Multicultural Festival Celebrated as Part of ‘Friendship Week’ in Vopnafjörður

The East Iceland village of Vopnafjörður will celebrate its second annual Multicultural Festival on Saturday, with international food, dance exhibitions, games, international cartoons for children, and more. Austurfrétt reports that just under 10% of the fishing village’s population is of foreign extraction, with full-time residents hailing from 20 different countries around the world.

As of September, 670 people called Vopnafjörður home. Sixty of these residents are originally from another country. Poles make up the largest subset of foreign residents, followed by Bulgarians. The village is also home to people from Sweden and Pakistan, among other nations.

Flags representing all the nationalities living in Vopnafjörður at the village’s 2020 Multicultural Festival. Photo: Vopnafjörður, FB.

“People have always come here from abroad,” says Þórhildur Sigurðardóttir, who oversees multicultural and diversity initiatives for the larger municipality. Þórhildur explained that the village has a history of attracting foreign workers, but it’s only recently that the makeup of the fulltime population has been so diverse.

“There are people with Faroese roots, and then Danish women came to work here. I think one of them is still left. Otherwise, there weren’t many [other nationalities] here even six years ago. For a long time, it was just one woman from Poland. But that’s changed completely.”

Vopnafjörður held its first Multicultural Festival in 2020, at which time, there were people from 22 countries living in the village. The following year, a Children’s Cultural Festival was held instead, but still with a multicultural focus. During that festival, kids were taught how to count to five in 13 languages and flags were raised for each of the nationalities living there.

This year, the Multicultural Festival is just one part of a week-long ‘Friendship Week,’ sponsored by a local youth club and programmed entirely by teenagers. Friendship Week runs from Friday, October 7 to Sunday, October 16 and will include a variety of events, including a parade, a potluck-style cake buffet, a movie night, a ‘goodwill marathon,’ in which residents are encouraged to do good deeds for one another (such as raking leaves, folding laundry, dog walking, etc), an intergenerational game night, and more.

Canadian Company Plans to Mine “Eco-Friendly” Gold in Iceland

Vopnafjörður

Robots and geothermal energy are expected to help a Canadian company produce “eco-friendly” gold in Iceland, Mining Weekly reports. St-Georges Eco-Mining, which recently acquired all Icelandic mineral licences, is exploring the possibility of gold mining at several locations in Iceland, including at Þormóðsdalur just 20km (12.4mi) east of Reykjavík.

“Our emphasis will be on making the most eco-friendly and socially responsible gold in the world,” St-Georges CEO Vilhjálmur Þór Vilhjálmsson stated in an interview about the company’s plans in Iceland. “We foresee that our gold would be sold with a premium.”

Years of Research Required

Research is still needed to find out whether Iceland’s gold deposits are large or concentrated enough to be mined, and Vilhjálmur stated St-Georges expects to spend ISK 500 million ($3.6m/€3.1m) over the next few years on finding out. If mining does go ahead, Vilhjálmur insists that the operation would be minimally invasive.

“Our ideology is about making minimal disturbances to the ground,” he stated. “In Þormóðsdalur, you will hardly see when mining activity starts.” The company plans to make use of all materials extracted from the ground during mining. After the gold is extracted, the remaining material will be used in building material and concrete.

Holds All Mineral Rights in Iceland

St-Georges announced in a press release last month that it had acquired all Icelandic mineral licences in Iceland, giving it total control over all the mineral rights in the country. This makes it “the only junior exploration company to own all the mineral rights of a western country,” the press release states. Besides gold, the company also holds exploration rights for silver and copper in Iceland.

St-Georges has “direct and indirect control of all issued and pending mineral licences in Iceland,” covering a total area of over 4,600 square kilometres (1,780 square miles) in locations across the country, including Vopnafjörður, Northeast Iceland; Öxnadalur, North Iceland; and Þormóðsdalur. The latter location has some history of gold mining: poet and businessman Einar Benediktsson found a gold deposit at the site which was later investigated and mined between 1908-1925.

A senior analyst for metals and mining at Bloomberg Intelligence, Grant Sporre, has expressed scepticism St-Georges could sell Icelandic gold at a premium since there is no universal standard for what qualifies as “green gold.”

British Billionaire Plans to Build Fishing Lodge

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe hopes to build a 950 sq m [10,226 sq ft] fishing lodge on land he co-owns in Vopnafjörður, in Northeast Iceland, RÚV reports. According to the public zoning application, the development plans include an onsite restaurant and guesthouse.

Ratcliffe has purchased a significant amount of land in the area in recent years and owns a majority share of at least 30 properties, a minority share of nine, and fishing rights at two places within public lands around Selárdalur, home to one of the best salmon rivers in the country. In the past, he’s stated that he bought the land in the name of environmental protection and in order to protect Icelandic salmon stock.

In order for Ratcliffe and his fellow owners to move forward with their development plans, the land at Ytri Hlíð, which is currently zoned as agricultural land, would need to be rezoned as a retail and service area. Per the proposal, the landowners say the fishing lodge and accompanying facilities and intended to strengthen tourism in the area and make it a more competitive destination on the local market. If approved, the fishing lodge would overlook Vesturárdalur valley, as well as the Krossavíkur and Smjörfjöll mountains.

In order for the proposed lodge and facilities to be usable, significant infrastructural development would also be required: a road to the property would need to be paved, power lines would have to be laid, and, in order to provide drinking water, a well would either need to be drilled or else a spring in a nearby village would need to be tapped for the purpose.

The public has the opportunity to comment on the proposal until September 3. The Vopnafjörður district office will also hold an open house on Monday to present the development plans.

Jim Ratcliffe Acquires More Land in Iceland

Jim Ratcliffe

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe has purchased holding company Grænaþing from investor Jóhannes Kristinsson, Fréttablaðið reports. With the acquisition, Ratcliffe has a 86.7% stake in the fishing association Strengur Ltd., which owns the fishing rights of Selá and Hofsá rivers in Vopnafjörður, Northeast Iceland.

Ratcliffe was named the UK’s richest person in May 2018, with a net worth of £21.05 billion. He now has owns over 30 properties in Vopnafjörður in whole or part, alongside other land in Iceland.

Chairman and CEO of Ineos chemicals group, Ratcliffe has been purchasing land in Northeast Iceland over the past several years with the stated goal of protecting salmon rivers in the area. When he purchased Grímsstaðir á fjöllum in 2016, Ratcliffe issued a statement saying the land was an important catchment area for salmon rivers in the region and the purchase was a step toward protecting wild Atlantic salmon stocks.

The purchase of Icelandic land by foreign nationals has been in the local media spotlight lately, with many locals concerned about foreign landowners’ intentions with the land. Minister of Justice Sigríður Á. Andersen has expressed her desire to tighten land purchase regulations and increase transparency in company ownership of land.