A Tale of Two Presidents

Iceland / Ramblings

taleoftwopreIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the year 2012 in Germany and the year 2016 in Iceland. Why those two years and why the comparison you ask? Let me tell you!

2012 in Germany there was a president with boyish charm and a beautiful wife – they had just entered office in the warm summer of 2010, fulfilling the secretly kept German wishes for a royal family of their own. The German press and tabloids tumbled over itself with their interest in the new first couple and the picturesque family, that had taken hold of the presidential residence “Schloss Bellevue” in Berlin. The wife of the new president was young, blond and smart – the messiness of their relationship was dutifully overlooked and the press did not dwell on the fact, that the new German president had left his first wife and family to marry his 14 year younger affair. Things looked up for German president Christian Wulff, even though some people whispered, that the powerful chancellor Angela Merkel had made him president only to get rid of her most threatening political rival.

2016 in Iceland there is an aging president with the white hair and the imposing figure that people sometimes confuse with authority or wisdom. His wife, the first lady of Iceland, is a glamorous british-israeli jewellery designer, with a flamboyant personality that easily outshines her husband. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the president of which I am talking, had been in office since 1996 – five years before the first iPod was sold and just two years after Kurt Cobain had committed suicide. Being in office for twenty years is an admirable feat, that in Europe is only surpassed by the president of Belarus. The sceptic observer might indeed deduce that the presidential couple also fulfils an Icelandic longing for a royal family, the lack thereof making the volcanic island seem somewhat special in the royality-filled north of Europe (Yes I know Finland has no royal family, but they have Lordi and that must count for something). While the Icelandic president had used his 2016 New Year’s message to talk about himself and announce his retirement in the coming summer, things in Iceland can change as quickly as the weather and by april 2016 he was again running for office.

So in Germany there was a boyish president with frameless glasses and a first lady with aspirations for her own career; in Iceland there is a white-haired president with a liking for power-politics and a first lady with a remarkable own career as a businesswoman. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the avid readers of the news media, that things in general were settled for ever – two dominant presidencies, that seem unassailable.

In the summer of 2012 the situation changed for the German president Christian Wulff, when claims started to spread that during his time as minister-president of the federal state of Niedersachsen he had taken a 500.000€ loan on favourable terms from a businessman and acquaintance. In a rather clumsy move he had subsequently tried to quiet the press from talking about it, which only made journalists jump at story like hungry bloodhounds smelling prey. Within a short time the president had fallen from grace and more and more media outlets started reporting about shady dealings, that in retrospect seem rather petty: a short holiday trip to Sylt, a trip to the German Oktoberfest and a bobby-car (horribly noisy red plastic cars for children) that was given to him by a car-dealer. When the district attorney filed charges against Wulff due to the private credit he had obtained, there was nothing left for him to do but to step back. He did not want to tarnish the highest office of the German state with his legal and financial affairs and the majority of Germans had answered in polls, that they wanted him to step back, as his behaviour was not in accordance to the high moral standards set upon his office. His marriage faltered and ended in divorce and the legacy of the presidential couple were two rather awkward tell-all books that got published in subsequent years. It might also be relevant to add, that the former president got legally cleared of all accusations in 2014.

In the spring of 2016, when the news were filled with the revelations of the panama-papers and the subsequent resignation of the Icelandic prime-minister, the Icelandic president was asked on CNN if he or his wife had any offshore-accounts or whether anything would be discovered about them. The Icelandic president used all of his statesmanlike authority and charming Icelandic accent and claimed: “No, no, no, that is not going to be the case.” Well as it turns out it was not as easy as that. His wife’s family (more explicitly her mother, who was listed as the owner) has been linked to offshore-accounts and – as was to be expected – the president vehemently denied any knowledge of those accounts.

As of now the Icelandic president has not shown any inclinations to step back. It is going to be interesting to see the results of the election in the summer, they might reveal a lot about the Icelandic ideas of proper behaviour in democratic positions of power and the behaviour the electorate expects from their head of state.


Quotation Party / What I read

“Kulturen, die an der Mitteilung orientiert sind, haben einen beweglicheren dynamischeren Charakter. Sie neigen dazu, die Menge der Texte unendlich zu vergrößern, und erzeugen einen schnellen Zuwachs an Wissen. […] Die negative Seite dieses Typs von Kultur ist die scharfe Trennung der Gesellschaft in Übermittelnde und Empfangende, die psychologische Erwartung, dass man Wahrheit in Gestalt einer fertigen Mitteilung von einer fremden geistigen Anstrengung erhält, und die wachsende soziale Passivität jener, die in der Position der Empfänger der Mitteilung sind. […] Die Tendenz zur geistigen Konsumhaltung ist die gefährliche Seite einer Kultur, die einseitig auf das Empfangen von Information von außen ausgerichtet ist.”

(Jurij Lotman: Die Innenwelt des Denkens. Eine semiotische Theorie der Kultur. (Hg.) Susi K. Frank, Cornelia Ruhe und Alexander Schmitz. Berlin: 2010. S. 51.)

Es gibt so wunderweiße Nächte


Mein persönliches Lieblings-Weihnachtsgedicht ist übrigens von Rainer Maria Rilke:

Es gibt so wunderweiße Nächte,
drin alle Dinge Silber sind.
Da schimmert mancher Stern so lind,
als ob er fromme Hirten brächte
zu einem neuen Jesuskind.
Weit wie mit dichtem Diamantstaube
bestreut, erscheinen Flur und Flut,
und in die Herzen, traumgemut,
steigt ein kapellenloser Glaube,
der leise seine Wunder tut

#FreeTheNipple Iceland-Edition – March 26th 2015

Feminism / Iceland

iceland_freethenippleIn 2014 the film-comedy “Free the Nipple” was released giving wider publicity to the “Free the Nipple” campaign, which is aimed at ending the criminalisation of female breasts in the US-American public space, which can still get you punished for indecent exposure. In the last days the #FreeTheNipple hashtag experienced a sudden influx of interest on social media, after the feminist Icelandic school organization of the Ver­zlu­narskóli Íslands declared march 26th to be the FreeTheNipple-Day and invited all female students to attend school without a bra. This call for action happened after a girl was mocked for showing a nipple-revealing picture online. The movement quickly spread past the school context as many Icelandic women including parliamentarians and other women of public interest published calls for support and even pictures of their own nipples in solidarity:

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 9.27.28 PMThe public action of breaking gendered taboos, or as Icelandic newspaper the Grapevine called it: “Iceland’s Feminists Fuck Gender Norms With #FreeTheNipple“, is align with the feminist tradition of criticising patriarchal rules and regulations for the female body and sexuality. The idea of reclaiming the public space with radical displays of female nudity and the call for women to define their own sexuality and break with patriarchal expectations is a typical element of third wave feminism. Already the Riot Grrrls in the 90’s tried to subvert the close definitions of female sexuality by calling themselves sluts and ironically undermining societal expectations for decency and proper displays of femininity. In recent years this has been effectively used as a protest strategy during the slut-walks, which also took place in Iceland:

Within the feminist movement there have been ambiguous positions towards the Slut-Walks as well as towards other public displays of female nudity in the context of protests (for example the protest of the FEMEN group), as they can very easily be read as being too much in accordance with patriarchal ideas of sexiness, while intended to ironically undermine exactly those concepts. This critique can also be directed at the #FreeTheNipple campaign, especially when the displays of nipples in the typical Selfie-bathroom-mirror-set, seem to comply very much with rather typical displays of female sexiness. The real radicality of the movement shows in exactly those moments when the participating women defy the norms and conventions of a patriarchal society, by either displaying nudity in non-sexy settings like at the breakfast table or showing powerful gestures clearly defying the norms and conventions that they are confronted with:

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 9.54.07 PM

Judging from some of the online comments the most radical images are photos displaying cancer survivors or breastfeeding, pictures that cannot be reframed into accepted modes of sexiness. Essentially reclaiming public space for female nudity seems to be perceived as most subversive when accepted patriarchal standards of youth and beauty are challenged and/or when the female body is not presented as something that can be consumed by a sexist gaze. That is essentially the core of projects like the “A Beautiful Body Project” by photographer JadeBeall, the Icelandic Weird Girls Project, Sophie Spinelles “Shameless Photography” or blog-projects like “The Shape of a Mother.”

Underlining the purpose and necessity of the Icelandic campaign are by the way the typical Facebook censorship rules, which  lead to an immediate block of the #FreeTheNipple photographs:

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 10.04.13 PM

Warum in Island auch Studentinnen gerne Kinder kriegen

Family / Feminism / Iceland / What I read
Albert Anker: "Der Schulspaziergang" (1872)

Albert Anker: Der Schulspaziergang (1872)

In einem Interview mit The European stellt der Berliner Journalist und Blogger Malte Welding sein neues Buch mit dem etwas sperrigen Titel: “Seid fruchtbar und beschwert euch! Ein Plädoyer für Kinder – trotz Allem” (KiWi Verlag) vor. Dabei macht er einige sehr treffende Aussagen zu den Abgründen deutscher Familienpolitik und deren Auswirkungen auf das Leben mit Kindern in Deutschland, von unrealistischen formalen Hürden (Steuerklasse ändern im ersten Trimester) bis zur Rolle der Frau in kirchlich-konservativer Familienpolitik. Wie es typisch ist in Beiträgen zur Familienpolitik wird auch hier an zahlreichen Stellen Skandinavien als Idealbeispiel angeführt – denn dort kann man als erfolgreicher Autor aus Fairnessgründen auch Hausmann sein, Kindergeld gibt es schon lange und in Finnland bezahlt der Staat sogar den Babysitter für ausgehhungrige Jung-Eltern. Da wundert es niemanden, dass Deutschland eine so niedrige Geburtenzahl hat, während sich die skandinavischen Länder munter im oberen Drittel der Statistik tummeln. Speziell für Island mit seinen notorisch hohen Geburtenzahlen dürfte das aber auch an einem anderen Phänomen liegen, das von Malte Welding auch aufgegriffen wird: Sieht man viele Kinder in seinem Alltag, dann wird es auch vorstellbarer selbst welche zu produzieren. Das Fehlen von Kindern in vielen deutschen Alltagen fasst Welding plakativ als die “ausgeprägte Ghettoisierung der Lebensphasen” in Deutschland zusammen. Während man in Island also kaum irgendwo einen Kaffee trinken kann ohne über ein Kleinkind zu stolpern, ziehen sich die deutschen Kernfamilien in die Vororte zurück und fristen dort ohne staatlich bezahlte Babysitter ein gesellschaftlich ausgegrenztes Dasein. Ein weiteres interessantes Phänomen ist die sonderbare Elterngeldpolitik in Deutschland, nach der Studierende und Doktoranden mit dem Mindestsatz an Elterngeld auskommen müssen – das sind momentan klägliche 300€. In Island wird das Studium als Arbeit angerechnet und man bekommt den durchschnittlichen Verdienst eines Isländers als Anrechnungsgrundlage. Dementsprechend haben viel mehr Studierende Kinder, diese laufen in der Mensa herum und das Leben und Studieren mit Kindern scheint gleich viel einfacher. Vielleicht auch ein Lösungsvorschlag für Deutschland, wo man doch immer über die kinderlosen Akademikerinnen klagt.

Das Interview mit Malte Welding kann man übrigens hier nachlesen.

Do communists have better sex?

Interesting / What I watched

After watching this Arte feature (with English subtitles) from 2006 I now know why Sex was much better in East Germany than in West Germany. Especially beautiful were the many small animations depicting the differences between East and West and of course I take any chance to watch old Oswalt Kolle clips. Oswalt Kolle was by the way West Germany’s most proficient sex educator.