Tag Archives: politics

The Politics of Farming and the Truth of Art

A century ago, most Icelanders were farmers. Now a few thousand remain.  Their Iceland is as complex as any other. For instance, the image below shows not only rich hayfields, with some drainage issues not-yet-solved by dredging, but the results of government farm-improvement subsidies (for dredging) that are one of the ways that Iceland keeps farmers on the land. Note the older style of farming in the foreground, with the sheep at pasture on the heath.

Borgarfjörður Eystri

If you travel around Iceland, you will see fields like this all the time. Few look quite like this one, though. Notice how the mounds of soil dredged out to drain the land are left beside the canals from which they came. If this were a prosperous farm, they would have been levelled out across the entire field, enriching and deepening the soil. They aren’t. Rather than enriching the land, in this remote, barely-prosperous farm, the dredging remains a political calculation at best. The view is a sobering reminder that although millions of people visit Iceland for relaxation, in most of the areas one passes through people are working at their absolute limit, and within a narrow set of political parameters. This tetchy balance between freedom and control is as much Iceland today as when Gunnar was driven off his farm when his workforce went to work for the Americans instead of under his beneficent dictatorship, or when Halldor Laxness wrote his great novel of orneriness, stubbornness and endurance,

…or  Independent People.

These things aren’t just in the imagination of novelists.

Painting the Town Red with Katrin Jakobsdottir

In some countries, “Get Angry” would not mean to become the prime minister when no one else could find a compromise to unite opposites.

But it does in Iceland. Here’s how it began four years ago.

It’s also a country in which a church fire extinguisher…

… a church door …

… and church bells …

… are all housed in red.

But then, not all countries are enlightened. You have to put your heart into it.

View from the Stykkisholmur Library of Water,
Where Women and Girls are Given Space to Play Chess

What Does Icelandic Politics Look Like?

The same as anywhere else. You channel a river system through a hydroelectric dam to power an aluminum smelter for the industrial and economic elite, and deposit the water in the next valley, claiming that all environmental standards have been met… … kill the sacred lake, the birthplace of Iceland’s country and the modern state. This is, of course, called progress. These images were taken in Hallormstaðir, the Town of Rowans, a sacred place a couple hours by foot from Gunnar’s house. It’s a good thing he’s not there to see it!