Iceland to Increase Funding for Ukraine

bjarni benediktsson

In a meeting of the cabinet of ministers yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Bjarni Benediktsson introduced a motion of Iceland’s support for Ukraine from 2024 to 2028. Funding for Ukraine will be increased from last year and Iceland’s funding will be on par with what the other Nordic countries have pledged.

“Today marks two years since the beginning of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Bjarni said in a press release from his ministry. “This war of aggression is the most serious security threat facing Europe since the end of World War II. A long-term plan of support will mark a turning point demonstrating our serious commitment to support the struggle of the Ukrainian people for as long as necessary.”

Broad political support expected

Should the motion pass, a minimum amount of funding for Ukraine will be secured for the next few years, even if funding will be determined in the annual budget each year. The motion will be presented to all parties in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, and in the Foreign Affairs Committee in the coming days.

The press release goes on to say that support for Ukraine in Alþingi has remained strong across party lines. “Ukrainians have been fighting for our fundamental values for two years now,” Bjarni said. “Iceland’s sovereignty is based on compliance and respect for international law by all, thus it is no hyperbole to state that our long-term support for the security and independence of Ukraine is also a long-term support for the security and independence of Iceland.”

Volunteer Organisation Throws Christmas Ball for Ukrainian Children

Ukrainian families living in Iceland were treated to a Christmas Ball on Saturday. The party was the culmination of a year of events and relief efforts led by the volunteer-run organization Flottafólk and included a banquet and a visit from Iceland’s Yule Lads. Iceland Review spoke to one of the event organisers, Markús Már Efraim, about the festive event.

Also known as the Ukrainian Refugee Center in Iceland, Flottafólk (whose name in Icelandic, Great People, is a pun on the word flóttafólk, which means refugee), “was founded by likeminded volunteers at the start of the war to provide relief for the Ukrainian refugees coming to Iceland,” says Markús. Saturday’s Christmas Ball was the organization’s biggest event of the year and was made possible thanks to volunteers, “both local and Ukrainian, and the goodwill of the local community,” individuals and businesses alike, who donated gifts for the children.

The ball treated 400 guests—mostly Ukrainian children and their families—to a delicious holiday banquet including everything from traditional Icelandic Christmas fare such as hangikjöt to pizza, laughs Markús, “for those whose tastebuds are not made for smoked lamb.”

After eating their fill, the children got to dance around a giant Christmas tree with some visiting Yule Lads, who then handed out gifts. Members of the Ukrainian community also staged a dance performance.

A home away from home

“Our hearts are full of pure gratitude to those who have been taking care of us for many months already!” wrote attendee and teacher Tanya Korolenko in the Facebook group “Ísland fyrir Úkraínu” (‘Iceland for Ukraine’). “The spirit of Christmas is everywhere now. It’s beautiful…And all Ukrainians here, in Reykjavik, are thanking you heartily for allowing us to feel it, to enjoy it ourselves! It means a lot!”

“Thanks to Flottafolk and its keen volunteers Ukrainians get a HOME to meet every Tuesday, they have plenty of help with practical issues like clothes and hygiene,” continued Tanya. “But what touches me the most is when people take care of other people’s feelings. Like you did today.”

Indeed, Flottafólk has been providing relief to the Ukrainian refugee community in Iceland since the beginning of the war, Markús explains. “Relief has been in the form of food, clothing, jobs, events and field trips for kids, educational programs, psychological support, childcare and basically everything necessary. This winter our biggest focus has been on the distribution of clothes and necessities,” he continues, noting that these distributions take place twice a week at Neskirkja and the community centre in the Grandi neighbourhood on the west side of Reykjavík.

“During the open houses we often get visits from local educators and speakers or do something special like concerts, and traditional gingerbread-making and decoration.”

Plans to expand in the New Year

Invigorated as the volunteers are by their joyful celebration on Saturday, Flottafólk has even bigger plans for the new year, says Markús. “We would like to expand the educational programs, including various art workshops, but need more space as the community centre we have access to has its own extensive programming.”

“One of the things we have planned for the new year is a writing workshop for kids,” says Markús, which would be co-taught by himself and Tanya Korolenko. “This would hopefully culminate in a bilingual book with the children’s writing and illustrated by Ukrainian artists.”

It seems clear that Flottafólk and its ongoing, collaborative efforts have helped to create a strong sense of kinship between local volunteers and members of the newly arrived Ukrainian community, something that Markús Már is quick to affirm. “I had no connections to Ukraine before the war, but as a volunteer and now, project manager for the community centre and educational programs, I feel strong kinship with the Ukrainian people. The refugee community has shown great gratitude to all of us volunteers and given back in so many ways.”

Photos by Alesia Kovalova (Алеся Ковальова)

Red Cross Opens Aid Station

red cross iceland

The Red Cross in Iceland has opened an aid station for refugees applying for international protection.

The aid center will be open to all, but has been created largely in response to the war in Ukraine. As such, the majority of refugees received there are expected to be Ukrainian. 

Located in a former office building on Borgartún, the aid station will serve as temporary housing until better accommodation can be provided. 

Discussion around establishing such a center has been going on since the middle of last month. Gylfi Þór Þorsteinsson, operations supervisor at the Red Cross, has said that everything has been done to avoid this situation, but unfortunately, it has not been possible so far to house incoming refugees at an adequate rate.

The aid center will be able to house one hundred people. It is hoped that refugees will only need to be housed there for several days before being moved into more permanent housing.

Since the start of the war, Iceland has received some 3,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Andrey Kurkov Wins the Halldór Laxness International Literature Prize

Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov is the recipient of the 2022 Halldór Laxness International Literature Prize, RÚV reports. The prize, which includes a purse of €15,000 [ISK 2.1 million; $ 14,946] is awarded to internationally recognized authors who have contributed to “a renewal of the narrative tradition,” which were the grounds for Halldór Laxness receiving the Nobel Prize himself in 1955.

One of Ukraine’s best-known novelists and the president of PEN Ukraine, Kurkov will receive the award in person at the University of Iceland on September 7. The award will be presented by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, after which, the author will deliver a lecture in English. The award ceremony will be followed by a reading with other authors at Iðnó in the evening.

Kurkov is the author of 19 novels, including the wildly successful and satirical Death and the Penguin, which has been translated into more than 30 languages, and 2020’s Grey Bees, which is set in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and details “his country’s past struggles with Russia.” This year, he’ll publish a book of his own personal diary entries, which he started writing on the eve of the Russian invasion.

He’s also written nine books for children, numerous documentary and TV scripts, and recorded an eight-part audio series for the BBC called “Letter from Ukraine,” detailing life in the country during the current war.

The Halldór Laxness International Literature Prize has been awarded since 2019. English novelist Ian McEwan was the first recipient, followed by Turkish novelist and activist Elif Shafak. Shafak was part of the selection committee for this year’s award, along with journalist Egill Helgason, of the books and literary criticism TV programme Kiljan, and director of the Reykjavík International Literature Festival Stella Soffía Jóhannesdóttir.

Apologize or Face Cyberattack: Icelandic Paper Faces Threats from Hackers and Ire of Russian Embassy

The Icelandic newspaper Fréttablaðið received a threat from Russian hackers on Thursday morning: apologize before midnight, Moscow-time (9:00 PM in Iceland) or face a cyberattack in retaliation. The hackers want the paper’s editors to issue a formal apology for publishing a photograph of someone using a Russian flag as a doormat with the caption: “Ukrainians have found a new use for the Russian flag.” Fréttablaðið and Stundin are reporting on this story.

‘A manifest of uncovered disrespect towards the Russian Federation’

The image in question appeared as part of an interview with Valur Gunnarsson, an Icelandic journalist who is currently in Ukraine. Upon its publication on Wednesday, the photograph almost immediately caught the attention of the Embassy in Iceland, which sent Fréttablaðið’s Editor-in-Chief Sigmundur Ernir Rúnarsson a letter demanding an apology for “breaching the existing law and common moral values, as well as journalist ethics.”

“We would like to remind you that the Icelandic government hasn’t repealed yet Art. 95 of the General Penal Code of Iceland, according to which anyone who publicly insults foreign state symbols shall be fined or even imprisoned,” the letter states, calling the image “a manifest of uncovered disrespect towards the Russian Federation and its state symbols.”

The Russian Embassy urged the editors to respond immediately, and “not waste time defending this under the cover of free speech.”

Two Icelandic authors were convicted under same law for insulting Hitler

The legal provision cited by the Russian Embassy—which can technically carry with it a prison sentence of up to six years—is rarely enacted, although it does have a fairly colourful history. The most famous instances of Icelanders being sentenced under this legal provision occurred in 1934, during the leadup to World War II.

First, author Þórbergur Þórðarson stood trial and was fined for calling Adolf Hitler a “sadist” in an article he wrote for the socialist paper Alþýðublaðið called “The Nazis’ Sadistic Appetite.” Later that same year, poet Steinn Steinarr was sentenced under the same article when he and four other people cut down a swastika flag at the German consulate in Siglufjörður.

More recently, rapper and artist Erpur Eyvindarson and two friends were sentenced under the same provision after throwing a Molotov cocktail at the U.S. Embassy in 2002. It was determined that the trio had not intended to harm anyone with the homemade combustable, but rather deface the exterior of the embassy. As such, they were found guilty of insulting a foreign state and its citizens instead of a more serious crime.

In 2017, Left-Green MPs submitted a resolution to appeal the provision, saying, among other things, that it posed an infringement on free expression. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs opposed the repeal, however, arguing that the provision was justified under the terms of international agreements and treaties of friendship.

‘After hacking your paper’s website, we will publish photos of kompromat’

On Thursday morning, the Fréttablaðið website was subjected to what seemed to be a preliminary or warning attack. “We noticed this morning that the traffic on the website suddenly snowballed and it was clear that it was part of an attack on the website,” said Sigmundur Ernir. The ISP already had security measures in place to protect the website and additional steps were then taken to try and prevent further incursions on its functionality. At time of writing, the Fréttablaðið website was still active and accessible, although keeping it functional was difficult, according to sources at the paper.

Shortly after the initial attack, the Fréttablaðið editors received a more explicit email from the hackers responsible, saying: “What right do you have to insult or dishonour the symbols of another nation!!! If you do not apologize on Thursday, August 11 before 24:00 Moscow-time! [sic] We will hack your website and provider. Then after hacking your paper’s website, we will publish photos of kompromat on your publication and you will for sure face a criminal sentence for corruption, banditry [English word used in original message], etc.”

Ivan Glinkin, Communications Director for the Russian Embassy, says the embassy has no idea who is responsible for the attacks on the Fréttablaðið website. Asked if the embassy believes such attacks are in any way an appropriate response to the publication of the offending photo, Glinkin said the embassy condemns all illegal actions, no matter what they are.

‘The flag is almost beside the point’

Editor-in-chief Sigmundur Ernir stated that his paper would not be issuing an apology for publishing a journalistic image taken in a conflict zone but is taking the threat seriously and has referred the matter to the police.

Fréttablaðið has also contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has expressed support for the paper’s position. The Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) also published a statement of support on Thursday, saying “the importance of an independent and free media is particularly vital in times of war and BÍ condemns all attempts to influence the media’s coverage of the war in Ukraine.”

“There’s nothing sacred in a war where children, mothers, and the elderly are killed and whole communities destroyed,” Sigmundur Ernir remarked in an interview with Vísir the same day.

“So the flag is almost beside the point, as flags are trampled in many places around the world in protest. I think Russians should think first and foremost about treating the nations around them with decency rather than whining about a photo in Fréttablaðið.”

Reykjavík Formally Dedicates Square in Honor of Kyiv

Kyiv Square was formally dedicated in a ceremony presided over by Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson on Wednesday. Vísir reports that the square is located on the corner of Garðastræti and Túngata, just blocks away from the Russian embassy. The square will also bear the name Kænugarður in Icelandic, an old Icelandic name for the Ukrainian capital.

See Also: Kænugarður, the ancient Icelandic name for Kyiv

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson and attendees of the formal dedication of Kænugarður, or Kyiv Square. Photo via Reykjavíkurborg, FB

A sign designed by artists and spouses Óskar Hallgrímsson, who is Icelandic, and Mariika Lobynsteva, who is Ukrainian, was hung during the dedication.

“This [dedication] is, first and foremost, a symbolic gesture,” said the mayor during the ceremony. “It doesn’t stop war or alleviate suffering, but it underscores Reykjavík’s support for Kyiv and Icelanders’ support of Ukraine. And perhaps it also underscores the need for us to be prepared to stand with Ukraine and welcome Ukrainians with open arms for as long as the war continues.”

Kristófer Gajavsky, who has been part of efforts to support Ukrainian refugees in Iceland, said that the location of the square was important. “We can definitely say that this is a thorn in their side, that we’re all here, standing together against the war.” The square will be a symbol of hope for Ukrainians in Iceland, Kristófer continued. “For us, this is a day of celebration.”

Six Icelandic Firms on Yale’s List of Companies Doing Business in Russia, Three Shouldn’t Be

The Yale School of Management names six Icelandic businesses on its list of companies still doing business in Russia, but RÚV reports that three of them have no presence or operations in Russia at all, and one never did in the first place. Attempts have been made to contact the manager of the Yale list, a professor and dean at the university, to make appropriate corrections, but these attempts have not been successful.

Failing grades

The list, simply dubbed “Yale CELI List of Companies” (CELI stands for Chief Executive Leadership Institute”) was started on February 28, days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since then, the responses of over 1,200 companies regarding their presence and business activities in Russia have been tracked by Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and the Yale Research Team. “Originally a simple ‘withdraw’ vs. ‘remain’ list,” reads the preface, “our list of companies now consists of five categories—graded on a school-style letter grade scale of A-F for the completeness of withdrawal.”

The CELI list is said to be “updated continuously.” As of July 8, 2022, its headline read “Over 1,000 Companies Have Curtailed Operations in Russia—But Some Remain.” As of that time, six Icelandic companies were included on the list. Three of these—Hampiðjan, Knarr Maritime, and Sæplast—were given a grade of F, “Digging In: Defying Demands for Exit or Reduction of Activities.” Two other Icelandic companies—Marel and Naust Marine—were graded D, “Buying Time: Holding Off New Investments/Development” and one, Eimskip, was graded C, “Scaling Back: Reducing Current Operations.”

No operations in Russia, but still on the list

RÚV contacted the public relations officer for the shipping company Eimskip, who said the company had ceased sailing to Russia right after the invasion and moreover, had not had any operations in the country since 2019, when it closed its Russian office. The PR officer said that Eimskip has attempted to contact Prof. Sonnenfeld to correct its record without success.

According to the Yale list, Knarr Maritime, has “members still operating in Russia.” RÚV reports, however, that the company closed its office in Russia two years ago and no longer has any operations there.

Sæplast, a company that designs and manufactures insulated tubs and pallets for use in the fishing industry, issued a statement on its website on Thursday, saying that it has no operations in Russia, and never has. “The company has no office in Russia and no employee works there,” reads the statement. “Sæplast sold tubs to Russia for many years, either directly or through agents and/or independent distributors, but since Russia invaded Ukraine, no products have been sold there or delivered from Sæplast to the Russian market. Allegations about Sæplast’s operations and trade with Russia are therefore incorrect.”

According to Sæplast general manager Daði Valdimarsson, the company has attempted to convey this information to the managers of the Yale list but has had no success. Sæplast has also been in touch with the Embassy of Ukraine to Iceland (located in Finland) via the Iceland Chamber of Commerce.

Still have offices in Russia

Naust Marine is one of two Icelandic companies given a D grade, meaning that they’ve paused but not ceased operations in Russia. Four years ago, Naust Marine signed a major deal to sell electric winches to Russia for use on its trawlers. General Manager Bjarni Þór Gunnlaugsson told RÚV the deal is at a complete standstill, but it’s unclear what that means for future operations.

Fellow D recipient Marel, a food processing company, published a statement on its website on March 9, saying that it “strongly condemns the military actions of the Russian government in Ukraine” and that it had “taken the decision to pause all new projects in Russia.” The statement continued by saying that Marel has a sales and service operation in Russia, and employees 70 people. It will “continue to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of our employees” and “maintain our dedicated teams in the Ukraine and Russia and our office in Russia, despite expected lower utilization in the near future.” The statement also added that “Marel’s annual revenues and order book in Russia and Ukraine amount to approximately 4% of total.”

RÚV was unable to speak to management at fishing manufacturer Hampiðjan, as they were apparently all attending a meeting on Friday. The company has an office in Murmansk, Russia. At time of writing, there was no information on Hampiðjan’s website indicating whether the Murmansk office is still operational, or if the its business activities in Russia have changed at all since the invasion of Ukraine.

Government Property Agency Seeks Short-Term Housing for Ukrainian Refugees

Reykjavík apartments construction

The Government Property Agency is working to secure short-term housing for refugees from Ukraine. The agency issued an announcement to this effect on its website, appealing to property owners in Iceland to register accommodations that those arriving could potentially stay in for several weeks before they being moved to those municipalities that have agreed to receive and resettle them.

In order to qualify, the property must more than 20 rooms and “high-quality facilities for people in vulnerable circumstances.” The agency is specifically seeking housing—either in apartments, guesthouses, or hotels—that can house up to 50 individuals, including children, in the same building. Sought-after amenities include refrigerators in each room, shared cooking areas and/or an on-site restaurant, common areas, wifi, and laundry.

Parties who believe they have suitable housing to offer, either for free or as paid rentals, can register via a form (in Icelandic) on the Property Agency’s website. Filling out the survey does not constitute a formal agreement to provide said accommodations, rather is part of an ongoing market survey to determine housing availability.

Iceland Closes Airspace to Russia

Iceland

The Icelandic government has decided to close its airspace to Russian aircraft. RÚV reports that Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir announced the decision via Twitter on Sunday morning, “in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Iceland was one of several Nordic countries to close its airspace to Russia over the weekend; Denmark, Sweden, and Finland announced that they would be doing the same on Sunday. Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania have also closed their airspace to Russia and Germany has announced its intention to do so as well. It’s expected that Russia will face a total EU airspace ban shortly.

Iceland condemns Russia’s ‘brutal and unprovoked attack’ on Ukraine, sends €1 million in aid

Þórdís Kolbrún has made a number of public statements condemning Russia’s assault on Ukraine in recent days. On February 24, the first day of Russia’s invasion, Þórdís Kolbrún gave an official statement, stating that Iceland condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the brutal and unprovoked attack of Russia on Ukraine.” She continued: “Russia’s action is a flagrant violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, and is in full contradiction to the Helsinki Final Act.” That same day, she tweeted that Iceland would be sending €1 million [ISK 141.19 million; USD 1.13 million] in humanitarian support to Ukraine.

The next day, she urged the Council of Europe to suspend “Russia’s right of representation in the Council of Europe with immediate effect.”

According to information from the Foreign Ministry, Iceland will also be revoking special privileges that have been afforded Russians coming to Iceland via existing bilateral agreements, such as simplified visa processing for Russian diplomats, businesspeople, politicians, and government representatives. The ministry has emphasized, however, that these moves are “not directed at general Russian tourists, students, or others,” whose visa applications will continue to be reviewed as per usual.

Iceland’s airspace patrolled by NATO

Iceland’s airspace is patrolled by NATO as part of an ongoing mission, called Icelandic Air Policing, which is meant “to establish air surveillance and interception coverage over Iceland and maintain the integrity of NATO airspace.” NATO members maintain a periodic presence of fighter aircraft from the former US military base at Keflavík. Icelandic Air Policing typically involves member nations deploying fighter aircraft to patrol Iceland’s airspace three times a year, for periods of three to four weeks at a time.

Russia’s Embargo of Iceland Still Stands Four Years Later

Today, fours years have passed since Russia placed a trade embargo on Iceland. Previously, Iceland had officially supported sanctions placed on Russia by the EU, USA, and more Western nations. The sanctions followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine. Russia thus placed a trade embargo on Iceland, along with several other western countries, on August 14 2015. The sanctions placed on Russia involved politicians, wealthy individuals, and weapons trade, amongst other things, while Russia’s embargo mostly focused on consumer goods, especially food.

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, says it’s imperative that Iceland continues to take a stance with the nations which believe international laws should be respected. Therefore, it would be unwise to concede to the embargo and switch Iceland’s stance at this point in time. “International laws were broken quite crudely. We witnessed a change of borders by force, which we have not seen the like of since World War II,” he stated. The Icelandic government initially considered withdrawing its support of sanctions against Russia, but ultimately decided to uphold the sanctions.

Fishing industry affected
The Icelandic fishing industry has lobbied hard against Iceland’s stance on the matter from the beginning. Fisheries Iceland, an association of fishing companies, believe that Iceland’s continued participation in the sanctions against Russia leads to severe losses for them. The association states on its website that the Icelandic’s government actions are a ‘useless sacrifice’ in an article released on the four-year juncture of the embargo. According to them, Iceland has been proportionally hit the hardest by the embargo as 90% of the exports to Russia were derived from the fishing industry. The value of trade balance to Russia, which has not included service business and used ships for the last four years, has reduced severely.

The value of trade to Russia was ISK 26 billion (€187m, $209m) in 2014 but stood at ISK 4 billion (€29m, $32m) in 2018. The largest part of the reduction has taken place in exports related to the fishing industry. Fisheries Iceland state that even though new markets have been found for goods which previously went to Russia, the augmented value is significantly less.

“No industry, or at least very few, depends on international laws being respected as much as the fishing industry. We can’t take this out of context. It’s in the interest of everyone to abide by international laws, but especially so for the smallest,” Guðlaugur Þór stated, alluding to Iceland’s size in today’s globalized world. He mentioned that trade with Russia is increasing in other industries. High-tech companies will likely increase foreign exchange earnings significantly following recent contracts made with Russian food manufacturing companies. “Since I arrived in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and probably before that time as well, we’ve been hard at work to increased trade between Iceland and Russia. Luckily, we’re seeing the fruit of our labour in a significant increase between years, even though it is not in the same industries as before they placed the embargo on us,” Guðlaugur stated.

For those wishing to read the article from the Fisheries Iceland, it can be found here in Icelandic: https://sfs.is/greinar/vidskiptabannid-a-russa-gagnslaus-forn/