May 02 2007

Environment Minister Bjartmarz Embroiled in Corruption Scandal


UPDATE: Voters booted Bjartmarz out of Icelandic politics in the general elections 12 May. But her track record is ugly and Icelandic nature will be smarting for a long time after her dark reign as Minister of the Environment. One of her final crimes against nature was to OK, against all scientific advise, a disastrous road scheme by lake Thingvallavatn in the Thingvellir National Park. This area is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for it’s unique nature. The plan is to build a motorway through the Gjábakka area, much too close to the lake. This road must be resisted and stopped.

Iceland Review

Lesson #7232: Nothing Unusual about Political Corruption

Last month it was revealed that a 21-year-old woman from Guatemala was granted citizenship directly from the Icelandic parliament after having lived in Iceland for only 15 months on a student visa.

What’s more, the woman’s registered address is at the residence of Jónína Bjartmarz, a high-ranking MP in the Progressive Party and Minister of the Environment. Upon closer investigation is was uncovered that the woman is in fact the girlfriend of Bjartmarz’s son and that Bjartmarz herself was listed as the woman’s representative for immigration purposes. Welcome to the wild rollercoaster of Icelandic politics. Buckle up because clearly someone has greased these gears of bureaucracy and we may all soon be thrown from the tracks.

Because this case smacks of corruption, the media and private citizens alike have repeatedly demanded an explanation for why the woman was granted Icelandic citizenship, when the law stipulates that foreigners must be domiciled for seven years in the country before they are eligible to apply.

Time and again Jónína Bjartmarz, and two of the members from the parliamentary committee that grants citizenship, Bjarni Benediktsson and Gudrún Ögmundsdóttir, have used the same defense: “There was nothing unusual about the handling of this case.”

If only I had known it was so easy to get citizenship.

As a foreigner living in Iceland, the last four and half years of my existence have been dedicated to learning what it means to be a member of this society. I spent three years at the University of Iceland to get my degree in Icelandic for foreign students. I’ve built up a circle of Icelandic friends who support me in my life and respect me as a peer. I’ve worked here as a humble janitor at a shopping center, and then as a translator in the opulent office of a bank CEO.

Like Lucia Celeste Molina Sierra, the woman who was mysteriously granted citizenship after 15 months, I’ve had the great privilege of falling in love with an Icelander. But I’ve also read Halldór Laxness’s books and Jónas Hallgrímsson’s poetry. Additionally, I’ve learned that to make good uppstúfur sauce for plokkfiskur you have to stir it continuously so it doesn’t get lumpy, that the best time for camping is the first weekend in July, that the word for cow is declined kýr-kú-kú-kýr, and that the Icelandic people are some of the most fair-minded people in the world, or so I thought.

I reject these politicians’ half-hearted explanation that “there was nothing unusual about the handling of this case.” The very purpose of referring applications rejected by the Directorate of Immigration to the parliament is when there is something outstanding about the application—when there are mitigating factors at hand. Because of these extenuating circumstances, the parliament, in its infinite wisdom, sees fit to grant an outsider the highest honor he or she can receive: to hear “you are one of us.”

But there clearly was something special about this application. The applicant’s mother-in-law is Jónína Bjartmarz, and the mitigating factors are political corruption and the misuse of power.

If there was some viable reason that Lucia Celeste Molina Sierra was made an Icelander after only 15 months, then the nation, and the rest of us apparent fools who consider citizenship a privilege worth years of effort, deserve a proper explanation.

Of course, I can always just chalk this up to another lesson in Icelandic life:
that because my mother-in-law is a working woman from Ísafjördur, who sends me homemade fishballs and knits me scarves – who tries her hardest to make feel loved and at home on foreign ground, that because she is not a high-ranking MP, whose whim becomes the law of the land, I am less deserving of being a part of this country.

Lesson learned.

JM –

Iceland Review

Lawyer: No other examples of citizenship issued in ten days

According to Margrét Steinarsdóttir, a lawyer at the Intercultural Center in Reykjavík (Althjódahús), there has never been a case of a person being granted Icelandic citizenship in only ten days, as in the case of a woman recently granted citizenship, who has close ties to the Minister for the Environment.

The woman from Central America had lived in Iceland for 15 months on a student visa before she was granted citizenship. Her permanent address is registered at the home of Jónína Bjartmarz, Iceland’s Minister for the Environment, who is her boyfriend’s mother. reports.

Usually foreign citizens are required to have lived in Iceland for seven years before they apply for citizenship. As the woman had only lived in the country for one and a half years, she had to apply for an exemption directly from the parliament’s General Committee.

According to, the reason for her application was constrictions on the ability to travel. The woman, who is to begin her studies in the UK, would have had to renew her residence permit for Iceland every time she traveled from Britain to Iceland.

Apparently only ten days passed from the time the Ministry of Justice received the woman’s application until she was granted citizenship from the parliament’s General Committee.

On the website of Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration it is stated that the average processing time for an application for citizenship is five to 12 months.

According to the Icelandic parliament, 45 individuals were granted citizenship due to an exemption from conditions for citizenship in the last parliamentary session, eight of whom had lived in Iceland for less than two years.

Most applicants had personal or family-related reasons for applying for an exemption, some were granted citizenship because of their potential contribution to Icelandic society, others because of humanitarian reasons. Only five mentioned constrictions on the ability to travel.

Bjartmarz claimed in an interview on RÚV news program Kastljós on Friday that she had nothing to do with her son’s girlfriend being granted Icelandic citizenship.

Iceland Review

Girlfriend of minister’s son granted citizenship

Iceland’s parliament agreed to grant a woman from Central America Icelandic citizenship one month ago after only 15 months in the country on a student visa. The woman apparently has close ties to Jónína Bjartmarz, Iceland’s Minister of the Environment.

According to RÚV, the woman in question, who is in her early twenties, has a registered address at the Minister’s residence and is her son’s girlfriend.

In a television interview with three members of the parliament’s General Committee, the body granting citizenship, it was made know that the woman’s situation was very different from the situation of the other 17 applicants, who were granted citizenship at the same time.

They had been living in Iceland for many years, but without having their permanent residence registered in Iceland, suffered from illnesses, or were the children of Icelandic citizens. There were 38 applicants in total, but 20 were rejected by the committee.

The members of the committee would not comment on why the woman from Central America was granted citizenship after only 15 months in the country.

The Directorate of Immigration was opposed to granting the woman citizenship. The general rule for granting citizenships is that applicants must have had a permanent residency in Iceland for seven years, though there are some exceptions to that rule, including cases as listed above.