Thursday, January 31, 2013

“Lincoln” Premiere in Iceland

We partnered with Sena, 20th Century Fox, Dreamworks Studios, the American Iceland Chamber of Commerce (AMIS), and Icelandic Glacial to provide a preview of the movie Lincoln by Steven Spielberg.  The movie provided a compelling account of the last four months of Lincoln’s life and his successful efforts to pass the 13th Amendment of the Constitution which abolished slavery.

We wanted to share this pivotal moment in American history with a group of political science, English language, and film students from high schools and Icelandic institutions of higher education, and a group of guests from different parts of Icelandic society.  We were heartened by the response to the movie.  The timing couldn’t be better as we deepen our partnership with Iceland in the fight against slavery’s modern face, trafficking in persons.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Westmann islands visit was full of surprises

The spirit of the inhabitants of the Westmann Islands is legendary. The long history of the islands is full of stories of daring seamen, adventurers, and entrepreneurs, and of fierce protectors of those beautiful islands that grace Iceland’s southern coast. During my visit I saw the evidence of what the islanders accomplished in the aftermath of the eruption, but I also saw first-hand the spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship. When the mayor of Heimaey, Ellidi Vignisson, was showing us some very interesting parts of the island, the subject of the cliffs came up along with the practice of rope swinging along those cliffs. Ellidi then said, I will not only take you to the cliffs but I will show how it is done. Here is the proof:

We also met Frosti Gislason, who told us about being inspired by an online TED Talks lecture by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Frosti told us that as a result of that TED Talk, he has been successful in bringing a FabLab to Heimaey. With the support of the authorities of the Westmann Islands and the Government of Iceland, Frosti now runs a laboratory where anyone over the age of 12 can come with their creativity and their ideas to fabricate products. The potential for inspiring a new generation of inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs and manufacturers is enormous. Frosti’s lab and three others in Iceland are now part of a creative dialogue with a large and growing network of FabLabs around the world, all inspired by a compelling idea from MIT.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Commemorating the historic eruption on the Westman Islands

Mary and I were honored by an invitation to speak at the ceremony that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the eruption that nearly destroyed Heimaey, in the Westmann Islands. It was a solemn, touching, and very special event. We began at the museum where we heard a few stories about that fateful January 23rd 1973, and subsequent efforts to rebuild. It was followed by a service at the Landakirkja church with the participation of the Bishop of Iceland, then several thousand men, women, and children walked to the harbor carrying torches. The streets lights were turned off to add a dramatic effect when several hundred people lining the mountain of lava lit flares to emulate what the eruption looked like that day.

The procession gathered inside the ferry Herjólfur to hear live music, more stories, and a few speeches. It is difficult to describe how proud we felt being a part of this event and we were especially touched by the expressions of gratitude that islanders had for the extensive support provided by the United States. As I mentioned in my remarks, when Icelanders and Americans worked together to slow down the lava flows, they demonstrated that people were not powerless in the path of a volcano. It was a great example of what the United States and Iceland can accomplish together.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Actavis name joins the New York Stock Exchange

Photo: AP Images

Watson, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, decided to adopt the name Actavis following the acquisition of Actavis last year. This event was marked last night when Actavis executives rang the closing bell of the Stock Exchange. Actavis is set to become a global brand with Icelandic operations playing an important part of the company’s future.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Secretary Clinton congratulates ALCOA’s Janne Sigurdsson

I had the pleasure of presenting to Janne Sigurdsson, the manager of ALCOA’s Fjardaal plant, a letter from Secretary Clinton congratulating her for receiving the Stevie Award for Female Executive of the Year in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  The letter applauded Janne’s exceptional efforts in building Fjardaal into one of the world’s state-of-the-art smelters and expressed her gratitude for Janne’s outstanding participation in the community of eastern Iceland, supporting local culture and contributing to improvements in education and the environment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stígamót - an organization worthy of the Icelandic character

I had the pleasure to visit Stígamót and the opportunity to learn about its origins, trajectory, and plans to carry out its mission to stand up for women´s rights and for the victims of sexual violence (regardless of gender), and to provide counseling services and protection of victims of domestic violence and trafficking. Guðrún Jónsdóttir told us the compelling story of Stígamót’s origins as an organization providing counseling services and support to victims of sexual and physical violence, while also advocating for gender equality. The Embassy is delighted to engage with an organization like Stígamót that supports initiatives to fight trafficking in persons and to promote gender equality.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reykjavik’s Children Hospital – where love and devotion intersect

Dr. Oliver invited Mary and me to visit Children’s Hospital to be a part of one of her weekly performances, which she has been conducting for nearly twenty-two years. She brings smiles to the hospital’s beautiful patients and dedicated staff; her performances are whimsical, funny, and above all, very loving. Dr. Oliver does this by teaming up with the doctors, nurses, and chaplains, all of whom happily join in the fun.

It is difficult to capture in words the sense of mission and love one senses when walking into the building. It is a unique institution that enjoys the strong and unsurpassed support of Hringurinn—a 100-year-old foundation of Icelandic women dedicated to bring the best possible care to Iceland’s children. Mary and I were touched to be a part of Dr. Oliver’s work and very proud indeed to know that Dr. Oliver is Peggy Helgason, an American who gives so much of herself to Iceland’s children. Just before we left, a young patient sang a beautiful Icelandic song for us; it was a reminder that angels live among us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Nordic American Chambers meet in Reykjavik

We were delighted to welcome the Executive Directors of the American Chambers of Commerce in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. They came to Iceland to hold their annual meeting and to share their experiences with the American Icelandic Chamber of Commerce (AMIS). The synergies between the visiting chambers and AMIS were immediate, clear, and productive. They share a powerful common interest: promoting trade and investment between the United States and Nordic countries.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Chevy Volt – a perfect fit for Iceland

I had the pleasure of driving the Chevy Volt and learning about its capabilities. It is the first long range electric vehicle on the mass market and the winner of many awards. I believe that the vehicle could make a significant contribution towards making Iceland the first country in the world to rely 100% on renewable energy. The vehicle is reportedly capable of traveling 60 km without a single charge and this could be extended depending on driving practices, since the vehicle charges its batteries while moving. Given the size of Reykjavik and driving patterns here, a commuter could conceivably use the vehicle all week without ever using gasoline. Think about it. It is truly revolutionary. I look forward to the unveiling later today of the vehicle for the Icelandic market; Icelanders will immediately see the potential for moving ever closer to a future powered 100% by renewable energy.