How a Dam in Iceland Floats Chinese Dreams
Time Magazine, Apr 06, 2007:
Building a 630-foot dam and 45 miles of tunnels in Iceland's sub-Artic highlands presents a few logistical challenges. There's the sun, or, more precisely in winter, the lack thereof. There's the wind, which blows so hard it can snap doors out of their frames. There's the heavy machinery and the weekly six tons of food that have to be shipped to the island and driven for hours along narrow roads to the empty expanse of the site. And then, of course, there's the rice.Iceland's modern sagas, 12 Aug, 1998:
"According to the Chinese, this is not cooked," says Gianni Porta, a manager for Impregilo, the contractor in charge of the job. He pokes a finger at his plate of rice and meat in the work camp's cafeteria. "According to the Pakistanis," Porta continues, "this is overcooked."
If it came to a vote this afternoon, the rice would stay in the pot a little longer — about 40% of the 1150 workers currently living at the Karahnjukar camp are Chinese. Though it has drawn on workers from dozens of countries since construction began in 2003, Chinese employees have done the heavy lifting on the massive project due to begin powering a hydroelectric plant this month. The largest industrial undertaking in the history of this nation of 300,000 was always going to need outside help. "You would never have found the manpower in Iceland in the quantity that was needed," says Porta. "You can't just pick people up from the market and put them in the tunnel." ...
One of the main beneficiaries of the Karahnjukar project is Alcoa, the U.S. corporation that is taking advantage of the planned supply of low-cost hydroelectricity to base an aluminum smelter here. Local environmentalists have protested loudly, but most of the employees scrutinizing the rice in the cafeteria today, or standing atop the dam overlooking a frozen reservoir and the wintry emptiness of eastern Iceland, are here because each month they are paid the equivalent of up to two year's salary in China ...
It's a rugged and hauntingly beautiful place, where for centuries tiny communities have scratched a living from windswept grazing lands and the richly-stocked sea. The Icelandic people are fervently proud of their homeland, their language and their culture, and the country has historically been one of the most isolated and homogeneous societies in Europe.Again, the most peaceful country says that appearance matters. But is anybody listening?
But now Iceland is having to confront its ambivalent attitude to outsiders, as for the first time in history it's playing host to significant numbers of foreigners - including contingents of European and American businessmen, the Thai wives of Icelandic sailors, and most recently an influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia ...
... While they're happy to be here, many still feel isolated and wonder how much their neighbours really accept them ...
... A new term, nybor, has been coined for those who don't have Icelandic as their mother tongue, and it's a slightly pejorative word. More pointedly, it's usually only used to describe those who look different. "Russians, Norwegians, Danes are not nybor", Ingibjorg notes; "the Asians, the Africans are... foreigners here are terribly isolated and have terribly few Icelandic friends." ...
...one aspect of Icelandic life ... the country's typically stolid and no-nonsense attitude towards single motherhood ... for Icelanders, motherhood is a badge of honour for any woman, whether married or not.
Liberal Party Fans the Flames of Xenophobia, Dec 01, 2006:
“The issue of immigration as such needs to be discussed. We need to decide how we prepare Icelandic society to welcome immigrants. In a way, the government has opened the debate by not taking the initiative in this discussion. But the way the discourse has been presented lately by the Liberal Party, it is coming from an entirely different direction.”So when Icelanders are forced to look outward, they deal with people who look like them. John Carlin didn't mention that part of their global "obsession".
-Úlfar Hauksson, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Iceland
Last month, Liberal Party member and former reserve-MP Jón Magnússon, brought up the topic of immigration in Iceland in a column in the daily newspaper Blaðið, titled ‘Iceland for Icelanders?’. Despite the obvious reference to racism in the title, Magnússon has maintained that the core argument of his column is that “the system is obviously not prepared to deal with the growing influx of foreigners.”
Displaying incredible lack of respect for the rules of logic, Magnússon claimed that “if the influx of foreigners continues to grow at the current rate, Icelanders will number 400,000 (currently 300,000) by the year 2015, and immigrants will number 80,000.” Choosing to completely ignore the difference between permanent immigrants to the country and the migrant work force who are temporarily employed and make up the majority of foreign residents in the country, in order to pad the weight of his argument, Magnússon also makes the erroneous assumption that the need for such a migrant work force will continue to increase at the same rate for the next decade.
As faulty as his logic is, there is a good reason to discuss the “system’s” preparedness to deal with the recent influx of immigrants, particularly how we assist them in their assimilation to Iceland. Magnússon however is calling for a stricter immigration policy and shuns all attempts to critically discuss an important issue, revealing his true motives when he goes on to say, “If I was an out-of-work Pole, I would not think twice before moving to Iceland. Nobody should understand my words so that I have anything against Poles or other Christians from our part of the world.”
That is, although Magnússon has concerns over immigration, there are certain immigrants that are more desirable than others. He goes on to especially mention his fondness for people from Denmark, Sweden and Norway (why he simply didn’t use the term “of Aryan descent” is beyond me), while especially sorting out the more undesirable ones, “I don’t want to bring in people from the brotherhood of Muhammad who have their own laws and don’t respect minimum rights and offend women.”
As easy as it would have been for all concerned – leaders of the Liberal Party included, to dismiss Magnússon’s diatribe as the ramblings of one disgruntled member, the party’s vice chairman, Magnús Þór Hafsteinsson appeared on the TV talk show Silfur Egils, where he voiced his support for the views expressed in Magnússon’s article. Soon enough, other leading proponents of the party, including the Chairman Guðjón Arnar Kristjánsson and the party’s MP Sigurjón Þórðarson, circled the wagons and defended Magnússon and his calls for stricter immigration policy, lending him credence as a party spokesman on the issue.
Icelandic media jumped at the chance to stir the controversy and misguided Icelandic nationalists soon found themselves filling out entry forms to the Party, with a recent poll showing a substantial increase in its support.
The emergence of a semi-nationalistic anti-immigration party in Icelandic politics should perhaps not come as a surprise. As recently as last spring, former MP Ásgeir Hannes Eiríksson commissioned IMG Gallup to conduct a poll on his behalf, gauging the attitude of Icelanders towards a party with an anti-immigration / nationalistic platform. According to the poll, one-third of Icelanders said they would consider voting for such a party. For a political party on the verge of elimination, that is a lot of potential votes.
In a conversation with the Grapevine, Úlfar Hauksson, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Iceland said, “The Liberal Party is clearly moving in the direction of the Danish People’s Party (Folkepartiet). They are appealing to people’s nationalistic tendencies and the discourse is similar, warnings about how “these people will change our society.” This is a very typical reaction for a political party that is on the defensive. The party has based their campaigns on one issue in the past and it is not enough anymore. They were likely to be wiped out in the next election, so they grab this issue to attract voters when polls show that up to 30 percent of Icelandic voters would consider supporting a party with an anti-immigration platform.” ...
... “They are becoming a carbon copy of the Danish People’s Party ..."
But perhaps, all this is over-explains a rather simple issue. The Labour Union’s Guðmundur Hilmarsson thinks we might be well-served by looking closer to home. “I think when we are discussing these issues, we should keep in mind how Icelanders have in large numbers sought work in other Nordic countries, such as Sweden, every time unemployment increases and the economy has been slow here. We regard this as basic survival instinct on our behalf, but when a Pole decides to do the same then suddenly it is something completely different. They are doing this out of the same basic survival instinct as we are.”
Anti-racists Unite, March 07, 2008:
Dane Magnússon immigrated to Iceland from Jamaica in 1991 when he was 12 years old. Over the years, he has experienced increased prejudice against immigrants in Iceland and wants to see a more open discussion on immigrant issues. He took matters into his own hands and is today the chairman and one of five founders of the Anti-Racist Movement, an independent organisation set to fight against racism, discrimination and, in particular, physical violence directed against foreigners living in Iceland.Again, the absurdity of the immigrant lecturing the most peaceful country on earth. Another righteous dunce who will destroy Iceland's peace under the guise of "progress" and "enlightenment".
For how long has the Anti-Racist Movement been operating?
Since September 2006 ... About 30% are immigrants and 70% Icelanders, many of whom have lived abroad and know how it is to be a foreigner.
What encouraged you to start the organisation?
Our goal is to fight against racism and prejudice in society and while prejudice increases we will be there to protest things we find unjust and discriminating ...
These are people who have been victims of racist attacks out on the streets or harassment in the workplace. Many of them are also afraid to go to the police because they feel that they can’t trust the police. Therefore, many violent acts are never reported ...
We also try to get people’s stories told in the media so the public can be more aware of the things happening in society. We have worked mostly with the newspapers DV and 24 stundir and although the media coverage is improving, many news media could do much better. If I name one example, a foreigner was stabbed downtown recently. It happened on a Sunday morning and we wrote about the attack on our website but the story wasn’t published in the papers before Wednesday, I think. We found this remarkable, because we know that if it had been the other way around, the story would probably have been on the cover the next day. The media coverage needs to be fair.
Many people think racism is not a real problem in Iceland, but it is quite obvious that there are groups out there that go around town and attack foreigners without any motive. We know of plenty of incidents but, as I said, most of them are never reported to the police.
You’ve lived in Iceland for the past 17 years. Do you sense that racism in Iceland is increasing?
Yes. When I moved to Iceland, I first lived in a small country town where people quickly learned to recognise me and got to know me. When I moved to Reykjavík eleven years ago, the experience was quite different. I’ve been called all sorts of degrading names, often because people think I don’t understand the language. I used to answer back but don’t really bother anymore. Sometimes I even wish I didn’t know the language so I wouldn’t have to listen to all the things people have to say about foreigners. But I’m glad I learned Icelandic, because then I can understand what’s going on and I encourage people to learn the language.
Over the past 10 years, things have changed for the worse. Iceland has many more immigrants today than it had 10 years ago. There are more rich people today than before but at the same time inflation has gone up and living in Iceland has become more expensive. People get angry and immigrants become easy targets. I can understand, in a way, that Icelanders are worried, and I know many people think that if too many foreigners come to the country it could lead to unemployment. But that’s not how things work. Foreigners can’t just come and take their jobs. There has rather been a shortage of workforce. Also, it doesn’t solve anything to attack one or two immigrants downtown ...
Racist groups like ‘Iceland against Poles’ and ‘Iceland for Icelanders’ have been popping up recently. Many young people are joining or even starting these groups and aren’t afraid to express their hatred, especially on the Internet. What do you feel about this development?
It’s really sad to see that young people think like this and it is important to do something now before this becomes a more serious problem. Many teachers have contacted us and asked us how to handle issues like these. What I think the schools lack the most is educational material to help children get to know different cultures. We are working on a programme to use in the classrooms, which we hope to get approved. But as it is with everything in Iceland, things take time and cost money.
Are you satisfied with the way the government has dealt with issues like violence and prejudice against immigrants? What would you like to see change?
No, not at all. Although Paul F. Nikolov [of the Leftist Green Movement] has tried to do his best, it is important that the authorities intervene right away. The Ministry of Education needs to intervene. The government needs to discuss this problem seriously and, while doing so, they should look to neighbouring countries, see how they have dealt with the issue and learn from their mistakes before things get out of hand. The most important thing is to look at the big picture: stop saying that Iceland doesn’t need immigrants because that’s just not true. The numbers don’t lie. I think everyone needs to be more open and try to get to know one another without judging beforehand. It seems everyone has an opinion on the matter but instead of spending the time on hatred, people should try to find positive solutions so everyone can be satisfied.
Icelandic in Black and White, 21/04/2008:
I have discovered that there are basically two ways in which Icelanders deal with people who don’t speak their native language fluently: either they immediately switch to English or they refuse to acknowledge that any language other than Icelandic exists. This black-or-white ideology can be frustrating to a beginner of the language.No, it can't be that everyone is in a hurry, so what then? Maybe they just have no inclination to be politically correct and see their Icelandic identity disappear in a sea of grey. What right does a Puerto Rican princess have to tell the most peaceful country how to behave itself? None. Listen and learn the path to peace.
I’ve gone to restaurants and tried to speak what little Icelandic I know only to be talked back to in English. Even if I attempt to speak Icelandic for the entire conversation, I only receive English in response ...
On the other side of the coin, sometimes when I do speak the few Icelandic words I know, I will be looked down upon for not knowing more or for not speaking more fluently. If I can’t understand something I am doomed because suddenly the other person’s capacity to speak English has disappeared and I am not offered any hand gestures to help me guess what is going on.
I actually had a guy once make me repeat what he was saying seven times until I pronounced it perfectly before he would tell me what it meant. I felt like a humiliated parrot. Also, Icelanders tend to speak really fast and join words so that for a beginner of the language it is quite hard to tell when one word ends and another begins. I have asked people to speak slowly only to have them rolls their eyes.
I would just like some room for comfort. It is hard to try to speak Icelandic when your efforts are ignored and English prevails. It is also intimidating when your efforts are dismissed as not sufficient enough from stern stares of non-approving locals ...
I need some room to move in. Let’s create a grey area where I try the best I can and get some feedback without condescending remarks.
I understand when someone is in a hurry and doesn’t have time for the trivialities of dealing with a foreigner’s attempts at the language but it can’t be that everybody is in such a hurry that no one has the time for some helpful banter. I hope that sooner than later I will impress you by uttering a lot more than a “Gódan daginn” and that your response won’t be, “Have a nice day to you too!”
Alexandra Hertell is a freelance writer from Puerto Rico ... She finds herself seduced by the disturbingly beautiful and stark Icelandic landscape ...
If there are suddenly a whole lot of foreigners speaking Icelandic, then what it means to be Icelandic becomes diluted and harder to protect. So it's also a defence mechanism. A smart move because, along with immigration, will come the mantra that Iceland is just a place where anyone should come and have the right to live: a place where everything is so grey that it ceases to have any identity and becomes dangerously vacuous and unable to defend itself. Differentiation is a defence mechanism.
Former President Disapproves of Bilingualism Policy, 16.11.2007:
Former President of Iceland Vigdís Finnbogadóttir has expressed her concern over a policy that has been adopted by some large Icelandic companies on using English as a business language within their walls in addition to Icelandic.There you go: Icelandic is being slowly replaced by English. The Icelandic identity will become harder and harder to protect. Goodbye Iceland, hello non-descript global village with rampant immigration. This is how a country dies. She is right to view this as an attack.
“I don’t think the companies should be sending such messages out into society. They are attacking Icelandic,” Finnbogadóttir, who will present the Reykjavík Educational Council’s Icelandic Awards today, the Icelandic Language Day, told Morgunbladid.
“They have also misunderstood the term bilingualism,” the former President said. “Bilingualism means being raised speaking two languages and being able to manage both. But the companies have a two-language policy and it saddens me […] that another language is supposed to be as fully-fledged as ours.”
Tolerating Intolerance, 06/11/2007:
In most of the western world, a book called “Ten Little Negro Boys” would not make it past the agent’s desk, let alone down onto the presses and onwards into most bookshops in the land. And once in the shops, this book would not usually go straight to the top of the best sellers list. But that is exactly what has happened in Iceland over the last week or two.Immigrant Issues and Controversial Book Discussed, 29/10/2007:
The book not only uses language that many find offensive, but is also illustrated with frankly disgraceful drawings of the “negro boys” that play on every Victorian stereotype—it is illustrated because it is a children’s book.
Modern children’s books usually try to push positive attitudes and try to break unfair stereotypes – but not this one. The simple reason for that is that it’s not a modern book; and therein lies the debate.
The book was first published in Icelandic in 1922, but is a translation of an even older English nursery rhyme. The “disgraceful drawings” ... are nonetheless very accomplished and the work of one of Iceland’s most famous artists, Muggur (1891-1924) ...
The republication of the book has caused considerable controversy. Parents of children of ethnic minority have written a letter to kindergartens in the capital region encouraging them not to read the book to children since they find both the text and the images in the book hurtful and likely to cause prejudice towards people of color, ruv.is reports.Well, John Carlin did say they were free of hang-ups. You can't have it both ways. After all, he did imply that being free of hang-ups is the path to peace. It looks like many Icelanders view political correctness as a hang-up. Their pagan practicality has junked it as a burden.
“I didn’t know what the word ‘negri’ meant, but I knew the kids were calling me that to hurt me,” Bryndís Eiríksdóttir, a mother of two, who believes the republication of Tíu litlir negrastrákar is a mistake, told Fréttabladid. Eiríksdóttir added her husband had once been attacked for the sole reason that he has dark skin.
The couple worries that their children will be bullied following the republication of the book. “They talk about the freedom of publication. It is certainly important, but I think respecting people is more important and this book violates that importance,” Eiríksdóttir concluded ...
Part 3 to follow ...
[The grapevine.is website is now down, so all links to it are broken, but you can google segments of text from each article and still find the cached version]