the stability of the Icelandic Króna, along with energy intensive industries, fisheries and the creative and tech industries.

 

Artist Stipends to Increase

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir / Minister of Culture and Business Affairs

Minister of Culture and Business Affairs Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir has proposed a substantial increase in public funding for artist stipends, Heimildin reports.

According to a draft bill, three new salary funds will be created and the month of salary to be allocated will gradually increase from 1,600 to 2,850 until 2028. Funding will increase in steps from ISK 124 million [$906,000, €832,000] next year to ISK 700 million [$5.1 million, €4.7 million] in 2028.

Funds for film writers and age groups

The Artists’ Salary Fund is a collection of funds meant to support the arts. Funding is determined annually by Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, and The Icelandic Centre for Research is responsible for managing the fund on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and Business Affairs. For 2024, 1,032 months of salary were allocated, while 9,336 months were applied for

The draft bill notes that the number of available months of salary for allocation has remained unchanged since the law came into effect in 2009. The three new salary funds that will be created, if the bill becomes law, will be a Film Writers Fund, Vöxtur – a fund for artists 35 years old and younger, and Vegsemd – a fund for artists 67 and older.

New Tourism Campaign Prompts Criticism

Locals and tourists enjoy the sunshine in Reykjavík's Austurvöllur square.

A new collaborative project aimed at promoting tourism in Iceland, called “Good Hosts,” has drawn vocal criticism from Efling union chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

The project was announced Friday, July 14th, with Minister of Tourism Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Chairperson of the Tourist Service Association Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir, Director of Tourism Arnar Már Ólafsson publishing the project’s website on social media.

The project aims to encourage Icelanders to embrace the important role of being “good hosts.” According to the project website, “the hospitality of the nation is a significant part of creating a positive experience for tourists in Iceland. Together, we are a part of some of the most valuable moments for people on their journey. We all enjoy the benefits of tourist visits. We can thank the vibrant tourism industry for its diverse services and outstanding hospitality throughout the country. The visits of these enthusiastic guests have made our society more diverse and enjoyable.”

The project additionally calls upon individuals and companies to take part in a “good host pledge.”

The project, however, has drawn criticism from some, including Efling union chairperson Sólveig Anna. In a recent post, Sólveig Anna recalls the strikes earlier this year during a particularly contentious contract negotiation:

“Last winter, Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir claimed that the tourism industry was in ruins following COVID. She accused Efling, a union representing low-wage workers in the capital area, of manufacturing a disaster […] She also expressed concerns that if Efling’s members went on strike, exercising their constitutional right, inflation would increase, and people would become unemployed. In essence, she portrayed the legitimate and self-evident fight of low-wage workers, mostly immigrants, for a better life, as a criminal attack on the well-being of all Icelanders […] Now Bjarnheiður wants to compel all of us to promote our beautiful country for her […] She wants us all to help her sell our homeland so she can become richer.”

Among the benefits of the recent growth in Icelandic tourism, the project highlights 25,770 jobs that have been created, in addition to increased services for the entire nation.

 

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First Comprehensive Music Policy Approved by Alþingi

Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir

Alþingi has approved the Ministry of Culture and Trade’s bill on music, the first comprehensive policy on the matter in Iceland.

The legislation aims to establish a new music policy for 2030 by strengthening the environment for the creation and performance of music in Iceland, establishing a comprehensive framework for music-related issues, and creating favourable conditions for its creation, promotion, and performance.

The bill is seen as especially important given the role that music has historically played in Icelandic culture and the promotion of Iceland abroad.

Read more: Draft Iceland’s First Comprehensive Music Policy Approved

In a statement, Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir said: “These are truly milestones for music in this country. I wish all of our wonderful musicians congratulations and I am truly looking forward to listening to the results of these significant changes. I also want to thank all of the amazing people who worked on the policy-making.”

A key achievement of the bill is the creation of a new centre for music, to be established later this year, and is intended to support all kinds of music activities and export projects for all music genres. In addition, the centre will manage the registration, administration and distribution of Icelandic music.

New sources of funding will also become available under the law, which merges the current Music Fund, the Sound Recording Fund and the Icelandic Music Export Fund. The role of the new fund will be to promote Icelandic music, sound recording and development work in the Icelandic music industry. The fund will promote  Icelandic musicians and their work, both in Iceland and abroad.

Lilja stated further: “I am grateful for the great support that the issue received in the Icelandic Parliament. I also want to thank the good and powerful group of people who have participated in this work. The future of Icelandic music has become even brighter following these changes, which will be enjoyable to follow along the way.”

New Centre for Icelandic Studies to Acquire Manuscripts on Long-Term Loan

icelandic manuscript heimskringla

The Danish government has agreed to the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies’ request to loan Icelandic manuscripts on a long-term basis. RÚV reports.

The manuscripts in question would be displayed at the new centre for Icelandic manuscript studies, which has yet to be named. Originally financed in 2005, the new centre recently ended its open call for naming suggestions and is expected to open this April.

Read more: Danish Professor Reluctant to Repatriate Manuscripts

A committee will review the suggested name and select the best, to be revealed at the building’s upcoming opening.

However, not all are in support of relocating the manuscripts. Danish academics have resisted possible repatriation, stating the manuscripts are a part of Danish cultural heritage as well.

Some Icelandic academics have likewise cast doubt on the utility of bringing certain manuscripts back to Iceland. In 2019, professor Viðar Pálsson at the University of Iceland stated: “From a purely academic point of view, if the manuscripts go home to Iceland, I do not know in what way, if any, it would strengthen scholarship there.”

Highlighting the potential dangers of transporting historical manuscripts, he further stated: “In the past centuries, people defined what manuscripts were considered Icelandic. Many of the manuscripts would fall into a grey area, but virtually all manuscripts that we can say are mainly Icelandic have been brought back. But there are also some manuscripts that we could describe as rather Icelandic than anything else that we may nevertheless want to recover at some point. Of course, there are manuscripts in the Danish archives containing prized Icelandic sagas, but then there were manuscripts containing more prosaic legal material, royal narrative material and so on that originate in Iceland but are not necessarily Icelandic in content.”

Despite such objections, Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir has been eager to acquire the manuscripts on behalf of the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies.

The manuscripts in question would be displayed with the latest technologies at the new centre. Estimates state that the long-term loan will cost some 250 million ISK [$1.8 million; €1.7 million].

According to RÚV, the loan request is currently being processed by the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen. A response is expected promptly.

 

 

Possible Changes to Car Rentals, Including Limits on Mileage and Age

winter tires reykjavík

Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir stated in an interview yesterday with RÚV that changes may be coming for the rental car industry in Iceland.

The statement came in response to the Ministry of Tourism’s efforts to improve education for foreign drivers on Icelandic roads following the tragic 2018 accident by Núpsvötn, in which three British citizens died.

Iceland’s unique landscape is of course a major driver of the tourism industry, but many foreign tourists may not be prepared for the road conditions in Iceland.

Read more: Núpsvötn Car Accident Among Worst in Icelandic History

The car in involved in the Núpsvötn accident had been driven some 340,00km and was 12 years old. Now, politicians and members of the tourism industry are reconsidering what regulations should apply to rental cars to prevent future accidents.

“We will refer this to a working group within the ministry that has been working to promote increased security for tourists in this country. We will use this terrible incident to improve regulations and possible legislation to ensure further safety in this country,” Lilja stated to RÚV.

Hendrik Berndsen, chairman of Hertz in Iceland and chairman of the Tourism Association’s Car Rental Committee, also expressed the need for better regulation in the rental car industry.

The Tourism Association is responsible for 90% of Iceland’s 24,000 rental cars.

Speaking to RÚV, he called for a limit of 200,000km for rental cars, and a possible limit of 6-8 years.

“It may not be possible to directly blame the car,” he said,  “but is very important that there are the latest cars for drivers who come to the country.”

Harpa Þórsdóttir Appointed Curator of National Museum Amidst Some Critique

national museum of iceland þjóðminjasafn

In a recent press release from the Ministry of Culture and Trade, Harpa Þórsdóttir was appointed the head curator of Þjóðminjasafn, the National Museum of Iceland.

Harpa will be taking over the position from Margrét Hallgrímsdóttir, who has held the position since 2000.

However, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Trade, has come under some criticism for the appointment. As the position was not advertised publicly, some say that the appointment is a return to corruption and nepotism.

In an editorial for Vísir, administrative specialist Haukur Arnþórsson criticized the lack of transparency, and called for public positions to be advertised in such a way that ensure a fair hiring process:

“The main ideas behind the obligation to advertise vacancies are, on the one hand, that public funds are managed well […] and on the other hand, that everyone is equal in relation to the public sector and that their merits are assessed professionally and honestly. These points of view are not met when an employee is recruited by transferring between jobs. It is not clear what criteria are at play, which is, however, the case when a job is advertised – and the minister cannot give the public proper explanations of the hiring criteria in this respect.”

Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Trade, has pushed back against the criticism, stating that Harpa is both highly qualified, and that legal precedent exists for such hiring practices. Many other ministries, for example, hire through internal selection instead of placing open applications for every vacant position. Regarding the hiring, Lilja stated: “We have a very capable individual coming from one museum and moving on to the next.”

Harpa completed her Maîtrise in Art History at the Sorbonne in 1998, and has had a 20 year long career in museums and museum management. Prior to her appointment to the National Museum, Harpa directed the National Gallery Iceland, another of Iceland’s three major public museum collections.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has since stated that she intends to investigate such “manual hiring” practices, and wants to begin an initiative to collect data on such practices.

“I think it is important to compile these numbers over a period of time so that we can assess whether this is a trend, and to make decisions on that basis,” she stated to Vísir.

Draft of Iceland’s First Comprehensive Music Policy Published

Iceland Airwaves Gyða Valtýsdóttir

A draft of Iceland’s first comprehensive policy on music has been published on Samráðsgátt, a site for public feedback on proposed legislation. The proposed bill is the first of its kind, and it will be open for comment until August 31.

The legislation is the result of a 2021 working group which identified both the central importance of music to the Icelandic economy and also the lack of a comprehensive government policy for music funding and education. The working group was composed of individuals within the Icelandic music industry, staff at the University of Iceland, and also representatives from the Ministry of Education and Children’s Affairs. Key among the recommendations of the working group were the need to establish a Music Center and to merge several existing funds, which were shown to overlap in several responsibilities.

The new policy identifies music as not just one among many of Iceland’s exports, but instead as a cornerstone of Icelandic education, tourism, and commerce. Given its central importance, the new legislation hopes to shape music policy in Iceland through 2030 in a way that has already been done in other cultural fields. In addition to the new, streamlined structure for funding, the new bill hopes to increase total funding for music in Iceland.

The new bill will consist of two separate action plans, one valid through 2026, and the other until 2030. As of now, only the action plan for the years 2023 – 2026 has been published.

Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Tourism, said in a statement: “This is a major turning point, and with the policy and the law on music, we are working to promote music throughout the country and, for the first time, define a comprehensive framework for the issue of music that has been lacking for a long time. With this, we want to create the conditions for music to grow and prosper for a long time to come.”

Calls on the Banks to “Lighten the Load” of Households

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir

The Minister of Culture and Commerce has called on the banks to “lighten the load” of households faced with rising interest rates. The net profit of Iceland’s three largest commercial banks amounted to approximately 80 billion ISK ($643 million / €564 million) last year, Vísir reports.

“Super profits” and civic duty

In an interview published in Morgunblaðið yesterday, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Commerce, called on Iceland’s three largest commercial banks to “lighten the load” of families faced with rising interest rates.

The Central Bank raised key interest rates by 0.75% on Wednesday, which may strain the finances of households who have signed non-indexed mortgages.

The inflation rate in January was 5.7% – the highest since April of 2012 – and the Central Bank predicts an inflation rate of +5% in 2022 (+5.8% in the first quarter), which is double the Bank’s target.

According to Lilja, the three commercial banks have recently reaped “super profits” – a total of ISK 80 billion ($643 million / €564 million) last year – which puts them in a prime position to assist young people and low-income families.

Íslandsbanki announced 2021 profits amounting to ISK 23.7 billion ($190 million / €116 million) this week. Landsbanki, 95% owned by the government, had previously declared profits of ISK 28.9 billion ($232 million / €204 million) for 2021, and Arion Bank announced a profit of ISK 28.6 billion ($230 million / €202 million) for 2021.

Speaking to Morgunblaðið, Lilja invoked the banks’ “civic duty.”

“I think it’s imperative that certain households, especially that of young people and low-income families, are not left holding the bag. It would be better for the banks to intervene immediately and tend to these households. If the banks don’t find a solution, I believe that we should reinstate a levy on banks.”

Lilja followed up her comments by referring to a levy imposed by former British PM Margaret Thatcher, which sought to harvest around £400m from the banks, for they were seen to be “escaping the pain of that recession”: “In 1981, Thatcher instated windfall taxes to deal with precisely such conditions, to level the playing field among the citizenry,” Lilja remarked.

Intervention lowers the selling price

In an article published on Innherji this morning, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, Chair of the Economic and Finance Committee, stated that forcing the banks to spend a portion of their profits to subsidize interest payments would serve to devalue Íslandsbanki shares (the government has yet to sell 65% of its share in the bank).

Asked to respond to Lilja’s comments, Guðrún remarked that they had taken her by surprise. “If the government intends to alter the banks’ operational conditions, such a thing must, one way or another, influence the price of the remaining shares in Íslandsbanki. It’s obvious that if the government, as a shareholder, intervenes in such an encumbering manner, the selling price will be affected.”

As noted by Innherji, the government expects to sell its remaining 65% of shares this year and the next. The treasury received ISK 55 billion ($442 million / €388 million) when it sold its 35% share in a stock offering of Íslandsbanki last year. Since then, stocks have risen considerably. Innherji estimates that, according to the current market valuation, the government stands to receive up to ISK 160 billion ($1.3 billion / €1.1 billion) for its remaining shares.