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Iceland – in the midst of globalization

The Icelandic government threatens to appeal Norway to the court in The Hague. Even Icelanders are more concerned about living in a globalized world. The island has become more privatized than the EU, although membership is not relevant.



Darkness descends over Reykjavík. In the center, people of all ages gather at the many eateries. Outside, the youngsters run on a skateboard and test how far and high they can jump. One of them bets too much, and the blow hurts the wrist. But he gets up and makes new attempts. At Café Reykjavík, they are getting ready for the night's guests. The clock has passed 21, and it is Monday.

The Icelandic capital is awake around the clock – all week. It attracts people from all over the world. The country with its hot springs and vibrant nightlife tempts more and more people.

Last week, the Nordic prime ministers met in the city in connection with the Nordic Council session. Norwegian media was then most concerned about Russian trawlers in the Svalbard zone, and some reported that the Icelanders will not support Norway in the fight against the Russian trawlers.

But for most Icelanders, it is not as natural to support Norway's fight against the Russians in the northern regions, as Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg requested when he arrived in Iceland. In the debate at the Nordic Council meeting, it was suggested that several Icelandic politicians believed that Norway had forgotten its prehistory. It has not been many years since the Norwegian coastguard fired sharply at Icelandic trawlers fishing in the same zone around Svalbard. Iceland also disagrees with Norway in the Norwegian interpretation of the fishing protection zone around Svalbard.

Instead of support in the fight against the Russians, it could be the opposite, so that the Russians will support Iceland against Norway. The current Icelandic government has decided that they will appeal Norway to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to have it established that Norway is wrong in its interpretation of the Svalbard zone. It turns out that both Russia and Iceland have more supporters than Norway in their interpretations of the fisheries protection zone. None of the other fishing nations and neighbors – the EU, the Faroe Islands or Greenland – fish in the North Atlantic that support the Norwegian attitude.

This and other aspects of Iceland were not served in Norwegian media. Jens Stoltenberg chose to go home before the Nordic Council meeting opened. He was going to eat supper with former Chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schröder.

Historical ties

After the ministers and journalists have left the Nordic summit, Iceland is still there as a globalized island, with its strategic location between Europe and North America, exactly where air travel between the continents needs a breather. Globalization reached Iceland long before it became a topic of debate in Norway and the rest of the Nordic region. Therefore, the airport in Keflavik has become an important staging post. Five minutes by car from the airport it is possible to swim in the warm blue lagoon – which should also be healthy.

Iceland today stands with one leg in its regional history and one in the globalized world. At the same time as they very much want to appear as a nation of very innovative and open people, they take with them – voluntarily or forced – their historical roots.

Historically, Iceland has great significance for the common Norse history. Not least through the writs of Snorre Sturlason (1178-1241), Norwegians, Icelanders, Faroese and other Norse people can read about the history of their own nation.

But the Icelanders, who originally consisted mainly of people who for various reasons did not want to live – or could live – in Western Norway, wanted to stand on their own two feet. As Icelanders, they wanted to decide for themselves about the volcanic island and the resources in the sea around the island. After decades of planning, Iceland finally managed to secede from the Danish kingdom, and became independent on June 17, 1944.

It had been about 1100 years since the first Norwegians came to the island.


Iceland has experienced a tremendous development since the Republic was introduced 61 years ago. And the country has experienced going from a central country in the Cold War, to a modern capitalist society where a few people and companies own more and more resources.

During the Cold War, Iceland had far more influence in international politics than its population indicated. Its strategic location made the country an important piece of the game between the two superpowers the US and the Soviet Union. Although Iceland had a good relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it was the United States that became the main ally with the other NATO countries. The superpowers chose to tread carefully with respect to Iceland because of the country's military strategic location.

This was also one of the reasons why Iceland received support – from east and west – for its fight against the British cod trawlers in the sixties and seventies who fished all the way into the tide in Iceland without asking for permission. Iceland sold a lot of fish to the Soviet Union and got cheap oil and cars and other goods as payment. At the same time, the United States was an important partner.

- We have always had a friendly relationship with the Soviet Union / Russia, even though we were clearly on NATO's side during the Cold War and the Americans were based here, says Member of Parliament Magnus Thór Hafsteinsson.

Fight against privatization

The sliding door in front of me goes to the side. I walk into the Allting and have another sliding door in front of me. Look to the right and left to find a security guard. No one is there. I walk through the next door and look behind the counter to the right. No security guard. Behind a window I glimpse an elderly man. He comes out and says:

- Good morning! ("Good day")

I present myself and say that I will meet Magnus Thór Hafsteinsson. The man answers in Icelandic and goes into another room. After a few minutes he returns and says that Magnus is on his way. I can just walk around.

The Icelandic Parliament calls itself the world's oldest parliament. Here are 63 men and women and are to govern Iceland. Compared to the Storting, there is a sky-wide difference. In Allting, you as a citizen are welcome, unlike in the Storting, which has become a fortress where you have to check security and submit a valid agreement with the elected representatives within the wall. After a few minutes Magnus Thór Hafsteinsson appears. He has brought along his party leader, Guðjón A. Kristjánsson. They represent the Liberal Party Liberal Party. The party is new and cannot be directly compared to any Norwegian party. There is a center party that is fighting, among other things, against the privatization of Iceland, especially in the fishing industry.

- We are building the party now, and are looking for partners in other countries. We are talking to other parties, but at the moment our most important task is to build a party that can survive, says Hafsteinsson.

The party has its base among fishermen all over Iceland, and they are well acquainted with the cooperation with Norway – and not least with the conflicts in the fisheries area.

Iceland has in recent years experienced a formidable economic growth. Private companies and individuals are buying up both at home and abroad. The country appears to be an investment paradise.

In Akureyri is Torsteinn Már Baldvinsson. He heads one of the giant Icelandic fishing companies, Samherji. The company had a turnover of NOK 2004 billion in 1,6 and had a profit of NOK 290 million. The company's Icelandic trawlers have a total quota of 137.000 tonnes. Earlier this fall, he told the newspaper Fiskaren that Icelandic politicians do not understand that the country needs even stronger fishing companies in global competition.

"We are big at home, but we are tiny internationally when it comes to negotiating with the big food chains in Europe and the USA," he said.

outside the country

Iceland, like Norway, is an EEA member. And there are many indications that Iceland will remain outside the EU for a long time. Membership is not on the agenda, and will not come, according to most people we talk to in Iceland. The exception is the Social Democrats in the party Samfylking.

- Iceland will not apply for EU membership, says the leader of the Left-Greens, Steingrimur J. Sigfusson.

The party is in opposition, but stands with the government parties and most other opposition parties on the issue of EU membership.

It has been suggested that Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson is an EU supporter, but this is not possible to get confirmed by the government, which does not have any obvious EU supporters in its ranks.

- I believe that with the exception of a minority in Samfylking, there is overwhelming agreement in Iceland that we should not apply for membership in the EU. There will be no EU debate in Iceland, as long as Norway is outside, says Magnus Thór Hafsteinsson.

opposing forces

For observers who see Iceland from the outside, the country may seem like a nation where capitalism has been freely rented and that the people have given up.

The reality is more nuanced. This spring, the government presented a proposal to privatize the state-owned telephone company Síminn. This is called the last major privatization of state-owned Icelandic companies. The government hopes to raise around NOK XNUMX billion for the company. Unlike when Telenor was privatized in Norway, no public share was opened where the individual citizen could go in and buy one or more shares.

This created a backlash that Icelandic politicians have not experienced before. The editor of the business editorial board of Morgunblaðið, Agnes Bragadóttir, hit a nerve when she wrote this in a comment in April about the privatization proposal: with raffle sales of banks and fishing quotas – and after that we sit with a long nose, and are as poor as before. "

She suggested that a corporation be set up to buy up 45 per cent of the shares.

The comment prompted Icelanders to respond. During the day the comment was in the newspaper, she received hundreds of phones, text messages and emails. People clearly stated that they were ready to put money into such a company. She had to take time off from work to sit down with other interested parties, and within a few days they were able to initiate the action that will get the company Almenningur (the public) to take up the fight with the capital-rich large companies.

It is blowing cold in the streets of Reykjavík. In Kafé Reykjavík they continue to serve Víking beer, Carlsberg and Heineken. Icelanders on the city on Monday night are not so keen on how Iceland is funded, but they are betting that the bubble will not burst.

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