Manslaughter Case Raises Concerns Among Immigrant Community

Experts in multiculturalism and members of Iceland’s largest immigrant community fear the implications of a case involving the stabbing and death of a Polish man. The four suspects are all Icelandic teenagers and are currently in custody.

Around midnight on April 20, law enforcement was tipped off to a confrontation between the four suspects and the victim in the parking lot of Fjarðarkaup grocery store in Hafnarfjörður, a town in the Reykjavík capital area. Police arrived shortly after to find the victim, who was transported to the emergency room with several stab wounds. He was pronounced dead shortly after. The victim was a Polish man 27 years of age. The four suspects are Icelandic youth, three male and one female. The oldest suspect is 18 and the other three are under 18 years of age. Police have not identified any connection between the suspects and the victim.

Community in shock

The Polish community is Iceland’s largest immigrant community, making up around 40% of all immigrants in the country. “I think everyone, not just the Polish community, is in shock, because this is very difficult,” Martyna Ylfa Suzko, a Polish-Icelandic interpreter, told RÚV. Martyna has lived in Iceland for 18 years and considers herself as much Icelandic as Polish. She believes the incident could cause conflict between Polish and Icelandic people in Iceland by encouraging people to think in terms of “us” versus “them.”

Inadequate language interpreting services

In an interview with Heimildin, the mother of the victim stated it had been difficult to receive information about the case. “All communication goes through an interpreter and it’s a new interpreter every time.” Martyna says she is familiar with such issues in the Iceland. “This is not OK at all and as I always say, receiving good and certified quality interpreting services is simply a human right, especially in a situation like this. There isn’t enough professionalism yet. […] That’s something that can recreate the trauma for this person. Interpreting is not just putting something into Google translate and translating word for word.”

Xenophobia on social media

The manslaughter case sparked much discussion on social media, with many Icelanders assuming that the suspects were foreigners before their nationality was made public. Many Icelanders posted xenophobic comments on social media in response to the case, for example encouraging immigrants in Iceland to “go back home.” Jasmina Vajzovic Crnac, the director of International Issues at the City of Reykjavík’s Welfare Department, says this rhetoric has often been seen in comment sections on Icelandic media before and called it a dangerous development.

Polish Deputy Minister: Support Language Learning in Both Nations

Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk

While on an official visit to Iceland, Polish deputy minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek voiced his approval for mutual language learning in both nations.

According to the deputy minister, Polish children should be able to learn their mother tongue in Iceland, but Icelandic should also be offered at a university level in Poland.

Read more: Polish Classes Offered to School Staff in Reykjanes

Poles constitute a large portion of the immigrant population in Iceland. According to Statistics Iceland, some 20,500 Poles claimed residency in Iceland in 2021, comprising nearly 40% of the immigrant population and over 5% of the total population.

As such, Poland and Iceland have a very important relationship. There are, however, fears that not all Polish immigrants have had the opportunity to properly integrate into Icelandic society. Increased language education in both countries could be a way to better integrate Polish immigrants into Icelandic society.

Read more: Fifty-Six Percent of Polish Immigrants Experienced Discrimination

In a public address, the deputy minister stated that Icelandic was already offered at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, and that there were plans to extend Icelandic education to the University of Gdańsk. “It’s one of the things we’ve done to show that we take our relationship with Iceland very seriously,” he stated.

Mr. Szynkowski vel Sek also noted the need for more Polish-Icelandic translators, saying that as the connection between the two nations has become so significant, it is important to have specialists with good command of both languages.

‘It’s the worst country I’ve ever been to’: Polish Football Player Leaves Iceland, Cites Xenophobia, Discrimination

Polish football player Chris Jastrzembski, formerly of UMF Selfoss in South Iceland, joined the team prior to the start of the current season and made 13 league and cup appearances before transferring to Prey Veng in Cambodia last month. Vísir reports that Jastrzembski endured repeated xenophobic comments and discrimination on the basis of his nationality while living and working in Iceland.

The 25-year-old defender opened up about his experience in Iceland in an interview with the Polish paper Gazeta on Thursday.

“It’s the worst country I’ve ever been to,” he said. “I will never go back. Many Poles live there and they’re fine, but my experience of Icelanders is terrible. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. People are sorted into categories there.”

“The club treated me worse because I have a Polish passport. From day one, those people had no respect for me.”

In the interview, Jastrzembski recalled an incident in which he was putting up scaffolding at the stadium in Selfoss. He was doing so from a ladder that an Icelandic woman was holding for him.

“Then the boss came and told her to stop helping me because the wind wasn’t that strong, and I’d be fine. The woman left and I fell,” Jastrzembski said, adding that the woman had felt bad about the accident and he’d told her not to worry. The supervisor then began speaking to her in Icelandic and she translated what he said for Jastrzembski. According to the woman, what the Icelandic man said was: “To hell with him. He’s just a Pole. If he dies, there are plenty of Poles who can take his place.”

‘Requested to be released from his contract for personal reasons’

In a Facebook post about Jastrzembski’s departure from the team in July, the team wrote:

“Defender Chris Jastrzembski has played his last game for Selfoss. The player requested to be released from his contract with the club for personal reasons and the club has granted that request. Chris joined the team in the winter and played 13 games this summer and scored one goal. We thank Chris for his time here in Selfoss and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Prior to playing for UMF Selfoss, Jastrzembski played in the Faroe Islands, Germany, and for Poland’s national youth football team.

Fifty-Six Percent of Polish Immigrants Have Experienced Hate Speech

Reykjavik from above

The majority of Polish immigrants in Iceland have experienced hate speech in their time living in the country, Kjarninn reports. This was among the findings of a report shared during a conference held by the City of Reykjavík’s Human Rights and Democracy Office on Friday.

Topics addressed at the conference included how best to deal with hate speech, how to ensure that immigrants are included in Icelandic society, and how to support multiculturalism in Iceland.

Poles comprise the largest group of immigrants living in Iceland. According to Statistics Iceland, 20,520 Polish people were living in Iceland as of the beginning of 2021, accounting for 35.9% of all immigrants in the country.

See Also: Calls on Authorities to Tackle Hate Speech

Eyrún Eyþórsdóttir, doctor of anthropology and assistant professor in police science, was among the speakers at Friday’s conference. She explained that not much data has yet been gathered on hate crimes in Iceland, but in the course of her research, she has conducted interviews with victims as well as an extensive survey amongst Polish immigrants in Iceland last year.

Almost 1,000 Polish immigrants responded to Eyrún’s online survey. Roughly 2% had experienced physical violence as a result of their origins, while 56% of respondents had experienced hate speech. A large proportion of those who had experienced hate speech had done so on multiple occasions.

See Also: Prejudice Just Below the Surface in Iceland, Says Prime Minister

Eyrún said that freedom of speech was often cited as a justification for hate speech. She also noted that destruction of property was common and that perpetrators often knew their victims, and were connected via shared neighbourhoods or workplaces.

María Rún Bjarnadóttir, Director Internet Safety at National Commissioner of Police, shared data that indicated that Iceland lags behind neighbouring Nordic countries in this area. To wit, people in Iceland have experienced more hateful remarks, harassment, and/or threats than in people in Norway in the past twelve months. People in Iceland have also had more difficulty responding to hate speech and have done much less to respond to hateful comments or harassment online.

Four young women aged 16 – 19 who go by Antirasistarnir, The Antiracists, and hold a forum for people of color on Instagram also spoke at Friday’s conference. Anna Sonde, Kristín Reynisdóttir, Valgerður Kehinde Reynisdóttir, and Johanna Haile recently received an entrepreneurial award for their efforts to educate people about racism and discrimination in Iceland. Along with describing the experiences of people of colour growing up in Iceland and the lack of diversity education in the country, the women highlighted the importance of acknowledging that racism is a problem in the first place. Solutions must be found not only for existing problems, said the Antiracists, but also methods of preventing these problems in the first place.

New Film Casts Iceland’s Polish Community in New Light

Wolka arrives in Icelandic theatres today, RÚV reports. The Polish-Icelandic production made its debut at this year’s Reykjavík International Film Festival and is the last film made by director Árni Ólafur Ásgeirsson, who died last spring at the age of 49, just three months after being diagnosed with cancer.

Wolka tells the story of a Polish woman who has just finished a 15-year sentence in prison for murder. For reasons known only to herself, she breaks parole and travels to Iceland in search of a woman.

The film, Árni Ólafur’s fourth, was in the works for some time—almost a decade, in fact. Árni Ólafur, who was married to Polish set designer Marta Luiza Macuga, had lived in Poland and wanted to make a movie about Polish society in Iceland. After moving back to Iceland, he met screenwriter Michal Godzic. They began working on the script together and nine years later, the film is finally ready for audiences.

In addition to its debut at RIFF, a special screening of Wolka was also held in the Westman Islands. “It was certainly emotional for my son and I,” said Marta. “It was so strange to be there without Árni. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the Westmans. Wherever I went, I felt like Árni should be there with us. It was easier here in Reykjavík, the team was with me so it was more bearable. I could enjoy it more and celebrate the movie coming out. It’s done and people will appreciate it.”

Olga Bołądź, one of Poland’s most prominent film stars, played the leading role of Anna. “I met Árni Ólafur in Poland,” she recalled. “He called and asked if I wanted to play Anna. I read the script and fell for it, it was such a beautiful role that offered up so many possibilities. I said yes—yes, thank you. He was one of the most remarkable directors I’ve ever worked with.”

Filming in the Westmans during the winter was difficult, Olga noted, but she recalled it positively. “It was hard because of the weather, it was freezing. But Iceland is such a beautiful country and the people friendly and showed me such kindness, especially the Poles because everywhere I went, I met Poles. They were really proud that there was a film being made about Poles who live in Iceland. I hope that they’ll like it.”

Olga believes that Wolka is a story that will have a broad appeal. “The film is part mystery and part adventure, but it is also a family drama. I think that everyone can relate to family drama.” And while the story may have particular significance for Poles living in Iceland, Olga believes that it will expand people’s notions about this community. “The story is certainly about Polish society [in Iceland], but it shows it in a new light. Árni wanted to show that Poles are not just a labour force, but also people with feelings, who laugh and cry. We are normal people like all other nations.”

An earlier version of the article falsely stated that Árni passed away last year. 

Reykjavík Crowd Protests Poland’s Tightened Abortion Laws

Poland protest abortion law

A well-attended protest was held last night outside the Polish Embassy in Reykjavík. It was the second protest within a week organised by activist group Dziewuchy ISLANDIA in opposition to Poland’s recent tightening of abortion law, after a court ruling banned almost all terminations of pregnancy in the country. Thousands have protested the change across Poland, which already had some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.

“By organising solidarity actions in Reykjavík we want to show our support to women and allies fighting for their lives and health in Poland, saying loudly ‘Nigdy nie będziesz szła sama’ (You will never walk alone, sister),” protest organisers Adrianna Stanczak, Sajja Justyna Grosel, and Anna Marjankowska told Iceland Review. “As Polish women able to move, work, and live in Iceland, we see our privilege of living in a country that provides basic health services, that lets us have gynaecological examinations without fear of being humiliated, lets us decide on our bodies and our futures, and lets us get help and medical treatment when we need it.”

Polish nationals are the largest immigrant group in Iceland, numbering over 20,000 and accounting for nearly half of all foreign nationals living in the country. Ewa Marcinek, who moved to Iceland in 2013, echoed the protest organisers’ sentiments. “I feel so lucky to live in Iceland, where medical care is granted to me without any religious or political limits. In Poland, a country with a strong Catholic tradition, abortion law is already strict, causing thousands of women every year to look for help abroad or to risk going through illegal procedures. Personally, I find no words to describe my sadness that the health and well-being of women living in Poland has been questioned in such a radical way.”

Read More: Most Poles in Iceland Did Not Vote for Duda

Michał Drewienkowski moved to Iceland two and a half years ago. He says he attended the protest to support his fiancée and other women. “It’s important to me to speak out because as a man I do not identify with the ideologies of the men governing Poland. I have a fiancée and I wanted her and all women in Poland to know that I support them. I’m standing with them. I will fight with them for gender equality, for basic health care, for their rights to self-determination, that women can and will make their own choices and they are not incubators.”

Fewer than 2,000 legal terminations are carried out in Poland each year, though women’s groups estimate that up to 200,000 abortions are either performed illegally or abroad. Abortions carried out when the foetus is malformed, which accounted for 98% of legal terminations last year, have been outlawed in Poland by the court ruling made last Thursday.

Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir Tweeted yesterday that she was “deeply concerned” about the developments in Poland.

Most Poles in Iceland Did Not Vote for Duda

Andrzej Duda President of Poland

Voting results among Polish nationals in Iceland differed starkly from those in Poland in the country’s recent presidential election. While populist incumbent Andrzej Duda was re-elected with 51.14% of the vote in Poland, he received only 20.2% of votes submitted through the Polish embassy in Iceland. RÚV reported first.

A total of 3,174 votes were submitted through the Polish embassy in Iceland in the second round of voting. Of those votes, 2,533 (79.8%) were for Rafal Trzaskowski, Duda’s liberal opponent. Voter participation was slightly higher in Iceland than Poland, with 71% of eligible voters in Iceland submitting a ballot (the figure was 68% in Poland).

Read More: Poles Apart

Around 20,000 Polish people live in Iceland. They are the largest immigrant group of any nationality in the country, making up nearly half of all immigrants. Human rights groups and critics have expressed fears that Duda’s victory will boost illiberal tendencies in Poland and within the EU.

Polish Classes Offered to School Staff in Reykjanes

Reykjanesbær

Teachers and other staff at schools on the Reykjanes peninsula in South Iceland have been offered the opportunity to attend courses in Polish in order to better communicate with Polish-speaking students and parents, RÚV reports.

The largest percentage of foreign nationals settled in Iceland, or 26%, live in the Reykjanesbær municipality, which comprises the towns of Keflavík and Njarðvík, as well as the village of Hafnir. The percentage is similar in the whole of Reykjanes: 24% or one in four of the peninsula’s residents are from other countries. Overall, there are around 50,000 immigrants living in Iceland, 19,000 of whom are Poles.

The Polish classes are being offered by the Center for Continuing Education in Reykjanes. Project manager Kristín Hjartadóttir says that they have been arranged at the request of upper secondary school teachers in Reykjanesbær with the belief that a basic knowledge of Polish will come in handy in their day to day work.“Both that and we maybe have students who are starting to speak Icelandic, but whose parents don’t understand Icelandic or English,” she explained.

The classes will then give teachers and parents a better chance of communicating with one another without always needing to resort to an interpreter. Kristín emphasized that the addition of Polish classes are in no way reflective of an intention to undermine Icelandic instruction, simply an added resource for educators.

Poles Apart

Polish community in Iceland

Nearly one half of all immigrants in Iceland come from a single country: Poland. Polish nationals were among the first foreigners to start settling here in the modern era, initially drawn by work in fish processing plants. In the early aughts, a boom in construction drew them in even greater numbers. In recent years, younger Poles have been flocking to the country for jobs in tourism and other industries. Their community as a whole now numbers 20,000.

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