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Reykjavik’s maverick mayor speaks up for live whales

Three cheers for current mayor of Reykjavik, Jon Gnarr, for being so refreshingly honest and open in his opinions, unfettered by the personal or corporate agendas which routinely bedevil most public figures who deliver only the party line and often leave us wondering how much, if anything, they genuinely mean.

Jon is a breath of fresh air in this respect: a recent posting on his Facebook page leaves no doubt about his stance on conservation and environmental issues. His post is short and to the point:

“Stop whaling fin whales. Stop killing polar bears. Stop seeing global warming as an “opportunity” for Iceland. Don’t drill for oil or gas. Focus on sustainable tourism and creative industries. Take a responsible lead in matters concerning global warming and the Arctic.”

In a later post, he states that Icelanders eat whale meat only rarely and that it is a misconception that Iceland has whaled for centuries (in fact only since 1948).  Whaling, says Gnarr, is a bad business idea and people should watch whales but not touch them.

Outspoken and creative, Jon was an actor, comedian and writer who tapped into widespread public disillusionment with politics and corruption following the 2008 banking collapse. In 2009, he created a new political party, Besti Flokkurinn (The Best Party) which openly took a swipe at the politicians and bankers who had presided over the previous economic chaos.  Six months later, his party won the 2010 city council election, defeating the Independence Party and stunning the establishment. Hence this maverick – anarchist, humanist, environmentalist – became mayor of Reykjavik.

Of course, a party established primarily to satirise the political ‘old guard’ – blamed by most for the economic meltdown – and thus effectively offering a ‘protest vote’, will have its share of detractors as well as avid supporters. Naturally, Gnarr and his party could not solve overnight the deep-seated problems in the Icelandic economy and the way Iceland does business: but what he has done is to rally support for the process of challenging the old ways. His term of office ends this summer, but my hope is that we will not lose his voice from public life. Those who have the courage to speak out and challenge corruption and cronyism should be treasured, as they are rare indeed.  We need more such.