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Woooooooooo! When I first encountered Iceland’s new female PM, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, she was moderating a panel of nordic crime writers. Her questions were astute, and to the point: she wanted to know the ethical implications behind the works presented. She wanted to know what makes a crime novel well crafted. She wanted to know how outside elements — like translations of Agatha Christie into Icelandic — influenced the writers at the table. In short, she wanted to give the audience the most thorough understanding of what was before us, at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to the table with three famous Icelandic novelists.
Katrín’s body language was extraordinary to me. Me – a meek humanist, my arms crossed, my shoulders square and stiff – watching her – this incredible creature, whose posture was open, inviting. Her arms didn’t cross her chest. She didn’t bite her lip or look down. She looked the authors and audience members in the eye and spoke clearly, frankly. In other words, she exuded confidence. I wanted, and want, to be more like that woman – the woman who isn’t afraid to hold her head high, to object, to be strong, clear, and authentic.
I had known that she was in politics – an MP – but what I didn’t know was that her background was in literature: Icelandic and French. She is a specialist in crime fiction who wrote her dissertation on the famous Arnaldur Indriðasson, and she’s a translator with concerns about early childhood development (“ecologically sound upbringing for children”). Like all Icelanders – and, at this point, it isn’t just a stereotype – she had ten jobs, and has shown equal prowess in all of them.
Katrín, the leader of the Left Green Movement – a liberal party – is not Iceland’s first female PM. She’s the second, preceded by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who is also openly gay – her wife, Jónina Leosdóttir, is a writer of YA novels and a crime writer, a panelist at the nordic crime fiction event this fall. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Jóhanna, but I have met her wife, and, bragging rights: we’ve emailed about her YA novels, which talk frankly about puberty, sex, and sexuality.
As I understand it, the Icelandic government is currently run on a three-party coalition system. Each elected party controls particular Ministries, and the Parliament. Currently, the Left Green Movement is in charge of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for the Environment. The Independence Party handles the Ministry of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Justice, and the Progressive Party will head the Ministries of Industry, Fishing, Tourism and Agriculture.
The Left Green Movement will also take charge of Alþing, the Icelandic Parliament.
Although there are objections to this three party-cooperation. As stated on MBL:
The youth movement within the Left Green Movement [Jakobsdóttir’s party] released a statement yesterday condemning the decision to start coalition talks with the Independence Party. “We are completely against VG (The Left Green Movement) going into a government coalition with the Independence Party. We cannot accept repeated lies, corruption and use of family ties. We cannot accept secrecy surrounding sexual offenders.”
The head of the Independence Party, if you haven’t followed the news, Bjarni Benediktsson, was embroiled in the Panama Papers scandal and, most recently, his father “restored honor” to a convicted pedophile who wished to re-enter the practice of law.
There is some cynicism around the cooperation from locals, too. After I posted this blog to my personal facebook, I received comments from both foreign residents of Iceland and Icelanders themselves, from a multitude of backgrounds. Sentiments include: “…she is becoming an enabler for a corrupt team of politicians…especially our new financial minister and judicial minister“; “I had so much respect for her before this…I had thought differently of that whole party” ; and my favorite, “I really hope she has some secret super power to keep those two maffiosos at bay.”
In order to form the coalition – again, as I understand it – all three parties had to agree to it. Katrín’s agenda is, in my opinion, a wonderful one, and if I were legally allowed to vote her, her party would be on my ballot. Some of the things she hopes to accomplish? On the bill are: stricter punishments for sexual assault and crimes of a sexual nature (very lenient in Iceland – see this article about the rape of a 16 year old girl whose rapist was sentenced to 3 years), LGBTQI+ rights, gender equality (wages, opportunity, etc.), increasing the number of refugees allowed into Iceland (and improving their circumstances, making it less of a threat that they’ll be imminently kicked out: see here, here, and here), and environmental protection.
I don’t know what will come of Jakobsdóttir’s term as prime minister of Iceland — but many congratulations to her. I’m happy to see a truly exceptional woman in office, and look forward to seeing her leadership unfold.
Also, note: the office of PM and the office of President serve two distinct functions. “Elected to a four-year term, the President has limited powers and is poised in a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat and figurehead” while “The prime minister and cabinet exercise most executive functions. The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with the cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government.”
Further addendum: Katrín is also a magician.