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Þjóðhátíðardagurinn - 17. June

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Yesterday we celebrated the Icelandic national holiday, the day Iceland became officially an independent nation in 1944 as well as the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, the head of the Icelandic independence movement in the 19th century.

The traditional celebration is to head downtown with the kids, eat candyfloss and hot dogs and participate in festivities ranging from the strongest man competition to an open air concert.

This year one of the activities was a protest on Austurvöllur in front of the parliament during the speeches of the president and prime minister (who got booed a lot during his speech filled with forced optimism for Iceland and his government).

Opinions on the protest were divided. Some were complaining that the protesters were ruining the day for the children. Others found that a protest was in the spirit of Jón Sigurðsson who had stood up with his fellow delegates of the constitutional assembly after their bid for independence from Denmark was unceremoniously dismissed by the royal representative and said in unison

Vér mótmælum allir!

- We all protest!

Strike - update

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Another day - another protest. Me and my fellow workers were back in front of parliament last Friday. This was the 3rd time in 2 weeks that we were protesting after 10 days of ongoing strike actions and stalled negotiations. The government, who had refused to negotiate with its workers before the negotiations in the private sector were over and then had refused to consider any collective agreement, but a carbon copy of the one of the private sector, finally decided to do what it wanted to do in the first place and created a law to take our right to strike away.

Wages in the public sector are lower than in the private sector for people with university degrees. Furthermore public institutions are not flexible enough in their financial management to be able to offer competitive prices.
Healthcare workers in the other Scandinavian countries have a much higher purchase power than in Iceland. As it is easy to get a license in any Scandinavian country with an Icelandic degree the brain drain has been enormous. After the ham-handed way the government handed the negotiations with the workers, even more are thinking of moving abroad, especially nurses, which means the decreased services which had endangered patients well being during the strike is probably going to become the norm in Iceland.

Maybe it is just another move in the continuing effort of the current government to dismantle the public healthcare system.

As a supporter of industrial unionism it was encouraging to see my union BHM to stand in solidarity with the Nurses Union. As workers of the same industry our concerns and demands aligned and we did not let us be played against each other but stood together in solidarity. I also experienced a lot of support at work from other health care workers who did not to belong to our union. The general opinion seemed to be that it is an issue of a struggling healthcare system and that it is in danger of losing an important part of the workforce if working conditions do not improve.

Posted on - Categories: Politics IWW

Protests, becoming famous and a correction

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Over the weekend have been protests against the decision to stop accession talks with the EU without the promised referendum as was to be expected. There will be one today if we do not all get blown away by the wind first.
I wrote a blog post about it on the German online magazine "Besser Nord als nie" with pictures and edits from my friend Steffi. Doing so I noticed I was wrong in the German text of my previous blog post. Here is a correction:

Richtigstellung zum vorigen Eintrag:
In den letzten zwei Jahren hat die Regierung nicht mehrfach versucht diese Entscheidung durch das Parlament zu bekommen. Sie hatte den Gesetzvorschlag vorbereitet ihn aber wegen der Proteste nie dem Parlament vorgelegt.

Demokratie, nein danke!

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Der Isländische Außenminister hat gestern im Alleingang einen Brief an den EU Präsidenten geschrieben und ihm mitgeteilt, daß Island den EU Antrag zurücknimmt.
In den letzten zwei Jahren hat die Regierung mehrfach versucht diese Entscheidung durch das Parlament zu bekommen, aber es nicht geschafft. Dies hatte Protest ausgeloest, da ein Wahlversprechender Regierung eine Volksabstimmung zu dem EU Antrag gewesen war.

Island ist in der Europäischen Wirtschatszone, wie auch in dem Schengen Abkommen, was bedeutet, daß die meisten Regelungen von der EU übernommen werden müssen, ohne daß Island Einfluss auf sie haben kann.

Die Enscheidung war in jeder Hinsicht antidemokratisch.

For English speakers
The decision of the foreign minister to inform the EU that Iceland is stopping the accession talks without consulting parliament or holding a referendum as was promised in the election is antidemocratic to the highest degree, especially considering that Iceland, being part of the EEG and Schengen, has been adopting European regulations without having any influence on them.

Basically McCarthyism

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The other day me and my friend Steffi, who is here on an internship for the Reykjavik Grapevine, went to a showing of the documentary Silenced organized by IMMI (International Modern Media Institute ). My friend is writing a series of articles about IMMI, which is why we were there. IMMIs goal is to make Iceland into a " journalistic safe haven, protecting both freedom of expression as well as freedom of information".

The documentary was long. I do not like documentaries much. I find them emotionally manipulating, even when agreeing with the subject matter. Fortunately the director (who hilariously is called "Spione" the German word for "spies") did not pretend otherwise, but said:

I'm not a journalist, I'm a documentary filmmaker.

I found two things noticeable in this film.
First, I was surprised by how surprised long standing government officials were by the actions of the institutions they worked for. First hysterical prosecution of any critics has been seen before. Basically it is McCarthyism all over again. You need to give us full unconditional support or are "aiding the enemy".
It is not astonishing that the main motivation of any institution is not efficiently performing the task it was perceived for, but growth and survival.
The hysterics of today, just as in McCarthyism earlier, serves the institutions well. It gives them an excuse to quiet critics and instead of being forced to operate competently they can force the public to give them more and more power.
Just as we have to go through expensive and invasive "security" measures, which do not actually improve security. Or how a lot of terrorist attacks could have been prevented, not by more surveillance, but by the institutions in the "intelligence community" not being incompetent.

Secondly, the documentary was a good reminder why IMMI is needed for an open discussion and evaluation of institutions by the public. during the panel afterwards the whistleblowers praised Iceland for IMMI and its stand for press freedom and whistleblower protection in general. Birgitta (chairman of IMMI) just smiled and nodded, which surprised me.

The development in the last years in Iceland can not be described as positive for press freedom or whistleblower protection.
A lot of the reforms needed for IMMI to become reality had been in the proposed constitution, which had not only been killed, but a new bizarre law had been pushed through that any changes to the constitution has to be agreed upon by 2/3rd of parliament and 40% of the population (not voters, anyone not voting is considered to have voted no).
Now the laws and reforms needed are bit by bit proposed and fought through parliament. It is a bit like pulling teeth. At the same time politicians started using every trick available to threaten news outlets. Threatening suing for libel, cutting funding or just making ex-party members editors in chief (see link below).
Iceland dropped from 8th to place 21 on the World Press Freedom Index. Earlier Reporters without Borders had voiced concern about the press freedom in Iceland,47248.html.

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