Westman Islands Celebration Marred by Offensive Effigy

vestmannaeyjar á þrettándanum

Icelandic journalist, podcaster, and athlete Edda Falak has spoken out against recent racist and misogynistic depictions of her at a holiday celebration in the Westman islands.

The parade in question was organized by the Westman islands municipal council alongside local sports club ÍBV for Þrettándinn, or 12th Night of Christmas. Postponed in recent years by COVID-19 restrictions, the parade traditionally includes playful troll figures, the holiday bearing many associations with folklore and magic.

One troll, however, bore Edda’s misspelled name: Edda Flak.

In the above Twitter post, Edda Falak stated: “This is a very dangerous message. Everyone involved in organizing this event needs to be held accountable and answer for what they plan on doing to fix this disgusting culture of violence that thrives there. This is not humour, this is violence and racism.”

Edda Falak was born to a Lebanese father and Icelandic mother. She has been a key figure in Iceland’s MeToo movement, hosting a podcast where she talks with victims of sexual assault.

Edda made headlines when her story of sexual assault involved a nationally recognized musician. At first unnamed, it later came out that the musician in question was allegedly Ingó, when he sent her a cease and desist order, claiming her statements referred to him. Ingó, a pop singer, is particularly beloved in the Westman islands, where his appearance at the annual music festival there after the allegations caused controversy.

Haraldur Pálsson, manager of sports association ÍBV, made a public statement in which he stated that he was not aware of the effigy in question beforehand. Videos of backstage preparations for the parade, however, clearly show the presence of the offensive effigy in plain sight. When asked if he planned to contact Edda to offer an apology, he stated that he had thought about it, but had not found her number.

The Westman islands’ Twelfth Night Parade traditionally lampoons community figures, but the line between good-natured communal ribbing and bullying and worse is not always clear. Also “satirized” this year was former ÍBV football player Heimir Hallgrímsson, who also coached a Qatari football team for some 2.5 years. In this year’s parade, his likeness appeared in an Arab costume.

Íris Róbertsdóttir, mayor of the Westman islands, has also weighed in on the case. In an interview with Vísir, the mayor said: “I think it is inappropriate to drag the holiday into this in this way, and I have conveyed these comments to the chairman of the ÍBV. I think that the association should not be dragged into such things […] Things that were okay ten years ago are not okay today and we all just have to go along with our changing society. This was just very inappropriate.”

As of yesterday, January 8, Edda Falak has stated on social media that no one has offered her an apology for the incident.

Former Minister Jón Baldvin Sentenced in Sexual Harassment Case

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, former government minister and diplomat, has received a suspended sentence of two months’ imprisonment in a sexual harassment case related to an incident that took place at his home in Granada, Spain in 2018, Vísir reports. The Landsréttur Court of Appeals also ordered him to pay all court and appeal costs related to the case. Jón Baldvin’s defense attorney has said that an application will be made to the Supreme Court requesting the right to appeal the judgement.

An acquittal

The sexual harassment charges were first brought against Jón Baldvin in 2019, when Carmen Jóhannsdóttir accused him of having groped her buttocks during a dinner party in Granada the year before.

Resolution on the case was long delayed, however, in part because the Reykjavík District Court repeatedly dismissed it because the incident took place in Spain and was therefore not, the court contended, under its jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals overturned this dismissal on technical grounds: over four weeks had passed between the oral presentation of the call to stop the case and the court’s decision to throw the case out. As such, the District Court was forced to reopen the case.

Competing witness testimony also came into play. Carmen’s mother, Laufey Ósk Arnorsdóttir, was also in attendance at the party in 2018 and testified that she witnessed Jón Baldvin groping her daughter. The District Court rejected Laufey’s testimony, saying it did not correspond to Carmen’s version of events. Instead, it accepted the testimony of Jón Baldvin’s wife Bryndís Schram and a neighbor, who corroborated his version of events. The Reykjavík District Court finally ruled on the case in August 2021 and Jón Baldvin was acquitted of the charges.

A conviction

The case was then taken up again by the Court of Appeals, with the District Attorney seeking a suspended sentence of two to three months for Jón Baldvin. Carmen Jóhannsdóttir also sought damages totaling ISK one million [$7,086; €6,725]. Carmen’s claim for damages was rejected, but the Court of Appeals granted the DA’s suspended sentence of two months.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals stated that Carmen’s account of the incident was credible, and was, in fact, supported by that of her mother. It was the Court’s opinion that these testimonies outweighed Jón Baldvin’s denial.

A long history of accusations

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson was an MP for the Social Democratic Party, serving as Minister of Finance from 1987 to 1988 and Foreign Affairs Minister from 1988 to 1995. Following his time in parliament, he served as a diplomat, first to the US and Mexico from 1998 to 2002, and then to the Baltics from 2002 to 2005.

He has faced repeated accusations of sexual harassment and impropriety throughout his career, dating all the way back to 1967 when he was a teacher at an elementary school. In 2012, it was revealed that Jón Baldvin had sent his wife’s niece Guðrún Harðardóttir sexually explicit letters starting when she was 14 years old. Jón Baldvin denied that he sexually harassed Guðrún, but apologised for what he called a “lapse of judgement” in initiating the correspondence. Guðrún attempted to press charges against Jón Baldvin, but police dropped the case.

See Also: Former Minister Accused of Sexual Harassment Over 50-Year Period

In 2013, Jón Baldvin was invited to be a guest lecturer at the University of Iceland. When objections ensued, the university withdrew the invitation. Jón Baldvin protested the decision and threatened to take legal action, upon which the university agreed to pay him ISK 500,000 [$3,542; €3,361] in compensation and publicly apologised for how they handled the matter.

In 2019, Stundin published interviews with four women, including Carmen Jóhannsdóttir, in which each described incidents of sexual harassment by Jón Baldvin. A Facebook group called #metoo Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson was formed around the same time, and at least 12 women used the platform to share accounts of sexual harassment at the hands of the former politician.

In the face of all these incidents, however, Jón Baldvin has maintained his utmost innocence. He called Carmen’s charge “pure fabrication” and stated it was part of “a coordinated attack on my reputation.”

‘It hasn’t been an easy journey, but today, it all became worth it’

Carmen was abroad at the time that the Court of Appeals published its decision, but she spoke to reporters after she’d had some time to process the news. “This is very much a cause for celebration,” she said. “I know it’s not a heavy sentence, but it’s just the fact that he’s been sentenced at all. I didn’t expect it, to be perfectly honest, but I’m really happy about it.”

“It’s been a long process and of course, there’s already been one ruling on it. But I have to say that I’m really happy about this. I’m happy about this victory—not just for me, but also for everyone who’s been subjected to abuse at the hands of Jón Baldvin.”

“Hopefully, this will set a precedent for other judges and lawyers,” continued Carmen. “And also just for people who haven’t had the desire or ability to claim their rights—that it’s worth it, even if it’s hard. I’ll absolutely admit that it hasn’t been an easy journey, but today, it all became worth it.”

#MeToo “Revolution” Within Icelandic Secondary Schools

#MeToo

This week, students at MH junior college protested a history of perceived inaction on behalf of school administrators in matters of sexual abuse and misconduct. During a staged walk-out, students called on administrators and government officials to take action. In addition to offering formal apologies, school administrators, alongside one government minister, took steps to rectify the state of affairs in the future.

Lipstick smeared on bathroom mirrors

Tuesday, October 3, was a day of protest at the Hamrahlíð Junior College (Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð) in Reykjavík.

Rhetorical questions were smeared on bathroom mirrors with lipstick:

“Why are there so many rapists?”

School administrators were addressed via typed-out messages hung in the hallways:

“As a student at MH, I refuse to accept that full-on rapists are sitting across from me in class, are participating in group projects – are passing me by in the halls.”

The source of these protests?

The perception that history was repeating itself at MH: that once again school administrators were handling accusations of sexual abuse passively – and that victims were being made to confront perpetrators in the halls.

“For fuck’s sake, do something. I refuse to attend the same school as a person charged with raping his little cousin.”

The same war, ten years on …

In an op-ed published on Vísir.is on the following morning, MH alumna Brynhildur Karlsdóttir delineated her experience at MH junior college ten years ago:

“When I was a 17-year-old student at MH, I was raped by my friend and schoolmate. When I finally mustered the courage to open up to school administrators – I was met with closed doors. Despite anxiety attacks, fear, and post-traumatic stress, I never reported the incident to the police, and the only solace that the administration could offer was the prospect of switching schools.”

Brynhildur’s best friend waged a similar war:

“Having been brutally raped, my friend Elísabet pressed charges and offered substantial evidence. Nonetheless, she was made to confront her rapist in the hallways and attend the same classes. There was no justice for Elísabet, no one looked out for her, and she alone was made to shoulder responsibility for the violence she suffered. She committed suicide in 2019.”

Later in her piece, Brynhildur weaves her narrative into contemporary events at MH, describing how a student, as mentioned above, had decided to take matters into her own hands, writing lipstick messages onto bathroom mirrors. “I know this because my sister and my sister-in-law attend MH, and they tell me of a kind of student revolution that’s taking place.”

Speaking to a journalist from Vísir, Brynhildur described the administration’s reaction to the protests vicariously, through her sister and sister-in-law: “They said that the administration had been rather upset, and referred to the protests a kind of ‘group hysteria.’ They don’t seem to be showing any consideration for the experiences of students, who are opening up about the injustice that they’ve suffered. It’s just silenced, and, once again, the shame lives on with the victims.”

The President of MH, Steinn Jóhannsson, reached out to Brynhildur on the following morning, offering an apology on the school’s behalf (despite not having been President during Brynhildur’s time at the college):

“He offered a former apology on behalf of MH … it was unexpected,” Brynhildur remarked. “One is somehow not used to someone accepting responsibility and saying, ‘Yes, that’s awful, we’re so sorry to hear it, and we failed you.’ That was big.”

MH administrators also offered a formal apology to students, observing that they regretted the fact that current and former students had experienced distress relating to matters of sexual abuse and misconduct within the school premises.

“These are sensitive issues; we want to learn and do better,” a press release from the school read.

1,000 students participate in protests

At 11 AM yesterday morning, dozens of MH students staged a walk-out, congregating outside the walls of the school in a meeting of solidarity and to voice their demands. Other students from other secondary schools also attended.

Agla Elín Davíðsdóttir, a student at MH, read a list of demands geared toward changing school contingency plans regarding matters of sexual abuse.

“We demand that administrators treat sexual offences with the same, if not greater, gravity as other violent offences,” Agla stated.

As noted by RÚV, the protestors made four demands:

  • Perpetrators of sexual violence be expelled from school (i.e. that victims be spared confrontation with perpetrators on school premises)
  • Gender studies be made mandatory in all schools
  • Administrators, teachers, and staff receive gender and sexology training
  • Students be able to report sexual offences in an easy manner

The minister responds

Among those who attended the protests was Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children.

When asked why he had decided to attend the protests, Ásmundur remarked that the students were calling for the government and school administrators to listen. “And that’s why I’m here … I think that for too long we’ve failed to engage with these voices … these young people, they’re heralding a new era, and if we fail to listen – we’re in trouble.”

Addressing the crowd, Ásmundur offered an apology on behalf of the Icelandic government: “We apologise for not having listened to you over the past years,” he stated.

Aside from the apologies, the upshot of the protests was also more concrete: school administrators from MH held a meeting with the Association of Icelandic Secondary School Students (SÍF) and decided that the school would partner with the association in its efforts against sexual violence and harassment. Minister Ásmundur Einar has also stated that he would call a meeting with the headmasters of Icelandic secondary schools to review contingency plans.

Icelandic Business Executives Resign Following Sexual Assault Allegations

vitalia lazareva eigin konur

Several prominent businessmen and a famous media personality have been let go, resigned from their positions, or gone on leave following allegations of sexual assault from a young woman, RÚV reports. In an interview on the podcast Eigin konur last January 4, 24-year-old Vitalia Lazareva stated she was sexually assaulted by three men in a hot tub last December 2020, friends of her lover at the time, Arnar Grant.

While Vitalia did not name the men in the interview, she did so on social media. They include Þórður Már Jóhannesson, who has since resigned from his position as chairman of the board of Festi hf., Iceland’s fourth-largest company. Another of the men, Ari Edwald, was first asked to take leave, but was later fired from his position as CEO of Ísey Export, a daughter company of MS Iceland Dairies. Company representatives stated they had “unspecific” information about Ari’s involvement in the alleged incident since October 2021. He was not asked to take leave or fired until after Vitalia’s January 4 interview.

Hreggviður Jónsson, founder and primary owner of Veritas Capital ehf., resigned from the company’s board after being named in the allegations. In a statement sent to Icelandic media, Hreggviður wrote he regretted “not stepping out of the situation” but added that he did not break any laws. Þórður Már and Ari Edwald have not commented on the allegations.

In a separate incident that Vitalia described in the interview, Arnar pressured her to perform sexual acts with Icelandic media personality Logi Bergmann after he walked in on the pair together. Logi has denied the accusations in a Facebook post though he admitted to “going into a room I shouldn’t have gone into,” calling his actions “tactless and shameful.” He has also announced he would go on leave from his position.

Case could impact future generations

Professor of Sociology Ingólfur V. Gíslason says Vitalia’s case is among the most important to have occurred in Iceland in the past several decades when it comes to the status of men and women. Ingólfur says the MeToo movement has caused societal changes in Iceland. “The follow-up of what just happened there and that all of the perpetrators, or those who were indicated, have to step down. That is very significant. These are not just some unknown men who are accused,” he stated. According to Ingólfur, survivors who speak out are not looking for revenge, rather acknowledgement and apologies. 

He added that he hopes the incident will impact future generations in Iceland. “The most serious problem in the relationship and status of men and women in Iceland is the violence that women have had to suffer at the hands of men. It’s not until we stop that and make society as safe for women as for men that we can truly hope there will be equality in Iceland.”

Police Review Officer’s Controversial Posts About Victims of Sexual Assault

Reykjavík Capital Area Police are reviewing the case of a police officer who has been criticised for several social media posts about victims of sexual assault. The officer, Aníta Rut Harðardóttir, has since deleted her comments. Aníta also made headlines last year when a news photograph showed her sporting hate symbols on her uniform.

Aníta has deleted a series of comments she made on Facebook in response to the latest #metoo wave in Iceland, where victims have come forward asserting sexual violence at the hands of athletes and other public figures. In one of her posts, Aníta shares an article about Þórhildur Gyða Arnarsdóttir, who was assaulted by a national team football player, and accuses her of “drunken partying.” Another labels feminist activists as an “army of psychos,” calling their statements “nonsense.”

Newly-elected Deputy MP Lenya Rún Taha Karim has harshly criticised Aníta’s posts and demanded that police respond to the case. “This is first and foremost about her expressive her unequivocal views on a specific victim and I find that very inappropriate in and of itself,” Lenya Rún stated. “People look to the police in their worst moments, victims of sexual violence and other crimes, and they must be able to assume that they will resolve their cases on the basis of professionalism and impartiality. This is simply not in that spirit.”

Police responded to last year’s case involving Aníta by implementing rules that ban officers from wearing any symbols on their uniform that were not standard issue. In one of her deleted posts (pictured above) Aníta calls the patches “very controversial and innocent” and shares a photograph of them framed and hung up, presumably in her home.

In a radio interview yesterday, Police Chief Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir stated that the force sets extensive requirements on officers due to the nature of the job. While public service employees may express themselves, the Court of Human Rights has stated that it is normal for restrictions to be placed on freedom of expression due to the nature of certain jobs. “The reason for restricting our freedom of expression is that we need to have the public’s trust, and the public needs to be able to trust that we fulfill our responsibilities in a neutral manner.” She did not comment on Aníta’s case as police do not discuss cases involving individual police officers.

District Court Orders Reykjavík City Theatre to Pay Former Employee ISK 5.5 Million

Judge's gavel

This week, the district court ordered Leikfélag Reykjavíkur (the Reykjavik City Troupe), which operates the Reykjavík City Theatre (Borgarleikhúsið); and Kristín Eysteinsdóttir, Director of the Reykjavík City Theatre, to pay actor Atli Rafn Sigurðsson ISK 5.5 million on the grounds of wrongful termination and defamation. Sigurðsson was fired in December 2017 – two weeks before the premiere of the play Medea, in which Sigurðsson was to play a leading role – following accusations of sexual harassment. Eysteinsdóttir declined to comment on the decision, referring the matter to her and the theatre’s lawyer, Sigurður Örn Hilmarsson.

Hilmarsson will be appealing the ruling on behalf of his clients, believing that the decision will engender “uncertainty” among employers, RÚV reports: “Our decision to appeal is two-fold. On the one hand, my clients disagree with the court’s decision. On the other hand, my clients feel that the ruling creates uncertainty regarding the duties of employers and managers in cases where the safety and well-being of their employees are compromised,” Hilmarsson stated, who is surprised by the court’s decision.

“Yes, we’re surprised. First and foremost because the court’s ruling does not, in my clients’ opinion, consider the interests of other employees, i.e. to those individuals who complained about sexual harassment and who experienced discomfort in the workplace. They confided in their employers and their interests were not considered in the ruling. Instead, the interests of a single employee took precedence.” Hilmarsson believes that the case is a test case for accusations of this kind.

Yesterday, Vísir reported that the Reykjavík City Theatre will continue to honour the confidentiality of Sigurðsson’s accusers when the case is heard before the Land’s Court (Landsréttur). The Land’s Court is a mid-tier court handling cases in between the District Courts and the Supreme Court of Iceland.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir Pens CNN Article on Gender-Based Violence

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Iceland’s prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has penned an article for CNN’s news site regarding gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination in Iceland and abroad, Vísir reports. The article coincides with a conference in Harpa called MeToo: Moving Forward, the first international conference focused on the #MeToo movement and its aftermath, taking place over three days, ending tomorrow. 

In Katrín’s article, titled “Gender inequality is one of the most persistent evils of our times”, the prime minister talks about lessons revealed by the #MeToo movement and the importance of using its cultural momentum to bring about lasting changes in matters relating to gender equality. “Does [#MeToo] represent a permanent change for the better or a small window of opportunity that will shut again, resulting in a backlash? How can we make sure the efforts lead to enduring societal change?” Katrín asks.

When the #MeToo movement first started gaining momentum two years ago, many women in Iceland published their own testimonies under the hashtag, revealing discrimination that clashed with some people’s image of Iceland as a harbinger of gender-equality. “For many of us, the testimonies of migrant and ethnic minority women marked a turning point. They described levels of multiple discrimination that most of us had hoped didn’t exist in Iceland,” Katrín writes.

“They revealed that while Iceland has made internationally recognized progress on gender equality, we have not sufficiently confronted the intersections of gender, racial and class injustices. In this regard, Iceland, as well as the other Nordic countries, have lessons to learn from more diverse societies. Notably, this is one of the key themes at the conference.”

Read Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s CNN article here.

MeToo: Moving Forward will feature speakers from Iceland and abroad, including Perna Sen, the UN Women’s Executive Coordinator and Spokesperson on Addressing Sexual Harassment and Other Forms of Discrimination, playwright Justina Kehinde, former parliament member and artist Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, Swedish gender equality activist Alán Ali and Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Martin Chungong. The conference will be partially live streamed via its Facebook event, found here.

For more information on the MeToo: Moving Forward conference visit MeToo.is

Political Parties Host MeToo Meeting

#MeToo Meeting

Political Parties hosted an open meeting this morning in Reykjavík to discuss the MeToo movement and its effect on politics. The event was streamed live on the Left Green Movement’s Facebook page.

The meeting opened with an address from Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Katrín encouraged the parties present to approach the issue as a systemic one, rather than divide along party lines, as has “happened in many countries around us. That way we destroy the opportunity to examine ourselves and our own culture and system. No party can maintain they are free of the danger of gender harassment, gender-based violence, or gender-based discourse.”

Following Katrín’s address, special guest Martin Chungong, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, presented the results of a study conducted by the organisation titled “Sexism, harassment, and violence against women in parliaments in Europe.” The findings of the Europe-wide study showed that 85.2% of women MPs who responded had experienced psychological violence as part of their job in politics. While 46.9% had received death threats or threats of rape or beating, 67.9% had been the target of sexist comments and 58.2% had been the target of online sexist attacks on social networks.
A panel discussion followed the addresses featuring representatives from all sitting parties in the Icelandic parliament. Panel members addressed questions from the audience at the end of the meeting. Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir criticised the Icelandic parliament for its reaction to the Klaustur Scandal. Minister and Progressive Party MP Lilja Alfreðsdóttir agreed with Þórhildur, adding that society had sent a clear message to parliament that such behaviour would no longer be tolerated.

Twenty-three Women Publish Allegations Against Former Politician

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson

Icelandic diplomat and former chairman of the Icelandic Social Democratic Party, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, has recently come under scrutiny for sexual misconduct, Morgunblaðið reports. Twenty-three women have now published a blog site detailing the allegations, with the earliest dating back to the year 1962.

This is not the first time women have come forward accusing Jón Baldvin of harassment. In 2012 Hannibalsson made headlines when Guðrún Harðardóttir, the niece of Jón’s wife, published a number of letters he sent her when she was between the ages of 14 and 17, many of whom are sexual in nature. Earlier this month, Stundin reported additional accounts of sexual misconduct and Jón’s daughter, Aldís Schram, has also been in the media, detailing her fraught relationship with her father in the wake of his alleged harassment of her former classmates.

This morning, 23 women, including the ones who had come forward earlier, published their stories online. The stories range from alleged harassment to sexual coercion and the accusers include Jón Baldvin’s sister-in-law, daughter and former students.

Jón Baldvin was active in politics in Iceland between the mid-eighties and mid-nineties, serving as Minister of Finance and later as Minister of Foreign Affairs He then went on to serve as diplomat in the United States and Mexico, and later in Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Jón has denied the accusations but admits having sent letters to his wife’s niece, with one of them turning overtly sexual as he wrote under the influence of alcohol at an airport when a flight was delayed.

Many of Jón’s accusers have pressed charges, with the police eventually dropping their investigation due to lack of evidence.

Uproar Over Nude Paintings at Central Bank

Central Bank of Iceland

The Central Bank of Iceland’s recent decision to take down two paintings by Gunnlaugur Blöndal featuring nude women has caused an uproar. Vísir reports that the decision was spurred by complaints from employees, who considered the artwork and its placement inappropriate. Artists and art enthusiasts have criticised the decision as prudish, lamenting that the work has been placed in storage and out of view.

Puritanism and pornography

Though it is not clear exactly which two paintings have been removed from the Central Bank’s walls, one of them is believed to be the picture seen below:

https://twitter.com/gretarsigurds/status/1087019885492879360

The Federation of Icelandic Artists sent a written statement to the Central Bank, criticising the decision to take down the paintings and place them in storage. Erling Jóhannesson, the federation’s president, criticised what he called the bank’s “prudishness and puritanism.” Erling says the human body is a timeless subject of art which can represent many concepts, “but if you don’t have the judgement to look deeper, everything changes into pornography.”

Artist and research professor Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon agrees with Erling. “You may as well put half of art history into storage,” he remarked. “The human body, both male and female, has long been the subject of artists.”

Based on equality, not taste

Stefán Jóhann Stefánsson, an editor at the bank, stated the decision to take down the works was made after careful deliberation. “This debate has a long story behind it and has come up before.” Stefán added: “Taking into consideration the gender equality policy, anti-bullying policy, and harassment, the decision was made to respond to these suggestions.” The decision is not based on artistic judgement of the works, according to Stefán.

Stefán explained that one of the paintings was hung behind a superior’s desk. “Employees have expressed the opinion that women shouldn’t be required to discuss issues with male superiors with paintings of naked women in front of them.”

Paintings exhibited next month

Many have suggested the bank sell the paintings or donate them to the National Gallery so they can be enjoyed by the public. Stefán says both works will be exhibited on Reykjavík’s upcoming Museum Night. “The fact that the pictures are no longer locked up in certain offices creates the opportunity to show them to the public. The decision had been made to display these pictures at the Central Bank on Museum Night next February 8, and this debate has not changed that.”