The Centre Can Hold

Einar Þorsteinsson mayor of reykjavík

“My approach to politics is based on the concept of “public service,” says Einar Þorsteinsson, the new mayor of Reykjavík. “The people who enter politics should be there to serve the public.”Already a household name as a TV personality, Einar was primed for the spotlight before making the move into politics. The 45-year-old Kópavogur-born father […]

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Iceland News Review: Eruption Near Grindavík, Reykjavík’s New Mayor And More!

INR

In this episode of Iceland News Review, we go in-depth on last Sunday’s eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula and what this could mean for the people of Grindavík. Can they ever return and if not, where will they live? How will the government help them? There’s a lot of options on the table.

Also, Reykjavík has a new mayor with an historic twist; good news for Palestinian children in Iceland; one town stands out as having the highest per capita immigrant population; along with weather, road conditions, and much more!

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

Mayor to Leave City Politics

Dagur B. Eggertsson Reykjavík mayor

Dagur B. Eggertsson, Reykjavík mayor for the past 10 years, will not run in the next municipal elections. He announced this in an interview with Heimildin Friday.

Dagur is the longest-tenured city councillor in Reykjavík. He entered city council in 2002 as an independent member for Reykjavíkurlistinn, the centre-left alliance that ended the conservative Independence Party’s dominance in city politics. He later joined the Social Democratic Alliance and became vice-chairman of the party during Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir’s term as prime minister from 2009 to 2013.

Dagur will step down as mayor on January 16 as per the coalition agreement of the majority in city council. Progressive Party Leader Einar Þorsteinsson will take over as mayor until the next election in 2026. The Pirate Party and the Liberal Reform Party round out the coalition. Dagur will become chair of the City Executive Council for the rest of the term and remain as city councillor.

May run for parliament

In the interview with Heimildin, Dagur ruled out a run for president of Iceland in the upcoming election this summer. He did not, however, rule out running for Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament. The Social Democratic Alliance has been polling strong in opposition under the leadership of Kristrún Frostadóttir, reaching up to 30 percent in polls. Were this to come to pass in next year’s elections, the party could triple the number of its members of parliament.

Dagur has been a controversial mayor, leading the city through a period of growth and change. In the interview, he said he regrets overpromising on daycare issues. The city has faced criticism for lack of kindergarten spaces as it extends eligibility down to children 12 months of age. “I feel good about what I’m leaving behind,” Dagur said. “History will record that Reykjavík has been improving on all sides. Financially as well.”

Personal setbacks

Before entering politics, Dagur worked as a medical doctor. In 2017 he was diagnosed with a type of arthritis that forced him to use a cane while walking and threatened his ability to work. In 2021, bullet holes were discovered in his family’s car and the suspect was never charged. “Fortunately, most people agree that we as a society want to be just that, a society, not a country or a city where mayors, ministers or officials need to travel with a police escort or be constantly under protection,” Dagur said.

Strætó’s Reykjavík Night-Time Service Could Resume Next Year

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has proposed allocating an extra ISK 51 million ($361,000 / €343,000) of next year’s budget to the operations of Strætó (Iceland’s public bus service), RÚV reports. The increased allotment is intended to cover Strætó’s night-time bus service in Reykjavík during the weekends.

An unsuccessful trial period

In early July, Strætó announced that the Reykjavík night bus, Næturstrætó, would return to service on July 9 following a two-year hiatus in response to low demand during the pandemic. During this hiatus, many capital-area residents had called for its return, arguing that it provided an affordable and safe alternative to taxis.

During a trial run between July and October of this year, however – when the night bus departed downtown Reykjavík every hour and stopped at the capital area’s seven suburban neighbourhoods – demand once again proved wanting. As noted in a press release from Strætó in October, an average of 15 passengers travelled aboard the night bus during each trip, which amounts to approximately 300 passengers over a weekend:

“In light of this, and given the finances, Strætó’s board has agreed that continuing night-time service during the weekends, now that the trial period has concluded, cannot be justified. The service will, therefore, be discontinued.

The mayor takes a u-turn

At a city council meeting yesterday, however – roughly six weeks after Strætó announced that it would be discontinuing its night-time service – Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson proposed allocating an extra ISK 51 million ($361,000 / €343,000) of next year’s budget to cover Strætó’s night-time bus service.

As noted by RÚV, Strætó’s night-time bus service was a key campaign issue for the Progressive Party, which went on to form a majority coalition, during municipal elections last spring.

Parents, Community Appalled by Brutal Bullying Case

Ísabella Von

Sædís Hrönn Samúelsdóttir and her twelve-year-old daughter Ísabella Von Sædísardóttir opened up to local media yesterday about the brutal campaign of bullying that the latter has suffered at the hands of classmates. Abusers encouraged Ísabella to “try again,” following a failed suicide attempt. Parents must shoulder greater responsibility, the Chair of Hafnarfjörður’s City Council has stated.

Hateful messages and physical abuse

As reported by RÚV yesterday, Ísabella Von is an eighth-grader at the Hraunvallaskóli primary school in Hafnarfjörður. Having long been bullied by her classmates, she recently attempted suicide by overdosing on her mother’s prescription drugs. Ísabella notified her mother, who drove her to the Children’s Hospital for treatment. She returned home yesterday.

“I felt like everyone would be happy if I went through with it. That’s what everyone has told me,” Ísabella told RÚV.

Sædís Hrönn Samúelsdóttir, Ísabella’s mother, maintains that she can name at least 35 children who have sent her daughter hateful messages; although the ones sent anonymously are worse. Ísabella has also been attacked physically twice, once at the Smáralind shopping mall, which was recorded and shared on social media. After the beating, she received the following message:

“She probably began fucking bawling. If there hadn’t been people around, she probably would have been fucking dead (…) You should have been fucking dead, Ísabella.”

Sædís says that psychologists with the National Agency for Children and Family have tried to offer assistance; that they’ve applied for so-called MST intervention, which is a cross-institutional treatment geared towards aiding parents in helping their children cope. “The school has also tried to help, but she just doesn’t show up,” Sædís remarked.

Parents’ Association, Mayor Respond

After news of the bullying broke, the Parents’ Association of Hraunvallaskóli released a public statement on Facebook. The association was “shocked by revelations” in the media yesterday and has called a meeting with school administrators.

“It’s important to tackle such matters with determination and to activate protocols. Also, we, as parents, administrators, and school employees must work together toward constructive solutions that put our children’s welfare first. The Parents’ Association will try its utmost, circumstances allowing.”

Mayor of Hafnarfjörður Rósa Guðbjartsdóttir also weighed in on the matter on Facebook yesterday, encouraging a show of empathy, responsibility, and love.

“It’s been heartrending, hearing of the violence that our young girl in Hafnarfjörður has suffered. All of the world’s specialists […] will never replace us as custodians and parents. Let us talk to our children, monitor their activities more closely, explain to them the seriousness of their actions and the consequences of treating other people poorly. The simple message: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ It is so important and true.”

Chair of Hafnarfjörður City Council weighs in

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Valdimar Víðisson, Chair of Hafnarfjörður’s City Council, stated that bullying was not endemic to Hafnarfjörður. “Bullying in primary school is, unfortunately, our current reality. We must find ways to respond.”

Valdimar says that social media is playing an increasingly larger role. “It’s a reality with which we’ve been unable to adequately deal,” Valdimar observed, adding that some of the options available are helpful, although uprooting bullying always necessitates the involvement of parents.

“It’s often the case that schools are left screaming into the void because there isn’t a lot of participation. But parents must take part, as well as society at large.”

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out to Red Cross Iceland (Phone No. 1717) or the Píeta Association (Phone No. 552-2218)

Former Cop Suspected of Shooting at Mayor’s Car

missing woman

The man currently in custody under suspicion of having shot at Reykjavík Mayor’s car and party office is a former police officer, Fréttablaðið has reported through confirmed sources. According to the paper, the man is named Hallur Gunnar Erlingsson and was convicted for sexual offences against three young girls in 2003.

The man served an 18-month prison sentence for the crimes and was released in 2005. He received “restored honour” in 2010, an Icelandic legal procedure that has since been abolished. While restored honour was not equivalent to a pardon, it restored certain privileges to convicted criminals, such as the ability to hold government jobs. Hallur was served a two-day custody order on Saturday, which was later extended until this Friday, with police sources stating he was considered “dangerous.”

Read More: Attack on Reykjavík Mayor’s Car

The investigation, initially begun by Capital Area Police, has been taken over by District Attorney’s Office and the crime has been classified as an offence against government authority. A second man was initially arrested in the case but was released after questioning. Police confiscated a significant amount of firearms from that man’s home.

Man In Custody in Connection With Attack on Mayor’s Car

Dagur B Eggertsson Reykjavík Mayor

A man in his 50s was taken into custody on Saturday in connection with an armed attack on Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson’s car, RÚV reports. The mayor and his family were not in the car at the time the incident occurred but Dagur says the incident has caused difficult emotions. Investigation into the case is ongoing.

Two men have been declared defendants in the case, which involved bullets fired at Dagur’s family car as well as at a Social-Democratic Alliance office (the political party to which the Mayor belongs). One of the men was released after questioning while the other was kept in custody. The custody order expires today and it is unclear whether detectives will apply for an extension.

Threats to Politicians and Journalists Should be Made Public

In a TV interview yesterday, Dagur stated that his wife and children have responded stoically to the incident. “But of course it causes difficult feelings. It’s uncertainty and stress, and you find yourself, we all do, looking out the window a little differently while there is still uncertainty in all of this.”

Dagur says he and his family have received an outpouring of support following the incident. “But I notice that people in politics and the media and elsewhere have contacted me and told me stories about being threatened.” In most of the cases, says Dagur, the victim decided against making the story public. “I think it’s important that we discuss this. I think many people experience that harshness and angry rhetoric has increased. They are maybe also more visible due to social media and other things,” Dagur stated.

Mayor Felt Targeted By Video

Less than two months prior to the attack on the mayor’s car, interest group Björgum miðbænum (En: Let’s Save Downtown) released a video accusing Dagur of bribery and corruption. The video, which showed the mayor’s home in downtown Reykjavík, accused him of “attacking the family car” by removing public parking on his own street while simultaneously purchasing three parking spots for himself from the city. The video, narrated by Centre Party City Councillor Vigdís Hauksdóttir, also claimed that the cost of converting the parking lot into a pedestrian plaza had cost ISK 657 million ($5.1 million/€4.2 million). The City of Reykjavík has since issued a notice refuting these claims, stating that the plaza in fact cost ISK 60.6 million ($468,000/€387,000) to build and the small parking lot next to Dagur’s house has been in private ownership for decades.

Bolli Kristinsson, one of the video’s creators, apologised for the video on social media yesterday, saying that although “most [of the video’s claims] are correct […] one serious error has appeared, that Dagur B. Eggertsson had bought three parking spaces from the city in a private sale.” Bolli did not comment on the cost of the plaza. The video has since been taken down. Police have not found any causal link between the video and the attack on the mayor’s car at this point.

Police Investigate Possible Shots Fired at Mayor’s Car and Party Office

iceland refugees

Capital Area Police are investigating a case concerning damage inflicted on the Reykjavík mayor’s car. The case is “being taken very seriously,” according to a press release police sent to media. Police suspect the damage was caused by a firearm, and the perpetrator was also responsible for bullet holes discovered at the offices of the Social-Democratic Alliance last week (the mayor’s political party).

The car that was damaged was Mayor Dagur B. Eggertson’s family car. RÚV reports that police monitored the mayor’s home last weekend, and reporters suspect the damage to the car was the reason. Sources told media outlet Kjarninn that bullets were found in the mayor’s car, but police refused to confirm the information to Kjarninn reporters.

Mayor’s Comments on Akureyri Residents’ Obedience Criticised

Akureyri Iceland

Mayor of Akureyri Ásthildur Sturludóttir has received criticism on social media after asking people in Reykjavík not to travel to regions where there are fewer infections. During an interview with RÚV, she stated that people in Akureyri follow the rules, and that’s why there are fewer infections in the town. 99 cases of COVId-19 were confirmed yesterday, 95 of which were in the capital area. Of the 747 patients in isolation, 640 live in the city. The Mayor’s comments have reignited the long-standing but mostly dormant rift between the city and the rest of the country.

In the interview, Ásthildur agreed with the Chief Epidemiologist that restrictions in the capital area need to be tightened. “ I think these actions are reasonable and understandable, and maybe they could even have been implemented sooner,” said Ásthildur to RÚV yesterday. She went on to say that she is not afraid that people from Reykjavík will flock to the countryside as restrictions are tightened in the city. “No, I think people will stay at home as they’re being asked to do. Of course, we also ask people to stay at home and not come to these regions where there are fewer infections. There’s a reason why there are fewer infections; people are very careful. The people of Akureyri follow the rules, and that’s why the pandemic hasn’t hit us harder than it has up until now.”

While her comments were meant to compliment her fellow townspeople, they drew the ire of many on social media, who perceived her comments as tone-deaf when the nation is fighting to curb a pandemic, with many using social media to express their disbelief that the success of infection prevention in Akureyri was due to their superior ability to follow instructions.

“Just think that the mayor of Akureyri did a televised interview stating that people from Akureyri are better than others at keeping viral infections at bay and following the rules.”

“The people of Akureyri are the best at …not getting sick. The best by far.”

“Presumably smaller towns ‘do better’ than the capital area because doi, there are fewer people, it’s easier to slow down the community, keep a distance and smaller social bubbles and so on. Can we just PLEASE stop the competition and the blame game, it’s a VIRUS, OK?”

“When people ask me once again why I’m not moving back to Akureyri, I’ll show them this.”

Ásthildur responded to her critics on Facebook, stating that her comments were intended to compliment people in Akureyri who follow infection prevention guidelines. “This rubbed some people the wrong way, and I’m sorry for it because my compliments could be understood to mean that I thought others were not complying with the rules. I’m far from that thought, even though my faith in the people of Akureyri is unshakeable.” She goes on to reiterate the Chief Epidemiologist’s request that people limit unnecessary travel between regions, ending on an upbeat note, “Solidarity is the best way to prevent infection!”

Akureyri is the largest town in Iceland outside the capital area, with 18,775 inhabitants. Two-thirds of the nation, just over 233,000, live in the capital area and communication between these two regions are emblematic of a divide between country and city. People on both sides of the country have been known to accuse their counterparts of arrogance.

Mayor Attends COVID Response Session with World Mayors, Barack Obama

iceland refugees

Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson was among local officials from 300 cities around the world who took part in a virtual COVID-19 Local Response Initiative session with former US President Barack Obama on Thursday, Vísir reports. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg also took part in Thursday’s virtual forum, as did former head of the Center for Disease Control in the United States, Tom Frieden.

“I’m not sure that we Icelanders fully realise what a remarkable front line [we have] and how well the Department of Civil Protection, Directorate of Health, and Chief Epidemiologist have managed our responses to COVID-19 here in Iceland,” wrote Dagur in a Facebook post on Friday. “The results we’re seeing these days in the reduction of active infections is a clear testament to this.”

“I’ll freely admit that it’s a really special feeling to attend a teleconference with Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, and Tom Frieden…who many credit with successfully wrestling Ebola and the SARS virus on the world stage. And many others.” Dagur continued. “I think I can safely say that all the cities at the meeting yesterday truly wished that they could have prepared themselves as early as we had the opportunity to.”

Dagur’s post recalls the contingency planning and emergency drills led by Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason that were being held in Iceland as early as late January. “It’s not just the municipalities that had time to prepare—and I’m not minimising the fact that everyone had to work fast—but also the healthcare system, the first responders, and everyone who needs to be prepared for undertakings like this. What was most important, though, was that the system of infection detection, infection tracing, quarantine, and isolation began immediately. And everything was communicated openly and regularly to the public. This is the key to success, and this is the key to all further steps.”

“The biggest mistake we can make is to misinform”

Indeed, participants discussed ways to safely relax restrictions that have been put in place by governments around the world, such as gathering bans and stay-at-home orders. But President Obama also particularly stressed the importance of accurate and truthful information during this time of global crisis.

“Speak the truth,” he told participants. “Speak it clearly and with compassion. Speak it with empathy for what folks are going through. The biggest mistake any of us can make in these situations is to misinform, particularly when we’re requiring people to make sacrifices and take actions that might not be their natural inclination.”

Dagur emphasised Iceland’s unique position in the world in regards to its COVID-19 response and urged Icelanders to stay the course. “Cities, countries, and the whole world dream about having had the kind of broad perspective and evenhandedness that have characterised all the actions we’ve taken here in Iceland from Day 1,” he wrote. “This will prove invaluable to us as we inch our way forward,” he continued. “Some things will undoubtedly have to change, maybe even permanently, about how we execute and think about things. But we’ll do this in the same way that we prepared for the epidemic: with active dialogue and foresight, data analysis and review, guided by evenhandedness and professionalism, the courage to make decisions but also caution in the face of uncertainty.”

Dagur ended his post with a salute to Director of Health Alma Möller, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Director of Iceland’s Civil Protection Department, Víðir Reynisson. “The high praise of the day goes to Alma, Þórólfur, and Víðir, and the unbelievably large and powerful group of professionals who stand behind them. You are positively world class!”