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‘We are breaking the ice’

Sarah Berry | New Delhi |

His Excellency Thorir Ibsen, Ambassador of Iceland to India since 2014, has served as Ambassador to the European Union, to Belgium and to France amongst other countries. He was also the Chief Negotiator and Ambassador for Climate Change and holds a Master's in International Relations from the Faculty of Political Science, York University, Canada. In an interview with Sarah Berry, he talks about areas of cooperation between his country and India, as well as his experience and journey in India. Excerpts:

Do you feel the people-to-people connect between Iceland and India can be enhanced? Iceland is a country with a population of approximately 330,000. Though we cannot have a large representation and presence in India, we do have a focussed one.

There are two areas which we target actively: tourism and business. For the former, movies are an excellent medium to establish a long-term recall value and generate tourism. Not only are we actively in touch with location agencies, but also travel agencies, providing them the required information and help required to promote the country.

The word-of-mouth generated has been so strong that over the past three years we have seen a yearly exponential increase of 50 per cent in the issuance of visas. In fact, the Hindi film song 'Gherua', shot in Iceland, was much appreciated by viewers. Often, Indians combine their visit to Iceland with other countries like the Nordic Countries, UK, The Netherlands, Germany etc. In fact, the winters also see a number of Indian visitors arriving in the country to enjoy the Northern Lights.

So, yes, I am pretty satisfied with the accomplishments made in this connection. We are indeed breaking the ice.

Which are the areas, according to you, for further cooperation?

One field where I see immense cooperation is the field of tourism. In fact, there is in Iceland an association by the name of the Iceland Pondicherry Friendship Association. I foresee a direct flight between both countries taking shape in the near future, which will greatly enhance the tourism prospects between both countries. Climate-related issues and the field of renewable energy are two other fields where I see opportunities for more intense cooperation.

As far as business is concerned, some very prominent Icelandic companies have established their niche in India, for example Ossur in the field of prosthetics, EC Software in the field of IT, Marel in the food processing industry. Women entrepreneurship and gender equality are other important areas.

Iceland has played a pioneering role in the field of clean energy. Is Iceland assisting India too in this field?

Besides solar and wind energy, hydro and geothermal forms of energy also play an important role. A long-term plan is being developed between Iceland and India in order to tap the abundant geothermal energy present in India.

What is Iceland's stand on India's candidature for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council?

Iceland was the first Nordic country which supported publicly India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Iceland has shown interest in cooperation with prominent universities in India.

How do you envisage the cooperation between the two countries in the field of education?

Iceland has a large number of programmes on offer for postgraduate studies and beyond, of which a large number are in English. Geo-thermal energy, soil conservation/land reclamation, sustainable fisheries and gender equality are some of the more popular areas of study for international students. Indian students opt often for studies in the field of geo-thermal energy. In fact, the Indian diaspora in Iceland is increasing steadily. A number of Indian doctors are employed in Iceland.

How popular are Indian food and yoga in Iceland?

Very popular indeed! Icelanders visit India for the International Yoga Day. Besides this, Indian food is very popular in Iceland. Of course, the spices are toned down a bit, and there are Indian restaurants in Iceland. In fact, mixes of both cuisines are also common and the outcomes are pretty exotic!

You have been in India for about two years. Could you tell us about your experience here?

The diversity mystifies and amazes me. India is a beautiful country. My family and I are nature lovers and we have really enjoyed the mix of flora and fauna present here.