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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.

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

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