During the spring and early summer, the Nordic House celebrates Baltic Children‘s Culture Festival in collaboration with the annual children’s culture festival in Reykjavík. The program is diverse and has been planned in collaboration with the Lithuanian and Latvian schools and creative individuals from the Baltics. Certain events are aimed directly at people who speak Lithuanian, Lettish or Estonian, while others are open for a wide audience with the goal of presenting Baltic culture and traditions. With this initiative, we want to show that the Nordic House is an accessible and inclusive place that welcomes everyone and we want to counteract the often simplistic and negative representations of people with non-Icelandic backgrounds that prevail in the media and in comment fields.
In Iceland, the media seems not to have put an effort to exhibit diversity to the same extent as in other Nordic countries and studies show that Icelandic media tend to represent people with foreign backgrounds in a negative manner. For instance, foreign nationality is often revealed when it comes to coverage of suspected criminality, even though this information is irrelevant to the case in question. Recently, polemic discussions evolving around what people it is that import coronavirus to Iceland has been going on in the society. The discussions became so harsh that Iceland‘s epidemiologist felt obliged to pull the brake and emphasize the fact that it was the virus itself that is the actual enemy.
About 18% of Iceland‘s population have non-Icelandic national backgrounds and seen in this context the problem discussed above is of course very serious. A problem that the media, state, and organizations must actively take responsibility to work against.
Since the early 1990s, the Nordic Council of Ministers has worked closely with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and we in the Nordic House have taken a decisive to feature the Baltics to a larger extent in our cultural program. In Iceland, there is a significant representation of people with Baltic backgrounds. According to Statistics Iceland, estimating from the country of birth, there are 3299 Lithuanians, 1965 Latvians, and 166 Estonians living in Iceland (compared with 3644 Danes, 2173 Swedes, 212 Finns and 1273 Norwegians).
Culture builds bridges and the Nordic House is a bridge builder.This time it is about establishing a local infrastructure that brings us closer to each other, increases understanding and cultural awareness and thereby counteracts xenophobia. The support from our Baltic partners has been overwhelmingly positive, which makes us feel great reverence and a great responsibility towards our initiative, which is only the beginning of a long-term work.