Up or Down, Iceland? (KH)


katharinahauptmann02_dlA lot is happening these days here in Iceland. The past weeks have been full of big news stories.

Let’s start with the bad news.

One issue everybody is talking about is the downsizing of the national broadcasting service RÚV. This story has caused quite a stir because Icelanders are shocked and outraged that RÚV, a cornerstone and essential element of Iceland’s media, culture and society, became the victim of considerable budget cuts in a recent bill from the Parliamentary Budget Committee. According to Páll Magnússon, the director of RÚV, budget cuts will also mean that “some programming on radio and television will be dropped, other programs will be shortened, and others will be changed or thinned out. News spots will also be reduced [in frequency] and shortened.”

This scenario is simply unthinkable: Iceland without a properly functioning national TV? No way! People started campaigning and protesting against the cutbacks, but I’m afraid that's just forlorn hope.

Another incident here in Reykjavík made even international headlines: a man was fatally shot by the police after a shootout. Some people may wonder why this is so significant. Well, this is the very first time in the history of Iceland that somebody was shot dead by the police so naturally it is the talk of the town.

Foreign news agencies seemed puzzled by the way this terrible event was handled here: Bloomberg, for instance, went with the headline In Iceland, when police kill a gunmen, they apologize. The reporter wrote that “Iceland is a weird place” because the country’s violent crime rate is so low despite high gun ownership.

Terms such as ‘gunfire,’ ‘gunman,’ and ‘shot dead’ simply do not come up here in Iceland and therefore people don’t take it lightly when somebody’s life is taken in such a violent way.

This is supposedly the world’s most peaceful country, so I am certain this unfortunate incident is just an exception. Right?

Is that all? No, there are more things in Iceland these days making me feel uneasy:

The country is getting more and more corrupt. According to a new survey from Transparency International, Iceland is now the 12th least corrupt country in the world. This is down from 7th place in 2009.

Other bad news includes the magnificent Jón Gnarr deciding not to run for a second term as Mayor of Reykjavík, the bus fares will become more expensive, and so on.

Does this mean it’s all going downhill for Iceland and do we have to abandon the sinking ship?

Perhaps not quite yet as there are also some pleasant things worth sticking around for.

On the bright side are: the record number of PhD graduates this year, Alvotech’s huge investment into a new, great biotech research facility located in Iceland, cartoonist and humorist Hugleikur Dagsson, the pretty, pretty Christmas lights that have been put up all over town, glögg (Icelandic mulled wine) and the prospects of a proper wintery winter (yes, I consider this a good thing). According to meteorologists, the temperature in the capital will drop below -10°C (50°F) this week, which is unusually cold for Reykjavík and we can expect more snow and gale-force wind. That’s what I’m talking about, now that’s a proper winter and I finally get to wear my new winter boots.

Now it’s for you to decide which way Iceland is going: up or down?

Katharina Hauptmann – katha.hauptmann@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.