The most memorable one-liner of the week surely goes to Runar Birgisson, an Icelandic Marketing manager. Runar feels disillusioned with politicians he helped elect.
Many around the world share similar sentiments, but Icelanders currently believe they have more reason than most.
Following the widely-reported financial meltdown in Iceland, a winter chill has set in. Moods are turning ugly. The hunt is on for perpetrators. Where did all the money go? Some blame politicians. Politicians blame bankers. Artists have begun invoking ancient Norse techniques for cursing enemies.
The whiff of revolution is in the air. Perhaps Marx and Mao were both wrong. Maybe the real revolution will start in Reykavik?
According to an Associated Press report by Jill Lawless and Valur Gunnarsson (emphases added):
Thousands of Icelanders marked the 90th anniversary of their nation’s sovereignty with angry protest Monday, and several hundred stormed the central bank to demand the ouster of bankers they blame for the country’s spectacular economic meltdown.
Tiny Iceland has seen its banks and currency collapse in just a few weeks while prices and unemployment soar — leaving a country regarded as a model of Scandinavian prosperity in a state of shock.
“The government played roulette and the whole nation has lost,” writer Einar Mar Gudmundsson told a noisy but peaceful anti-government rally of several thousand people in downtown Reykjavik.
After the rally, hundreds of protesters stormed the headquarters of Sedlabanki, Iceland’s central bank, demanding the sacking of its chief, David Oddsson.
The demonstrators staged an hour-long standoff with shield-wielding riot police inside the bank’s lobby, singing songs and chanting “Out with David” and “Power to the People.” The protest ended peacefully when both police and demonstrators agreed to withdraw.
Anti-government protests have been growing larger and angrier since Iceland’s three main banks collapsed in October under the weight of huge debts amassed during years of rapid economic growth.
Since then the value of the country’s currency, the krona, has plummeted. Icelanders who grew used to buying houses and cars with easily available foreign-currency loans now struggle to repay them. The cost of everyday goods is skyrocketing — furniture retailer Ikea hiked its prices by 25 percent last month.
Iceland has been forced to seek $10 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund and individual countries.
Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde told The Associated Press on Saturday that Iceland’s economy would get even worse next year, with a “severe drop” in GDP and purchasing power and rising unemployment.
Haarde said he does not accept personal responsibility for the crisis. He blames commercial bankers who expanded recklessly in the wake of a mid-1990s stock market boom.
But the protest organizers and many other Icelanders say government oversight of the banks was too weak. They want Haarde’s coalition government to resign and hold new elections by next spring. By law, Haarde does not have to call a vote until 2011.
Settled by Vikings more than 1,000 years ago and later colonized by Denmark, Iceland became a self-governing country under the Danish crown on Dec. 1, 1918. The volcanic island gained full independence in 1944.
Throughout the anniversary Monday, Icelanders threw taunts, the occasional egg and acts of political theater at a government many now hold in contempt.
Much of the protest — held on a wind-swept hill overlooked by a statue of Iceland’s first Viking settler, Ingolfur Arnarson — had a distinctively Nordic flavor. One protester threw meat and cheese onto the lawn of nearby Government House, encouraging the ravens to come and whisk the government away.
Artist Hildur Margretadottir came to the demonstration holding an artificial horse’s head on a stick — her version of an old Norse technique for putting a curse on an enemy.
“I am turning it toward the central bank,” she said.
She said Iceland’s bankers and politicians “were gambling with our money, and they still are.”
Across Icelandic society, political disillusionment runs deep.
Marketing manager Runar Birgisson said he helped vote Haarde’s government into power.
“Today, I wouldn’t elect any of them,” he said. “I wouldn’t hire them to clean my toilet.”
I’ve always admired Icelanders and feel sympathy for their plight. There but for the Grace of God go the rest of us!
Iceland has my respect, among other things, because it stood up to the might of British Imperial power on three occasions during the so-called Cod Wars, which raged between the late 1950s and mid-1970s. I have vague childhood memories of the fuss, from a British perspective.
As far I can recall, there were only very half-hearted attempts in Britain to stir up war-fever and tranform Icelanders into reviled national enemies, people who merited full-scale punishment.
That was an unparalleled moment in British history, when the art of diplomacy was permitted to outdo the war mongers’ urge to bomb, sink and pillage. Icelanders, perhaps, were just too likeable. It was the era of John Lennon and miniskirts. Nobody could be bothered to fight another war. Even the MI6 dirty tricks department mysteriously failed to do a job on the Icelanders.
Consequently, there was an outbreak of peace, intelligent negotiation and ultimately good will. Partly as a result, we now have much more advanced international legal agreements governing use of the seas and oceans – laws that don’t only reflect the interests of a handful of imperial powers.
A Canadian academic explains: “The Law of the Sea was a long time coming… Negotiations began in the 1950’s when it became clear for the first time that coastal resources needed protection. Aggressive action by countries such as Iceland, Chile, Peru and eventually Canada helped to push the process along, and in 1982, 159 nations, including Canada, signed the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea”.
Beneficiaries such as Australia might consider a whip-round to help out the wily nordic folk in their hour of need. Apart from generating a little Christmas cheer close to Santa’s home, it could be a good long-term investment for other reasons.
Iceland has valuable expertise that will stand it in good stead in a world of oil scarcity and greenhouse emission targets. See the chart below of its energy mix, excerpted from a European Energy Forum paper on the prospects for greater us of geothermal power in Europe.
If only Australia, by now, was like Iceland: three quarters of the way to satisfying its entire energy requirements through renewable, non-nuclear, emissions-free energy sources!