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Call me immigrant.

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A few weeks ago someone started an Icelandic Pegida Facebook group. I was not surprised. There is an astonishing amount of Xenophobia in Iceland.

It is not usually not directed at me. I’m German. And as such I struggle to remember incidences where any Icelandic person openly opposed my presence in this country.
I have, however, experienced quite a few incidences of what we German call Fremdschämen (which auto corrects to Frenchwomen). An embarrassment caused by the embarrassing action of others. Sometimes this is due to (stubborn) ignorance about living in a multicultural society.
There was not a lot of understanding why this figure might be problematic. There was also a cocktail called apartheid, because the person naming it looked up the word "separation" in an Icelandic dictionary and everyone around them seemed also to be blissfully unaware of events outside of Iceland. Something like this is still considered funny, rather than embarrassing or offensive, kind of like the depiction of Asian people in the 1960s in USA. Most of the time my reaction these incidences is nothing more than a facepalm. After all, this is a country where children might edge curiously towards the black person in the hot pot trying to touch their skin, because they have never seen one before.

But then there are Icelandic people, who feel obliged to tell me, that they consider me ok, but are opposed to (too much) immigration from other “more foreign” countries, meaning people from countries who just aren't Aryan and rich enough. Expecting me to agree. I fucking don't!

This is why I have some issues with self-identifying as an expat. It is in many way a random classification, a lose stratification of migrants by higher or lower social status.

Migrants, apart from Nationality, are actually quite an homogeneous group. We are mostly young people, with some form of higher education, come from a higher income group in our home country, as travel, especially to Iceland is expensive and we are less risk adverse than the general population. Young, smart, rich and daring people in other words. We all come to seek opportunity (thank you UN report on migration).
Yes, I did come here, because the income I could receive here is higher than in my home country (I came in 2005), working conditions were and still are favourable as well and the Icelandic education system offers opportunities (I am doing my masters in public health in the university of Iceland, taking advantage of paid leave for study). Why else move? I have no Icelandic boyfriend or husband, nor could I ride a horse when I came here and I certainly did not come because of the weather.

The idea that I am more worthwhile to the Icelandic society, culturally ore economically based on my country of origin is deeply insulting to me. If someone sees me as less of a threat to the good old Icelandic way of life, because my skin is lighter, I encourage them to have a look at the categories "Politics" and "IWW" to your right. I am actively trying to change it, if at any point I can say that Iceland is different now because of me, I would list this as one of my proudest achievements. And I'd still call myself immigrant.

Awesome Iceland fact: shortly after the Icelandic Pegida Facebook group was established the group
"United Against Racism and Xenophobia in Iceland" was founded. It now has 3270 "likes", 1000 more than Pegida Iceland and 1% of the total population.

Opting out

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After Christmas I flew back to Iceland from Schiphol (Amsterdam), as I always do. This year I was met with a surprise when going through security, terminal C had been equipped with full body scanners. As unwelcome as this surprise was, it was not completely unexpected. Schiphol had been one of the first airports, which had implemented full body scanners in Europe. There had been a lot of controversy when full body scanners first came into use in the USA. People were opposed to it for various reasons.

  1. Privacy: the full body scan is invasive as it basically takes a picture (though the computer translates the picture into a more generic form) of one through the clothes. The pictures can be stored (this feature is built into the machines and needs to be explicitly switched off.)

  2. Health: There is research and expert opinions that it is save, there is research and expert opinion that the radiation of the scanners leads to cancer.

  3. It does not work: Several security experts have proven that it is possible to smuggle explosives and metal through the scanners.

Today full body scanners have only been implemented in five airports in Europe: Amsterdam, Paris(2), Rome and Venice (not counting the UK, who have implemented it in 5 airports in themselves, all London airports, Manchester, and Glasgow).

Despite all the controversy surrounding them, I watched as passenger after passenger stepped into the machines, lifted their hands over their heads, like a criminal and had their pictures taken. I opted out.

For which of the above reasons did I opt out, you ask?
It was partly for a combination of the reasons mentioned above, but also because I decided to stop tolerating the whole security theatre. I had been herded over too many borders, dealing with the bureaucracy around it, which only seems to exist for its own purpose.

For terrorism the response to the threat is disproportionately large. The likelihood of dying in a terrorist attack in the US the past 5 years was 5 times smaller than being hit by lighting even when including all the prevented attacks in the past 10 years into the equation.
As cynical as it sounds for every other catastrophe there is a cost-benefit analysis for protective regulations, taking into account the likelihood of the catastrophe to occur, how many lives might be lost and the cost involved. Which is why we do not have government issued lighting rods which we are required to carry around with us. Because that would be stupid., though cheaper and save more lives than the full body scanners (which have been shown to be useless). Heck, the risk to my health through these machines is more realistic than the risk of a terrorist attack.

Why is there so much hyperbole (and money spent)? I see two reasons:

  1. The security industry has a much better marketing team (or lobbying team if you will) then lets say the lighting rod industry

  2. Just think about it, millions of Euros are being spent on installing scanners into airports that have proven to be useless, might be dangerous to ones health and definitely seriously invade peoples privacy. The cost of which are going to be paid for by airport taxes, which are going to increase flight ticket prices. We are paying for anti-service.

  3. Terrorists make really good scapegoats for restrictive government actions

  4. It is used as an excuse for the surveillance state, which we are told is needed despite the fact that it does not work either against terrorist attacks.
    The other day someone threatened to attack a Pegida protest. Pegida are a bunch of idiots who make me feel ashamed for Germany. They are also rather awkward for the German government, who does not really know how to handle the situation. The threat made their live easier, basically forbidding them to go forward with their (idiotic) protest (freedom of assembly anyone? Freedom of speech?) and blaming it on the "evil" terrorists (I wonder if anyone even checked there was any substance to the threat) and basically making the fear-mongering of Pegida seem justified.

I opt out of this farce. This is something I wrote about before chosing the kind of society one wants to live in by ones actions. Lifting up my hands, take naked pictures of me, risking my health in the name of a ridiculously small threat, which it does not even provide more protection against, just so a private company can sell their machines is the point where I say no.

And who knows, if everyone starts to opt out and the security in the airport congests, maybe Schiphol will get rid of the machines.
Posted on - Categories: Politics

bubbles, growth limits and why lava candle holders are funny

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Icelandic economic culture dictates to cheer any bubble in the name of economic growth without thinking about such things as externalities, limits of growth or even basic planning. It is akin to the drinking culture, excessive to a point where any non-Icelander just stands by in confusion, wondering if the whole island has gone insane.
Any criticism is met in the same way as the suggestion that going horse riding after several bottles of vodka is not a good idea: with a laugh, a "þetta reddast" and the implication that you are a humourless spoil sport that just doesn't understand the Icelandic way.

Until the inevitable hangover the next day. But like any good addict, while stumbling through the mess, trying to peace together what happened the only reaction you have to the piercing headache is that you really need to find the next party.
At least this is my explanation for what happened in the last elections.

A tourist themed party
Last year there has been a record number of almost a million tourists in Iceland with an annual growth of 20%. The whole population is only around 340.000. These tourists required infrastructure, such as hotel rooms and hiked through fragile countryside to visit tourist attractions where they required services, such as bathrooms and left behind lots of waste.
Here the externalities of the tourist industries became apparent. The already ridiculously limited rental market basically collapsed, with thousands of flats taken out of it and changed to AirBnB.
Landowners watched as thousands of tourists trampled over their land to visit geysirs and waterfalls, destroying the vegetation and leaving waste behind for a lack of toilets. In the end some decided to charge entry fees. However the right to travel freely over other peoples land has been protected by law since the 13th century and the entry fees were deemed illegal. But the incident started a discussion on how to pay for the externalities of the tourist industry.

Financing the clean up
Two ideas were thrown around: increase the tax on hotel accommodation and other tourist industries or implement a "nature pass" akin to the National Park Pass in the US. The first would be relatively easy to implement and only affect tourists or tourist related industries. It would mean higher airfares and hotel prices, thus the number of tourists might decrease, yet they would spend more money. The second idea does not only go against the before mentioned Icelandic law of free travel, but it would be a bureaucratic nightmare to implement, considering the vastness of the Icelandic highlands. On a side note: I wonder if the farmers who go to father the sheep in the highlands in autumn will have to buy the nature pass to do so.
Here one can also see an ideological problem, nature as a communal resource or private property. Maybe it is not surprising that the proposal comes from a government traditionally representing landowners. Maybe the close ties of the government with airlines and hotel owners come into play as well. Maybe it is just a natural reflex from a neo-liberal government to try and avoid raising taxes against all reason.
It should be noted as well that a fee, such as a nature pass is regressive, while a tax, especially on luxury goods is progressive.

Tourists are cash cows
With almost a million coming to Iceland there has been a change in attitude towards tourists. From visitors they have been reduced to cashcows, herded through tours and tourist shops, with ridiculous articles such as below:

The key chain costs almost 10€. Lava is not a limited resource in Iceland, Holahraun, the fissure which has been erupting for the past 4 months has already produced a lava field of 81m². Enough lava candle holders for whole generations of tourists.

Two good articles on the topic:

Sending from a squat

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This is like the nicest squat ever, we have heating (fortunately, this is Iceland), electricity, water, even internet. It is an office building, where our union had a space. It is a nice space, with a kitchen and a cool view.

We were kicked out because it is going to be turned into a hostel (surprise, surprise, Iceland is turning into Belgium sea side towns, tourist shops and hotel minus any life).
We decided to take a stand and stay and make art.
We brainstormed:

and I wrote it up to a manifesto, which can me found here.

We made some "art", so we would have something to show when the landlord comes by:

This is my "piece", death of an alien by bureaucracy (about Icelandic immigration policy)

There are a lot of empty rooms for people to get creative in:

We have been getting some real positive press. And have been organising events, like movie nights, a concert tomorrow and free painting. We have a free shop, taking care of a homeless cat and there is always food and music going on. The landlord was happy to let us stay for now, but obviously that might change any day, it all depends how fast he gets permissions from the city to turn it into a hostel. Then the question is: do we stand and fight or does our little community move on. One thing is clear, people have been meeting and collaborating here, who had not done so before. Ideas were born and plans made. This might turn into something good, in however form.

Welcome to the police state

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It is getting colder. This is not a metaphor, it has been snowing the last two days and the wind is ice cold. I made a mental note to get candles for our new home. Yes, new flat, finally, yay!

I feel the need to fortify, not only because of the weather. For no other reason than douchbaggery the police just acquired a shit load of automatic a semi-automatic weapons.

They way they were acquired is more than shady, first it was said it was a gift from Norway, then Norway said: "eh, no". Then it was said the coast guard bought it from Norway, which they denied and Norway said "sure you did!". I feel like were are dealing with third rate sleazy business men, rather than official government institutions.

Iceland has just been voted the most peaceful country in the world so there is 0 need for these kind of weapons. I think there is 1 gun crime every 5 years, most of the time some jealous lover killing their partner or rival or something.
Just for the heck of it I looked up Icelandic crime statistics on Total offences from 1999 to 2012 have been steadily decreasing:

If you look at the different offences, one can see that violent crimes, such as assault have been going down. Funnily enough the rate of drug crimes seems to follow economic development. I guess in 2009 people did not really have money for drugs. Interestingly "offences against authorities" is the only thing that has increased. The police getting machine guns is not going to help here, rather aggravate people.

The data I used is here. My guess is, the police looked at Ferguson and decided "we want this too!".

In other news the Gálgahraun protestors have been sentenced to pay 100,000kr (700 Euros) or face 8 days in jail for refusing to follow police orders. They had been protesting road construction through a protected Lava field, which had been the inspiration for many of Kjarvals paintings.

Though their actions were completely legal the police had ordered them to leave as they were halting road constructions. When they refused they were forcefully evacuated by the police. By Icelandic law one is obliged to follow police orders, yet the law is not very clear what happens when the police orders you to stop doing something, which is well within your rights to do. This ruling might set a worrying precedent.
What happens now if the police wants to search your car and you refuse to comply? Or if they are trying to break up a meeting of activists? Or remove an "undesired" person from a public place? Next time protesters gather in front of the parliament with pots and pants will they be met by police with machine guns?

One thing is clear militarising the police and giving them more rights to harass people does not bode well.

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