This Week in WTF, May 22, 2015

– That’s certainly a relief: The Basque people have probable been a bit hesitant to visit Westfjords in northwestern Iceland for a while now. It looks like an absolutely beautiful place, but the Basques—the indigenous ethnic group of northern Spain and southwestern France, have not been welcome there for some time. That’s because until recently, the law in that part of Iceland required killing any Basques in the area:

Basques wanting to visit the dramatic fjords of north-western Iceland need no longer hesitate after the district of Westfjords repealed a 400-year-old decree to kill any Basque caught in the area on sight.

“The decision to do away with the decree was more symbolic than anything else,” said Westfjords district commissioner Jonas Gudmundsson. “We have laws, of course, and killing anyone– including Basques – is forbidden thesedays.”

The edict was issued in 1615 after a storm destroyed three Basque whaling vessels on an expedition in Iceland. Eighty members of the crew survived, said Gudmundsson, and were left stranded in the area. “They had nothing to eat, and there were accounts of them robbing people and farmers,” he said.

The brewing conflict between locals and the whalers prompted then-sheriff Ari Magnússon to draw up a decree that allowed Basques to be killed with impunity in the district. In the weeks that followed, more than 30 Basques were killed in raids led by the sheriff and local farmers. “It’s one of the darkest chapters of our history,” said Gudmundsson, noting that the incident known as the Slaying of the Spaniards ranks among the country’s bloodiest massacres.

(h/t Doug Coulson) Obviously, the law would be unenforceable in the Iceland of 2015 (one hopes), but it’s still a welcome gesture to issue a formal repeal. If nothing else, it gives a little perspective on something like Mississippi ratifying the 13th Amendment (the one that abolished slavery) in 2013, 148 years after the end of slavery. Continue reading