'Saving Iceland' Tag Archive

Aug 07 2017

Iceland’s Troubled Environment


Michael Chapman

When it comes to loving where you’re from, Iceland has a fantastic international reputation for its widespread use of renewable energy, its untouched landscapes and its sustainable environmental policies. But just how true is Iceland’s positive attitude to the environment?

How are phenomena such as climate change, heavy industry and tourism affecting the landscape, the wildlands, the glaciers and the seasons of the country? Most importantly, how are the Icelandic people responding to these threats, if at all?

There can be no denying, nor any hope of denying, Iceland’s staggering aesthetic beauty. Icelanders themselves are quick to point out their spiritual connection to the land, understandably proud and protective of their country’s many highlights; its geological marvels, breathtaking panoramas and stunning natural scenery.

With rolling black sand beaches, mist-wreathed mountainscapes, cerulean glacier tongues and bubbling hot springs, Mother Nature has candidly outshone herself decorating this small, Atlantic island. Read More

Nov 21 2015
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Armand, Our Legendary Dutch Singer Friend has Died


Armand, the famous Dutch protest singer and a great friend and supporter of Saving Iceland, died on 19 November at 69 years.

Saving Iceland remember him with great affection and gratitude for his friendship and his love of Icelandic nature.

Armand, whose name was George Herman van Loenhout, only spent two days in hospital with pneumonia before he died. Since childhood he had suffered from asthma and was not expected to live beyond 20. Hence Armand called “every day a bonus.” “I’ve already had 49 additional years, so I can not complain,” he said earlier this year.

During a career lasting fifty years Armand wrote and recorded at least eleven solo studio albums and dozens of singles. One of his greatest hits was “Ben ik te min” (Am I not worthy?) which stayed for 14 weeks in the Dutch Top 40 in 1967. Armand was writing and performing to the very last. Some recent collaborations were with young Hip-Hop artists Nina feat Ali B & Brownie Dutch, and recordings and performances with Dutch band De Kik.

Armand traveled extensively around Iceland and wrote several songs in support of the fight against the corporate energy projects and heavy industry endangering the Icelandic environment. For us here in Saving Iceland it was a real privilege to witness the professional way in which he approached the writing of his lyrics and his genuine concern for accuracy and proper research of the Icelandic situation. Not to mention his warmth and humour, and irreverence for authority.

Although it is with great sadness that we salute our dear friend Armand, we can proudly testify that he lived a life full of song and colour, and that he was an inspiration to generations.

 

Armand’s music for Iceland:

Brave Cops of Iceland: Download

Ísland, ég elska þig. Ofwel: IJsland, ik hou van jou: Download

European Affair: Download

 

Read More

Dec 05 2014

Majority Pushes For Eight New Hydro Power Plant Options


Proposal and lack of due process called “unlawful” and “declaration of war”

Haukur Már Helgason

Last week’s Thursday, the majority of Alþingi’s Industrial Affairs Committee (AIAC) announced its intention to to re-categorize eight sites as “utilizable” options for the construction of hydroelectric power plants. These have until now been categorized, either as for preservation, or as on “standby”. These are categories defined by the Master Plan for nature conservation and utilization of energy resources, as bound by law. The re-categorization would serve as the first legal step towards potential construction.

The proposal had neither been announced on the committee’s schedule, before its introduction, nor introduced in writing beforehand. The committee’s majority gave interested parties a week’s notice to submit comments on the proposal, which is admittedly faster than we managed to report on it.

Reasoning

When asked, by Vísir, why the proposal was made with such haste, without any prior process in the committee or an open, public debate, Jón Gunnarsson, chair of the committee on behalf of the Independence party, replied that “it is simply about time to express the majority’s intention to increase the number of options for utilization.”

The proposal is in accordance with statements made by the Minister of Industry, Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, at Landsvirkjun’s autumn meeting earlier that week, as reported by Kjarninn. In her speech at the occasion the Minister said: “I will speak frankly. I think it is urgent that we move on to new options for energy development, in addition to our current electricity production, whether that is in hydropower, geothermal or wind power. I think there are valid resons to re-categorize more power plant options as utilizable.”

Opposition

As the proposal was introduced to Alþingi, members of the opposition rose against the plans.

Róbert Marshall, Alþingi member in opposition on behalf of Bright Future, has called the lack of process “deadly serious” and “a war declaration against the preservation of nature in the country”. Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, the Left-Greens’ former Financial Minister, concurred, calling the proposal the end of peace over the topic, as did the former Environmental Minister on behalf of the Left-Greens, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who called the proposal “a determined declaration of war”. Katrín Júlíusdóttir, former Minister of Industry, on behalf of the Social-Democrats’ Coalition commented that the proposal was obviously not a “private jest” of the committee’s chair, but clearly orchestrated by the government as such.

Lilja Rafney Magnúsdóttir, the Left-Greens’ representative in AIAC, and the committee’s vice chair, condemned the proposal. According to her, Minister of the Environment, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, specifically requested fast proposals on these eight options. She says that she considered the data available on all options to be insufficient, except for the potential plant at Hvammur.

That same Thursday, the Icelandic Environment Association (Landvernd), released a statement, opposing the proposal. According to Landvernd’s statement, five of the eight options have were not processed in accordance with law. Landvernd says that the proposal “constitutes a serious breach of attempts to reach a consensus over the utilization of the country’s energy resources.” It furthermore claims that the AIAC’s majority thereby goes against the Master Plan’s intention and main goals.

Landsvernd’s board says that if Alþingi agrees on the proposal, any and all decisions deriving thereof will “constitute a legal offense and should be considered null and void”. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Landvernd’s manager, has since stated that if the plans will proceed, the high lands of Iceland will become a completely different sort of place.

The Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) also opposes the plans. The association released a statement, pointing out that if current ministers or members of Alþingi oppose the Master Plan legislation, they must propose an amendment to the law, but, until then, adhere to law as it is.

The options

Mid-October, Environmental Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson already proposed re-categorizing one of the eight areas, “the plant option in Hvammur”, as utilizable. This was in accordance with proposals made by AIAC last March. Leaders of the parties in opposition then objected to the decision-making process, saying that such proposals should be processed by Alþingi’s Environmental Committee before being put to vote. The Hvammar plant would produce 20 MW of power.

The other seven options to be re-catogorized are: the lagoon Hágöngulón (two options, totalling 135 MW); Skrokkalda, also related to Hágöngulón (45 MW); the river Hólmsá by Atley (65 MW); lake Hagavatn (20 MW), the waterfall Urriðafoss (140 MW); and Holt (57 MW).

The last two, as well as the plant at Hvammur, would all harvest the river Þjórsá, the country’s longest river. The eight options total at 555 MW.

Backstory: Kárahnjúkar

The latest power plant construction in Iceland took place at Kárahnjúkar. The 690 MW hydropower plant at Kárahnjúkar is the largest of its type in Europe. It fuels Alcoa’s aluminum smelter in Reyðarfjörður. The largest power plant in the country before Kárahnjúkar, was the Búrfell hydropower plant, on-line since 1969, at 270 MW. The Icelandic government and the national power company Landsvirkjun committed to the dam’s construction in 2002, which was concluded in 2008. The total cost of the construction was around USD 1.3 billion. The largest contractor was the Italian firm Impregilo. The construction was heavily contested, for its environmental and economic effects, for the treatment of the workers involved and for a lack of transparency and accountability during the prior decision- and policy-making process.

At least four workers were killed in accidents on site, and scores were injured. “I have worked on dam projects all over the world and no-one has even been killed on any of the schemes. To have this number of incidents on a site is not usual,” commented International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) vice president Dr Andy Hughes at the time.

During the construction, the country saw new kinds of protest actions, involving civil disobedience and direct action, led by the organization Saving Iceland. Andri Snær Magnason’s 2006 book Draumalandið – The Dream Land – contesting Iceland’s energy policies, and calling for a reinvigorated environmentalism, became a bestseller at the time. Ómar Ragnarsson, a beloved entertainer and TV journalist for decades, resigned from his work at State broadcaster RÚV to focus on documenting the environmental effects of the Kárahnjúkar plant and campaigning against further construction on that scale. Read More

Sep 24 2013
3 Comments

Secrets and Lies: Undercover Police Operations Raise More Questions than Answers


Chris Jones, Statewatch

British police officers undercover in protest movements have been shown to have regularly operated outside the UK. Activists, lawyers and MPs have all called for an independent public inquiry in order to reveal the full extent of the practice.

Two-and-a-half years after the unmasking of Mark Kennedy and other police spies in protest movements, new information has emerged that reveals the extent to which police forces across Europe colluded in their deployment. Accusations have been made that police infiltrators were at the forefront of planning protests, acting as agent provocateurs. European law enforcement agencies coordinated these activities in secretive, unaccountable transnational working groups. Police officers formed long-term, intimate relationships with activists, had children with them, and became part of their extended families. The identities of dead children were stolen to create cover “legends.”

Rather than provide answers, this information has given rise to more questions:

• On what grounds was infiltration authorised?

• Did national police forces have knowledge of foreign undercover officers operating on their territory and, if so, did they benefit from information obtained by those officers?

• Is forming relationships with “targets” – including having children with them – official state policy?

• To what extent are undercover deployments demonstrative of coordinated European police operations?

• How many – if any – of the groups infiltrated by undercover agents can be said to warrant such levels of intrusion, and how is this assessed?

Legal challenges and political inquiries have been made – and are ongoing – in an attempt to find answers to some of these questions. Official reviews have been carried out in a number of countries, but those that have been made public – for example in Iceland and the UK – have been condemned as lacklustre and shallow by political activists, journalists and elected representatives. [1] The majority of these reviews have been kept secret, providing no answers to those affected by the actions of undercover officers, while those who authorised and took part in the operations have yet to be called to account. While officials may have occasionally wrung their hands and expressed concern, no heads have rolled – yet. [2]

Repeated calls have been made in the UK for an independent public inquiry into the use of police spies to infiltrate movements, including by a former Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, which have so far been resisted. [3] This article illustrates significant collusion amongst European police forces and arguably only a Europe-wide inquiry, for example by the European Parliament, can go some way towards establishing the extent to which authorities across the continent have undermined civil liberties and human rights. Read More

Sep 12 2013
1 Comment

The Mark Kennedy Saga – Chapter Iceland


Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson Grapevine

Each time a free-floating rumour gets confirmed, and past political behaviour becomes a scandalous spectacle, one cannot resist wondering if such conduct might be going on today. This was the case in 2006, after a grand exposure of espionage the Icelandic state aimed at socialists during the Cold War. During parliamentary discussions following the revelation, Mörður Árnason, MP for the Social-Democratic Alliance (“Samfylkingin”), highlighted the importance of revealing if similar espionage was indeed occurring in present times. If so, he asked, “how is it being conducted? […] Which foreign states have been able to access this information?” Quite typically, those questions were never answered.

Half a decade later, in late 2010, it was revealed that a British police officer, one Mark Kennedy, had travelled around Europe for seven years disguised as environmental and anti-capitalist activist ‘Mark Stone’ and was collecting information about various activist movements and, in some cases, acting as an agent provocateur. Along with the UK, Denmark, Germany, Italy and France — to name but a few of the places where he worked — he did a stint in Iceland’s Eastern highlands in the summer of 2005. In Iceland, he attended a protest camp organised by the environmentalist movement Saving Iceland which targeted the construction of the gargantuan Kárahnjúkar dam and American aluminium giant Alcoa’s smelter in Reyðarfjörður.

The revelation mostly stayed within activist circles and publications, until early 2011, when a public expose of the spy’s true identity lead to the collapse of a UK trial against six climate-change activists, in which Mark’s secretly obtained evidence played a key role. British newspaper The Guardian then took up the case, and the Mark Kennedy saga started to snowball contemporaneously with the broader attention it received, bringing to light a number of other undercover spies.

Sex, Secrecy And Dead Children’s Identities

Shortly after Mark was exposed, Irish and German authorities admitted that he had worked within their jurisdictions and with their knowledge. Due to the ongoing efforts of Andrej Hunko — MP for German left party Die Linke — a truckload of information regarding European cross-border undercover police operations has since seen the light of day.

A recent book on the matter, written by Guardian journalists Paul Lewis and Rob Evans, brings further context to the affair — the mapping of at least 30 years of police espionage and infiltration of environmentalist, anti-racist and anarchist movements in the UK and elsewhere. Among the information revealed, the authors explain how the undercover officers at the Special Demonstration Squad — the undercover unit responsible for the infiltration — had the modus operandi of taking up identities of dead children in order to build up credible alter-egos based on the short lives of real persons.

It has also been revealed that Kennedy — along with others in his position — enjoyed several intimate relationships with some of his prospects, using sex to build up trust and gather information. One infiltrator, Bob Lambert, even fathered a child with one of these women, only to disappear as soon as his undercover employment became too risky. Eight British women who were victims of this tactic have pressed charges against the spies’ employer, the Metropolitan Police, due to the psychological damage they suffered. In a recent episode of investigative TV programme ‘Dispatches’ on Channel 4, some of them described their experience as having been mass-raped by the state, as they would never have consented to sleeping with the police officers had they been aware of their real identities. Adding insult to injury, their claims will not be heard openly — the British High Court recently ruled that it would take place in the secret Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

Saving Hell’s Angels

Enter Iceland, where the big question concerned whether Mark Kennedy had operated with or without the Icelandic authorities’ knowledge and approval. According to the country’s penal code, a foreign party or state’s espionage that takes place within the jurisdiction of the Icelandic state — or is directed at something or someone therein — is illegal and punishable with five-years imprisonment. Had Mark operated without the authorities’ knowledge, it should have caused an international conflict. If he, on the other hand, collaborated with the Icelandic police, it would have equaled the invoking of proactive investigative powers, which the Icelandic police apparently didn’t have at that time.*

Thus the affair entered Iceland’s parliament in late January 2011. Assuming the former version being more likely than the latter, the above-mentioned MP Mörður Árnason asked his fellow party-member and then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphéðinsson, about the government’s possible actions regarding the matter. After a few lousy personal jokes thrown between the two, Össur claimed he would wait for a report on the matter — conducted by the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police — which Ögmundur Jónasson, MP for the Left Greens and then Minister of the Interior, had already requested.

But when finally published by the Commissioner’s National Security Unit in May 2011, it was pretty much impossible to estimate the relevance of the report, as the details of Ögmundur’s request were never made public. It was, however, clear that the National Commissioner — whose report literally equated environmentalist activists with Hells Angels — wasn’t about to bring any concrete information out into the public domain.

Lost In Information

Although admitting that the police received information about the activists and their plans via domestic and foreign sources, and that the Icelandic police collaborated with foreign police authorities regarding the protests, the report’s authors nevertheless fully dodged the question regarding the Icelandic police’s alleged collaboration with Mark Kennedy. The main conclusion of the report merely found that “during an overhaul of data at the National Commissioner’s office, no information has come forth enabling an answer regarding whether this agent provocateur […] was here in collaboration with or without the knowledge of the Icelandic police in 2005.”

Despite criticism from Saving Iceland and Árni Finnsson, head of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, which both accused the minister of condoning cover-ups and evasions by accepting these results, Ögmundur never really touched officially on the issue again. Neither did Össur nor Mörður or — as a matter of fact — anyone else from the establishment.

The truth regarding Kennedy’s operations in Iceland is still not publicly acknowledged, and the absurdity of the issue as it now stands is probably best described by Ögmundur’s own words, taken from an article published on Smugan — a now defunct leftist news-site —  and his last public remark on the report: “The National Commissioner’s report states that the Icelandic police obtained information from abroad concerning the protests at Kárahnjúkar, but that the police do not have information about how this information was obtained.”

* It is, in fact, questionable if the Iceland police had proactive investigative powers or not. As a result of weak laws and a lack of regulations, it actually seems that until 2011 the police had just about carte blanche regarding whom to spy on and for what reason. See more about it here.

Click here to go to the support site for the women’s legal action against the Metropolitan Police.

Watch the above-mentioned Dispatches show here below:

The Police’s Dirty Secret (47mins – Dispatches/Channel4 – 24JUN2013) from Casey Oliver on Vimeo.

Apr 25 2013
4 Comments

The Biological Death of River Lagarfljót — Yet Another Revelation of the Kárahnjúkar Disaster


In his much celebrated play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Italian absurdist Dario Fo brings forth a tragicomic picture of the scandal and its most typical aftermaths in democratic societies, thus described by the main protagonist, the Maniac:

People can let off steam, get angry, shudder at the thought of it… ‘Who do these politicians think they are?’ ‘Scumbag generals!’ […] And they get more and more angry, and then, burp! A little liberatory burp to relieve their social indigestion.

These words came to mind last month when Iceland’s media reported upon the current situation of river Lagarfljót in the east of Iceland. “Lagarfljót is dead,” some of them even stated, citing the words of author and environmentalist Andri Snær Magnason regarding a revelation of the fact that the river’s ecosystem has literally been killed by the the gigantic Kárahnjúkar Dams. The dams were built in Iceland’s eastern highlands in the years between 2002 and 2006, solely to provide electricity for aluminium giant and arms producer Alcoa’s smelter in the eastern municipality of Reyðarfjörður.

The revelation of Lagarfljót’s current situation originates in a report made by Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s state owned energy company and owner of the 690 MW Kárahnjúkar power plant, the main conclusions of which were made public last month. Although covered as breaking news and somewhat of a scandal, this particular revelation can hardly be considered as surprising news.

Quite the contrary, environmentalists and scientists have repeatedly pointed out the mega-project’s devastating irreversible environmental impacts — in addition to the social and economical ones of course — and have, in fact, done so ever since the plan was brought onto the drawing tables to begin with. Such warnings, however, were systematically silenced by Iceland’s authorities and dismissed as “political rather than scientific”, propaganda against progress and opposition to “green energy” — only to be proven right time and time again during the last half a decade.

AQUATIC ECOSYSTEMS SHOULD RECEIVE MORE ATTENTION

One of the Kárahnjúkar plant’s functions depends on diverting glacial river Jökulsá á Dal into another glacial river Jökulsá í Fljótsdal, the latter of which feeds Lagarfljót. This means that huge amounts of glacial turbidity are funnelled into the river, quantitatively heretofore unknown in Lagarfljót. This has, in return, led to the disintegration of Lagarfljót’s ecosystem, gargantuan land erosion on the banks of the river, serious decrease in fish population and parallel negative impacts on the area’s bird life.

As reported by Saving Iceland in late 2011, when the dams impacts on Lagarfljót had become a subject matter of Iceland’s media, the glacial turbidity has severely altered Lagarfljót’s colour. Therefore, sunlight doesn’t reach deep enough into the water, bringing about a decrease of photosynthesis — the fundamental basis for organic production — and thereby a systematic reduction of nourishment for the fish population. Recent research conducted by Iceland’s Institute of Freshwater Fisheries show that in the area around Egilsstaðir, a municipality located on the banks of Lagarfljót, the river’s visibility is currently less than 20cm deep compared to 60cm before the dams were constructed. As a result of this, not only is there less fish in the river — the size of the fish has also seen a serious decrease.

Following last month’s revelation, ichthyologist Guðni Guðbergsson at the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries, highlighted in an interview with RÚV (Iceland’s National Broadcasting Service) that the destruction of Lagarfljót’s ecosystem had certainly been foreseen and repeatedly pointed out. He also maintained that aquatic environment tends to be kept out of the discourse on hydro dams. “People see what is aboveground, they see vegetation, soil erosion and drift,” he stated, “but when it comes to aquatic ecosystems, people don’t seem to see it very clearly. This biosphere should receive more attention.”

BENDING ALL THE RULES

All of the above-mentioned had been warned of before the dams construction took place, most importantly in a 2001 ruling by Skipulagsstofnun (Iceland’s National Planning Agency) which, after reviewing the Kárahnjúkar plant’s Environmental Impact Assessment, concluded that “the development would result in great hydrological changes, which would have an effect, for example, on the groundwater level in low-lying areas adjacent to Jökulsá í Fljótsdal and Lagarfljót, which in turn would have an impact on vegetation, bird-life and agriculture.” The impacts on Lagarfljót being only one of the dams numerous all-too-obvious negative impacts, Skipulagsstofnun opposed the project as a whole “on grounds of its considerable impact on the environment and the unsatisfactory information presented regarding individual parts of the project and its consequences for the environment.”

However, Iceland’s then Minister of the Environment, Siv Friðleifsdóttir, notoriously overturned the agency’s ruling and permitted the construction. Although her act of overturning her own agency’s ruling is certainly a unique one, it was nevertheless fully harmonious with the mega-project’s overall modus operandi: For instance, during Alcoa and the Icelandic government’s signature ceremony in 2003, Friðrik Sophusson, then director of Landsvirkjun, and Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, then Minister of Industry, boasted of “bending all the rules, just for this project” while speaking to the US ambassador in Iceland.

A BIOLOGICAL WONDER TURNED INTO DESERT

As already mentioned, the destruction of Lagarfljót is only one of the dams irreversible impacts on the whole North-East part of Iceland, the most densely vegetated area north of Vatnajökull — the world’s largest non-arctic glacier — and one of the few regions in Iceland where soil and vegetation were more or less intact. Altogether, the project affects 3,000 square km of land, no less than 3% of Iceland’s total landmass, extending from the edge of Vatnajökull to the estuary of the Héraðsflói glacial river.

Sixty major waterfalls were destroyed and innumerable unique geological formations drowned, not to forget Kringilsárrani — the calving ground of a third of Iceland’s reindeer population — which was partly drowned and devastated in full by the project. In 1975, Kringilsárrani had been officially declared as protected but in order to enable the Kárahnjúkar dams and the 57 km2 Hálslón reservoir, Siv Fiðleifsdóttir decided to reduce the reserve by one fourth in 2003. When criticized for this infamous act, Siv stated that “although some place is declared protected, it doesn’t mean that it will be protected forever.”

The dams have also blocked silt emissions of the two aforementioned glacial rivers, Jökulsá á Dal and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal, resulting in the receding of the combined delta of the two rivers — destroying a unique nature habitat in the delta. In their 2003 article, published in World Birdwatch, ornithologists Einar Þorleifsson and Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson outlined another problem of great importance:

All glacier rivers are heavy with sediments, and the two rivers are muddy brown in summer and carry huge amounts of sediment, both glacial mud and sand. The Jökulsá á Dal river is exceptional in the way that it carries on average 13 times more sediment than any other Icelandic river, 10 million metric tons per year and during glacial surges the amount is many times more. When the river has been dammed this sediment will mostly settle in the reservoir.

In contravention of the claim that Kárahnjúkar’s hydro electricity is a “green and renewable energy source,” it is estimated that the reservoir will silt up in between forty and eighty years, turning this once most biologically diverse regions of the Icelandic highlands into a desert. While this destruction is slowly but systematically taking place, the dry dusty silt banks caused by the reservoir’s fluctuating water levels are already causing dust storms affecting the vegetation of over 3000 sq km, as explained in Einar and Jóhann’s article:

The reservoir will be filled with water in autumn but in spring 2/3 of the lake bottom are dry and the prevailing warm mountain wind will blow from the south-west, taking the light dry glacial sediment mud in the air and causing considerable problems for the vegetation in the highlands and for the people in the farmlands located in the valleys. To add to the problem the 120 km of mostly dry riverbed of Jökulsá á Dal will only have water in the autumn, leaving the mud to be blown by the wind in spring.

This development is already so severe that residents of the Eastfjords municipality Stöðvafjörður, with whom Saving Iceland recently spoke, stated that the wind-blown dust has been of such a great deal during the summers that they have often been unable to see the sky clearly.

All of the above-mentioned is only a part of the Kárahnjúkar dams over-all impacts, about which one can read thoroughly here. Among other factors that should not be forgotten in terms of hydro power would be the dams’ often underestimated contribution to global warming — for instance via reservoirs’ production of CO2 and methane (see here and here) — as well as glacial rivers’ important role in reducing pollution on earth by binding gases that cause global warming, and how mega-dams inhibit this function by hindering the rivers’ carrying of sediments out to sea.

TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE OF CORRUPTION AND ABUSE OF POWER

“Lagarfljót wasn’t destroyed by accident,” Andri Snær Magnason also said after the recent revelation, but rather “consciously destroyed by corrupt politicians who didn’t respect society’s rules, disregarded professional processes, and couldn’t tolerate informed discussion.” The same can, of course, be said about the Kárahnjúkar ecological, social and economical disaster as a whole, the process of which was one huge textbook example of corruption and abuse of power.

Responding to same news, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Iceland’s current Minister of the Environment, cited a recent report by the European Environment Agency, titled “Late Lessons from Early Warnings,” in which the results of a major research project into mega-project’s environmental impacts and public discussion are published. One of the damning results, the report states, is that in 84 out of 88 instances included in the research, early warnings of negative impacts on the environment and public health proved to be correct.

This was certainly the case in Iceland where environmentalists and scientists who warned of all those foreseeable impacts, both before and during the construction, found themselves silenced and dismissed by the authorities who systematically attempted to suppress any opposition and keep their plans unaltered.

One of the most notorious examples of this took place after the publication of Susan DeMuth’s highly informative article, “Power Driven,” printed in The Guardian in 2003, in which she highlighted all the up-front disastrous impacts of the project. The reaction in Iceland was mixed: While the article served as a great gift to Icelandic environmentalists’ struggle — tour guide Lára Hanna Einarsdóttir suggesting “that an Icelandic journalist would have lost their job if he or she had been so outspoken” — the reaction of the project’s prime movers was one of fury and hysteria. Mike Baltzell, president of Alcoa Primary Development and one of the company’s main negotiators in Iceland, wrote to The Guardian accusing DeMuth of “creating a number of misconceptions” regarding the company’s forthcoming smelter. Iceland’s Ambassador in the UK and Landsvirkjun’s Sophusson took a step further, contacting the British newspaper in a complaint about the article’s content and offering the editor to send another journalist to Iceland in order to get “the real story” — an offer to which the paper never even bothered to reply.

Another example is that of Grímur Björnsson, geophysicist working at Reykjavík Energy at that time, who was forbidden from revealing his findings, which were suppressed and kept from parliament because they showed the Kárahnjúkar dams to be unsafe. His 2002 report, highly critical of the dams, was stamped as confidential by his superior at the time. Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, then Minister of Industry, subsequently failed to reveal the details of the report to parliament before parliamentarians voted on the dams, as she was legally obliged to do. Adding insult to injury, Grímur was finally deprived of his freedom of expression when his superior at Reykjavík Energy — taking sides with Landsvirkjun — prohibited him to speak officially about the Kárahnjúkar dams without permission from the latter company’s director at that time, Friðrik Sophusson.

THE SHADOW OF POLLUTED MINDS

Similar methods applied to the East-fjords and other communities close to the dams and the smelter, where the project’s opponents were systematically ridiculed, terrorized and threatened. One of them is Þórhallur Þorsteinsson who, in a thorough interview with newspaper DV last spring, described how he and other environmentalists from the East were persecuted for their opposition to the dams. In an attempt to get him fired from his job, politicians from the region even called his supervisor at the State Electric Power Works, for which he worked at the time, complaining about his active and vocal opposition. Another environmentalist, elementary school teacher Karen Egilsdóttir, had to put up with parents calling her school’s headmaster, demanding that their kids would be exempt from attending her classes.

Farmer Guðmundur Beck — described by DeMuth as “the lone voice of resistance in Reyðarfjörður” — was also harassed because of his outspoken opposition towards the dams and the smelter. After spending his first 57 years on his family’s farm where he raised chicken and sheep, he was forced to close down the farm after he was banned from grazing his sheep and 18 electricity pylons were built across his land. Moreover, he was literally ostracised from Reyðarfjörður where Alcoa’s presence had altered society in a way thus described by Guðundur at Saving Iceland’s 2007 international conference:

In the East-fjords, we used to have self-sustaining communities that have now been destroyed and converted into places attracting gold diggers. Around the smelter, there will now be a community where nobody can live, work or feed themselves without bowing down for “Alcoa Director” Mr. Tómas.* — We live in the shadow of polluted minds.

(*Mr. Tómas” is Tómas Már Sigurðsson, Managing Director of Alcoa Fjarðaál at that time but currently president of Alcoa’s European Region and Global Primary Products Europe. Read Guðmundur’s whole speech in the second issue of Saving Iceland’s Voices of the Wilderness magazine.)

A LESSON TO LEARN?

All of this leads us to the fact that Icelandic energy companies are now planning to go ahead and construct a number of large-scale power plants — most of them located in highly sensitive geothermal areas — despite a seemingly non-stop tsunami of revelations regarding the negative environmental and public health impacts of already operating geothermal plants of such size. This would, as thoroughly outlined by Saving Iceland, lead to the literal ecocide of highly unique geothermal fields in the Reykjanes peninsula as well as in North Iceland.

Two of the latter areas are Þeistareykir and Bjarnarflag, not far from river Laxá and lake Mývatn, where Landsvirkjun wants to build power plants to provide energy to heavy industry projects in the north. Large-scale geothermal exploitation at Hellisheiði, south-west Iceland, has already proven to be disastrous for the environment, creating thousands of earthquakes and a number of polluted effluent water lagoons. The Hellisheiði plant has also spread enormous amounts of sulphide pollution over the nearby town of Hveragerði and the capital area of Reykjavík, leading to an increase in the purchasing of asthma medicine. Another geothermal plant, Nesjavallavirkjun, has had just as grave impacts, leading for instance to the partial biological death of lake Þingvallavatn, into which affluent water from the plant has been pumped.

Responding to criticism, Landsvirkjun has claimed that the Bjarnarflag plant’s effluent water will be pumped down below lake Mývatn’s ground water streams. However, the company has resisted answering critical questions regarding how they plan to avoid all the possible problems — similar to those at Hellisheiði and Nesjavellir — which might occur because of the pumping and thus impact the ecosystem of Mývatn and its neighbouring environment. In view of this, some have suggested that Iceland’s next man made ecological disaster will be manifested in a headline similar to last month’s one — this time stating that “Mývatn is dead!”

Concluding the current Lagarfljót scandal — only one manifestation of the foreseen and systematically warned of Kárahnjúkar scandal — the remaining question must be: Will Icelanders learn a lesson from this textbook example of political corruption and abuse of power?

Recent polls regarding the coming parliament elections on April 27, suggests that the answer is negative as the heavy-industry-friendly Framsóknarflokkur (The Progressive Party), for which both Siv Friðleifsdóttir and Valgerður Sverrisdóttir sat in parliament, seems to be about to get into power again after being all but voted out of parliament in the 2007 elections. Following the Progressives, the right-wing conservative Sjálfstæðisflokkur (The Independence Party) is currently the second biggest party, meaning that a right-wing government, supportive of — and in fact highly interrelated to — the aluminium and energy industries, is likely to come into office in only a few days from now.

In such a case, Iceland will be landed with the very same government that was responsible for the Kárahnjúkar disaster as well as so many other political maleficences, including the financial hazardousness that lead to the 2008 economic collapse and Iceland’s support of the invasion in Iraq — only with new heads standing out of the same old suits. Sadly but truly, this would fit perfectly with the words of Dario Fo’s Maniac when he states on behalf of the establishment:

Let the scandal come, because on the basis of that scandal a more durable power of the state will be founded!

Dec 05 2012
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Angeli Novi’s Time Bomb Ticking in the Continuum of History


By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, originally published in the Reykjavík Grapevine.

There is a photograph by Richard Peter of a statue of an angel overlooking the card-house-like ruins of Dresden. During three days in February 1945, the German city was annihilated by the allied forces using a new firestorm technique of simultaneously dropping bombs and incendiary devices onto the city.

The photo resonates with philosopher Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘On the Concept of History,’ in which he adds layers of meaning to a painting by Paul Klee titled ‘Angelus Novus’. Benjamin describes Klee’s angel as ‘The Angel of History’ whose face is turned towards the past. “Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.”

Wanting to “awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed,” the Angel’s wings are stretched out by a storm from Paradise, which “drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high.”

“That which we call progress,” Benjamin concludes, “is this storm.”

Can You Stand in the Way of Progress?

If the storm disenables us to fix the ruins of the past, what about preventing the storm from blowing? That would not be so simple according to art collective Angeli Novi, comprised of Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir and Ólafur Páll Sigurðsson, whose exhibition is currently showing at The Living Art Museum (Nýló).

Under a confrontational title — ‘You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress,’ shaped as the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign of Auschwitz — Angeli Novi have greatly altered the museum’s space with an installation of sculptures, soundscapes, smells and videos, including a 20-minute film of the same title as the exhibition. The film is a kind of kaleidoscopic time machine, examining the plight of generations which, one after the other, become tools and puppets of economic and historical structures.

In a well-cooked and stark manner — adjectives borrowed from Nýló’s director Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir — often shot through with streaks of black humour, the exhibition displays a dark image of Western civilization via versatile manifestations of the horrors embedded in capitalism, industrialism, nationalism, religion, the dualistic and linear thought of occidental culture, and the individual’s buried-alive position in society.

The metaphor here is literal as the only visible body-parts of the film’s thirty protagonists are their heads. The rest are buried under ground. Between themselves, their chewing mouths fight over ceremonial ribbons carrying a collection of Western society’s fundamental values, doctrines and clichés, in a dynamic collision with a collage of significant images behind them — “the history of Western thought,” as author Steinar Bragi points out. Towering over a coffin shaped as a baby’s cot, located in a mausoleum at the museum’s entrance, the same ribbons have been tied onto a funeral wreath. A single cliché, “From the Cradle to the Grave,” hangs between the mouths of two children’s heads that stick out of the black sand below the coffin. A smooth corporate female voice greets the visitors: “Welcome to our world!”

I Sense, Therefore I Think

“It’s very pessimistic,” Steinar Bragi says during our conversation in a bunker-like room of Nýló. “The film shows us disembodied beasts, fighting over the phrases that our entire society is built upon. I always see the head as the rational approach to life, stuck in these dualistic pairs that are so far from reality as I experience it. We have sensibilities, then emotions, and finally there are words and reason. Reason is useful for certain tasks, when one has to go from place A to place B, but it’s only a tool to be used on something far more extensive.”

Steinar and I agree that society is constantly simplified into Cartesian dualism — “I think, therefore I am” — the ground zero of Western thought. And while dualism doesn’t necessarily reject sensibilities and emotions, Steinar maintains that it locates reason on a higher level. “Reason is expected to control, which it certainly does in a small and unglamorous context, but it’s only an expression of what lies beneath.”

Enemies of Progress?

It’s clear that the core of this rationalism is simplification such as how political and social conflicts tend to be reduced to a fight between alleged good and evil forces. This not only brings us to the religious nature of the myth of progress, but also the power of language. Because “although they are hollow and empty and repeatedly chewed on, these phrases are also very powerful,” as literary scholar Benedikt Hjartarson points out. “They conduct the way society is shaped. They manifest the social and economic reality we live with.”

As former director of US aluminium corporation Alcoa Alain Belda told the newspaper Morgunblaðið in March 2003: “Some people are against progress.” He was referring to the opponents of the Kárahnjúkar dams, constructed in Iceland’s highlands to create energy for Alcoa’s smelter. “But fortunately,” he continued, “the world is growing and people are requesting better lives.”

Such an argument equals economic growth and people’s welfare, portraying the megaproject’s opponents as enemies of progress. At the same time it negates the destructive nature of progress, manifested for instance in the culturally genocidal impacts — in the form of displacement of populations — and irreversible environmental destruction often associated with large-scale energy production, and how the lives of whole generations are wasted by wars waged for power and profit.

“We see this contradiction within modernity,” Benedikt continues, “how the idea of progress thrives on destruction and always calls for annihilation.” But unlike the revolutionary destruction encouraged by 19th Century anarchist philosopher Michail Bakunin — who stated, “the passion for destruction is a creative passion too!” — the annihilation inherent to progress is rather used as a stimulus for an unaltered continuum of the status quo under the pretext of development. Thus, the contradictory nature is evident again, as well as the religious one: “The present is never here,” Benedikt says, “it’s always something we are aiming for.”

Violence Intrinsic to Social Contracts

The film displays a great amount of violence, which musician Teitur Magnússon sees with a strong reference to alienation. “One feels like it’s somehow supernatural, like it’s not the work of humanity but rather of a monster that’s eating everything up, and we don’t seem to have any control of it.”

Artist Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir furthermore connects this brutality with authority. “Humans aren’t able to handle more power than over themselves,” she says. “As soon as someone is granted higher power, violence enters the picture.” She maintains that some sort of violence is intrinsic to all simplifications — “all of society’s attempts to try and settle upon something” — meaning a wide range of social contracts, from organized religion to written and unwritten rules regarding people’s behaviour.

A Leap Into the Future

As Angeli Novi’s subject is not only complex but also polarized — layered with our cultural history of construction and destruction, repression and revolt — the exhibition doesn’t preach any simple solutions to the great problems it addresses. Such attempts are often just as contradictory as the myth of progress itself, or as philosopher Slavoj Žižek ironically sums up in his analysis of what he calls ‘a decaf reality,’ when the “very thing which causes damage should already be the medicine.”

Thus, one cannot resist wondering if there actually is a way out of the horrors analysed and manifested in the exhibition. Or is humanity bound to be stuck in a premature burial while the seemingly unstoppable catastrophe witnessed by Benjamin’s Angel of History keeps on enlarging into eternity?

With images referring to France’s July Revolution of 1830, Angeli Novi reject such a vision and suggest instead a peculiarly creative approach to revolt. Already during the revolution’s first day, clocks on church towers and palaces all over Paris were shot down and destroyed, signifying the urgent need to nullify predominant social structures and ideologies by putting an end to the time of the oppressors.

In continuum of this rebellious tradition of what philosopher Herbert Marcuse referred to as “arresting time” — directly related to what William Burroughs called “blowing a hole in time” — Angeli Novi transcend the well known demand for “all power to the people” with a leap into the future, granting wings to the mind and calling for all power to the imagination.

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See also:

Saving Iceland: Kárahnjúkar Dam Blown Up in New Film by Angeli Novi

Jón Proppé: Standing in the way of progress

Þóroddur Bjarnason: Jafnvægislist (Icelandic only)

Angeli Novi’s webiste

Oct 08 2012
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Kárahnjúkar Dam Blown Up in New Film by Angeli Novi


Saving Iceland would like to draw its readers attention to a currently ongoing exhibition by art collective Angeli Novi, comprised of artists Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir and Ólafur Páll Sigurðsson who both have strong ties to Saving Iceland. Sigurðsson was the founder of Saving Iceland and both of them continue to be active with the network today. You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress is the collective’s first extensive exhibition and is on show at The Living Art Museum (Nýlistasafnið) in Reykjavík.

At the heart of the exhibition, which consists of audio, video and sculptural pieces, is a 20 minute long film in Icelandic and English, bearing the same title as the exhibition. Around 30 people were willingly buried alive during the making of the film, which was shot this year in Greece and Iceland. Soundscapes were created by Örn Karlsson in collaboration with Angeli Novi.

Corporate green-wash and the Kárahnjukar dams play a key role in You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress. In one of the film’s scenes, the 700 m long and 200 m high central Kárahnjúkar Dam is digitally blown up by the very same explosion that blew up the Dimmugljúfur canyon in March 2003. The first destruction of the 200m deep canyon, which was carved out by the 150 km long river Jökulsá á Dal, played a strategical key role in the conflict about the power plant’s construction, and was meant to signify the government’s determined intention to steamroller Iceland’s eastern highlands in order to produce electricity for the US aluminium corporation ALCOA. As environmentalists warned from the beginning, the construction has turned out to have devastating environmental, social and economical impacts, and contributed also heavily to Iceland’s infamous 2008 economic collapse.

Asked about the cinematic blast, artists Gunnlaugsdóttir and Sigurðsson said: “It was particularly pleasurable to blow up the image of the dam that has now become the main symbol of corporate power abuse and ecocide in Iceland.” Sigurðsson  added that it was “Very appropriate to use for our purpose the same film footage that was used by the Icelandic government in 2003 to dash people’s hopes of saving the Kárahnjúkar area from deeply corrupt forces of corporate greed and governmental stupidity. These same forces have learnt nothing from their past crimes and mistakes and are now lining up for taking power next year in order to continue their destructive rampage through Icelandic nature.”

A press release  from The Living Art Museum states the following:

Angeli Novi create a kind of a kaleidoscopic time machine, examining the plight of generations which, one after the other, become tools and puppets of economic and historical structures. Through symbolism and imagery, Angeli Novi examine the ideological backdrops of these structures, the variously substance-drained core values of occidental culture, as well as as the reoccurring themes of doctrines and clichés in the societal rhetoric, necessary for society to maintain itself.

You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress opened on 29 September and will run until 2 December. The Living Art Museum is located on Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík.

Aug 23 2012
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Andrej Hunko: “Secret Police Networks Must Be Relentlessly Exposed”


“When police forces and intelligence services engage in international cooperation, parliamentary oversight is the loser. The increasing significance of undercover police networks is making this situation far more critical.” These comments were made by Bundestag Member Andrej Hunko in response to the Federal Government’s answer, which is now available in English (see below), to his Minor Interpellation.

The purpose of the interpellation, a written parliamentary question, was to heighten awareness of the following little-known police structures:

• the Cross-Border Surveillance Working Group (CSW), comprising mobile task forces on surveillance techniques, drawn from 12 EU Member States and Europol;
• Europol’s analysis work file entitled Dolphin, which entails the surveillance of left-wing activists in areas such as animal rights and anarchism;
• the Remote Forensic Software User Group, which was created by the Bundeskriminalamt, the German Federal Criminal Police Office, to promote sales of German Trojan software abroad.
• the European Cooperation Group on Undercover Activities (ECG), comprising spy chiefs from Member States of the EU and from countries such as Russia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine;
• the International Working Group on Undercover Policing (IWG), comprising spy chiefs from European countries as well as from countries such as the United States, Israel, New Zealand and Australia;

Hunko went on to say:

“One of the main parts of the interpellation focused on the undercover activity of British police officer Mark Kennedy, whose infiltration of European leftist movements exemplifies police cooperation conducted beyond the bounds of parliamentary oversight. It remains unclear under whose orders the undercover investigator was operating during the years of his activity.

Kennedy used his infiltration of the Icelandic environmental movement to worm his way into leftist circles from Finland to Portugal through the information events he staged. The Icelandic police are stubbornly rejecting requests from the Minister of Justice to release full details of his activity into the public domain, claiming that disclosure would prejudice British security interests. Even though Members of the Icelandic Parliament have a right to ask questions on police matters, they are not being given any information. Read More

Jul 15 2012
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Iceland Inside Fortress Europe? — Undercover Operations, Controlling Unwanted Migration and Policing the Cyberspace


Saving Iceland presents a talk by Matthias Monroy, journalist and political activist from Germany, in the Reykjavík Academia, Monday July 23 at 20:00.

The Mark Kennedy case illustrated how deeply Iceland is involved in European secret police networks that have been infiltrating environmentalist, anarchist and other leftist resistance movements since the late 1990s. The exposure of the undercover policeman also showed that it is near impossible to bring illegal practises of cross-border policing to courts: It is mostly unclear, which police authority in which country is responsible. In 2005 Kennedy infiltrated the Saving Iceland campaign, which resisted the dams at Kárahnjúkar in Iceland’s eastern highlands. He used his Icelandic connections and experience for a European-wide speaking tour to infiltrate activist groups in numerous countries.

Iceland is also involved in policing the EU migration regime, which will start the huge surveillance network EUROSUR in two years. This satellite surveillance involving usage of drones is complemented by the “Smart Border Package” facilitating border crossing by using biometric features and other technical tools. At the same time the EU changes the Schengen Border Codex, in which Iceland is also taking part. The agreement was one of the most important achievements for free travel within the EU. Now France and Germany constrain more border controls to block international protesters or exclude countries like Greece from the Schengen system. Iceland uses the measure, for example, to control the movements of motorcycle gangs.

To block unwanted migrants crossing the Evros river between Greece and Turkey, the EU is running a research program regarding the usage of land robots for border surveillance. The EU border agency FRONTEX, for which the Icelandic Coast Guard has worked in the Mediterranean, is now operating together with the Turkish government and is helping to install a police and customs centre at the common border with Bulgaria and Greece. For the first time, this structure includes the police agency EUROPOL, whose guidelines normally exclude the fight against migration.

To the contrary, the main pillar of EUROPOL becomes the control of so called “cybercrime” and “cyberterrorism”. The agency is running large databases, surveillance technology and digital forensic tools to support the police forces of the 27 member states in cross-border operations. EUROPOL is more and more controlling alleged “suspicious” behaviour on the internet, which leads to more need of safety for cyber activists as well as all citizens.

In his talk, Monroy will explain briefly the police networks built up by the European Union concerning undercover policing, the fight against unwanted migration and cyberspace. Monroy will also attempt to explain how Iceland is involved in or affected by current and future projects.

The talk will take place in the Reykjavík Academia, which also houses Iceland’s only anarchist library, on Monday July 23 at 20:00. The Academia is located at Hringbraut 121, 107 Reykjavík. The talk will be in English and entrance is free.

For more information write to savingiceland [at] riseup.net

Saving Iceland’s archive of articles regarding the Mark Kennedy case

Matthias Monroy, journalist and political activist