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And all the animals in the zoo shall be enemies*

Well, the dust is settling after the uproar of a couple of days ago, when parliament voted to indict former PM Geir Haarde for his involvement in the economic collapse.

It’s amazing to observe just how emotional the whole matter is for the Icelandic people — it clearly touches the rawest, most sensitive nerve running through this nation. Or perhaps it isn’t so strange — after all, the meltdown is the greatest catastrophe to befall this country in decades, and it was man-made. Yesterday marked a full two years since the first bank collapsed, and this nation has not been the same since. It literally turned life upside down for many, many people.

I wrote in the last post that I felt it was a sad day in Icelandic history, and that I felt Althingi had sunk to new lows. My remarks were variously interpreted, with some folks clearly believing I was turning all IP on them and didn’t want Geir indicted. That is not what I meant. I was simply expressing my doubts that one man could be made responsible for a colossal mess that was many years in the making.

I was also making a general reference to the circus that has prevailed in the Icelandic parliament for the last few days [weeks, months?] with people slagging each other off and doing everything they can to divert attention from the Big Issues by bickering and arguing about the small stuff. For instance fighting over whether people voting for or against the indictments are/were driven by political revenge or partisan interests and attacking their persons in the process. It is particularly sickening to see how some MPs and others have attacked the members of the parliamentary committee that prepared the report that recommended the indictments. From what I can tell that report was objective and professional, but some people seem to insist on shooting the messenger.

In the best of all possible worlds, Icelandic parliamentarians would have voted on this issue like adults, with mutual respect for each others’ decisions, and then moved on to the more important issue, which is to implement the OTHER recommendations that came out of the report. Because the recommendation to indict these four individuals was only one part of it — the other parts dealt with parliamentary reform, how the Icelandic Althingi can and should implement new and improved work processes to strengthen it and enable it to serve its function more effectively. Instead, we have the various parties up against each other, and ominous signs that they’ll do everything they can to thwart each other’s progress in Althingi for the remainder of the election term — out of revenge.

In any case, now that I’ve had a chance to sleep on it [twice], I’m coming around to thinking that the decision to indict Geir is probably the right one. After all, he was the captain of the ship, and the ship ran aground. While he was captain, he enjoyed all the benefits of being captain, so it’s only right that he carry the responsibilities, as well. This is, of course, purely from a layman’s perspective — I have no grounds for knowing whether all of this will hold up in court [thank goodness]. I’ll leave that to the judge presiding over his trial.

* There is a phrase from a well-known children’s book by Thorbjörn Egner that has become almost an idiom in the Icelandic language: And all the animals in the forest should be friends. Clearly we have the opposite of that happening in Althingi.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland September 30, 2010, 12:44 pm

    Whole thing probably makes Icelanders feel better but yes just one guy, there was a whole lot more to the nazis and the jews in WWII than Adolf Hitler he after all he only joined the party, he did not invent it, same goes for Geir if you get my drift.

    Meanwhile outside planet Iceland the British and Dutch ICESAVE fleet masses, you have not had a kreppa because as of now it has not even begun, best get everly jolly whatshername on the track of the banksters and business success types to retrieve whatever money is left,you will be needing it.In fact renationalize your fish comrade citizens anything to stop Alda and her family from having to stump up €30,000 .

  • Bromley86 September 30, 2010, 1:34 pm

    >I was simply expressing my doubts that one man could be made responsible for a colossal mess that was many years in the making.

    Surely you mean “this one man”. Because with Oddsson, one man is in the frame for the colossal mess, even if he’ll never be tried 🙂 .

    Mind you, even then I can see arguments that it wasn’t solely his fault. However the level of involvement of this one chap in all aspects of the situation is amazing to an outsider. Another argument for joining the EU – it’s somewhere to send your washed-up politicians other than the Central Bank or the leading newspaper 🙂 .

  • mb September 30, 2010, 2:08 pm

    when I saw this post title on my feed I was hoping for something Polar Bear related, for the zoo. But instead it sounds like just a small flock of scape goats.

  • Rasmus Kristjansson September 30, 2010, 2:52 pm

    Should have stayed under Danish rule .

  • Gloria September 30, 2010, 3:10 pm

    Iceland was just a cog in a much bigger piece of machinery. Many people worldwide were motivated by self-interest and greed and created the conditions for the economic collapse. The way to hold them responsible is to VOTE for other people and parties, and to give them some time to fix what is broken. But the mob is fickle and impatient . . .

  • Michael Lewis September 30, 2010, 4:04 pm

    Cheap, Robert Mugabe politics…

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland September 30, 2010, 4:51 pm

    However I do owe €8000 on account of Anglo-Irish bank shhhh dont tell them I dont actually have €8000.Anyone want a giggle read dis

  • Bromley86 September 30, 2010, 5:29 pm

    >The way to hold them responsible is to VOTE for other people and parties, and to give them some time to fix what is broken. But the mob is fickle and impatient . . .

    That gives me a tenuous reason to link to Iris’ latest article:
    “However, while Icelandic voters can be forgiven for being frustrated over that fact, it is truly depressing to see that over a third of them believe that the only solution to the country’s nightmarish mess is to replace the politicians currently in charge with the ones who created it.”

    Actually, the bulk of it is about the truly shocking salaries paid to CEOs of the failed banks in 2009. An annualised salary of $1.1m to the guy who sank Glitnir!

  • sylvia hikins September 30, 2010, 6:21 pm

    All the animals in the forest should be friends? Sounds more like raw in tooth and claw.
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • The Fred from the forums September 30, 2010, 9:01 pm

    Is there a difference between Icelanders who go into politics and normal Icelanders?

    Is there a separate political class, or is it more typical for someone to be politically active in her spare time from, say, being a flight attendant?

    Is politics something that the intelligent and aware go into?

    Is politics a respected occupation?

  • Øystein-Norway September 30, 2010, 9:25 pm

    Hi Alda – it is absolute a good idea to put Thorbjørn Egner into this story. The Norwegian name of the forest is Hakkebakkeby.

    I read some place that Jón Gnarr declared “Kardemomme by” – The Chardamom Town” as a new friendship town to Reykjavik. This is also one of Egners stories – “When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town”.

    This towns justice is based on “the chardamom law” (Kardemommeloven) and is mentioned as the most important law in Norway – it is simpel and translated to English as follows:

    “You should not bother others,
    you should be nice and kind,
    otherwise you can do as you please.”

    They have build a full scale copy of the town in Kristiansand Zoo – http://www.dyreparken.no/Kart-parkinfo/Kardemomme_by/

    There is a prison in the town 😉

  • Alexander E. September 30, 2010, 9:41 pm

    to VOTE for other people and parties, and to give them some time to fix what is broken.

    Maybe it’s time to stop vote for OTHERS and give them YOUR own power? Others have a tendency to care about themselves a little bit more than about others…

    Is politics something that the intelligent and aware go into?

    From my experience – intelligent people try to stay as far as possible from politics, Fred 🙂

  • Joerg September 30, 2010, 10:00 pm

    It might certainly be perceived as unfair, would Geir Haarde remain the only politician being tried. You are right, he was the captain, when the ship crashed and if anybody should be indicted, it’s him. But the responsible politicians, who steered this ship into troubled waters, e.g. by hijacking the privatization of the banks and handing them over to related parties or by failing in leading the central bank, shouldn’t just be let off the hook too easily. Davið Oddsson did so much damage to the country’s reputation, particularly in the moment of the crash. Why can’t he be held responsible?

    Is there nationwide any new party in sight, which could break up the old political class?

  • jo6pac September 30, 2010, 11:53 pm

    Gloria September 30, 2010 at 3:10 pm
    Yes and this one person won’t make the wolves go away that are waiting to get the fishing rights. The thieves are thick and Iceland should look after itself.

  • Mike Richards October 1, 2010, 12:42 am

    It’s incredible this disaster still hasn’t run its course. I’m not sure if it made the news in Iceland, but the Irish government has just had to pour £39 billion into propping up its banking sector and is going to run a budget deficit of nearly 33% of GDP. This is eye-watering stuff – by comparison, the British taxpayer only coughed up about 6% of GDP to our delinquent banks.

    The Irish are getting much the same nasty medicine as the Icelanders because of their government’s inaction over a runaway banking sector. The BBC did interviews in Dublin today and the same unanswerable questions keep coming up – why are the people paying whilst the bankers and the politicians that protected them are getting off scot free?

    So I’m in favour of some of the people who made these decisions being broken on the wheel rather than them picking up lucrative pensions or finding new, obscenely paid jobs.

    As for people looking to the opposition when the economy gets tough – yep, same in the UK, same in America. In both cases an incredibly high percentage of voters think the people who were in control when things went bad should be put in charge of anything more valuable than a piggy bank. Which should worry us all.

  • alda October 1, 2010, 1:04 am

    @ Kevin — you have all my sympathy, as do your countrymen. That news just totally sent me back two years in time. Really awful stuff.

    @ Øystein — we all grow up on Thorbjörn Egner here. His plays are shown at one of the theatres here every few years. In fact I think I can sing most of the songs from them. 🙂 And yes, according to our new mayor, Reykjavík is now friends with Kardemommubærinn. Which is certainly OK by me, particularly because they have such a stellar life philosophy.

    @ Joerg — yes, it is maddening that DO and his crew get off. But as I’ve said before, the laws relating to landsdómur have a three year statute of limitations.

  • Kris October 1, 2010, 1:33 am

    My mom thinks DO should be hanged. I think he should be shot. In case anyone is confused, DO is the King Pin. Off with his head!
    DO and his crew should be treated like common criminals. It is a mistake to show any respect to them. They didn’t show you any. That is for sure. The law is a contract between the gov and the people. If the gov violates the contract, then you are under no obligation to obey the law. Thus have spawned many revolutions.

  • Rik Hardy October 1, 2010, 3:20 am

    Has nobody thought of making a NEW law, so that the unprecedented mess which is STILL being blithely spewed out of our not-at-all open and transparent banking/business/government/parliament systems can be sterilized tomorrow?
    A special tribunal would be convened and draft the new law.
    It would be called the Desperate Remedies for Desperate Crimes law, and things like statutes of limitations would meet with the same contempt as the “I was only following orders” defence of a bygone generation.
    @joerg –
    DO hasn’t been held responsible thus far because it just hasn’t occurred to anyone to walk into the Morgunbladid’s offices and drag him out.
    Which is funny, since there were actually Icelanders talking about dragging him out of the Central Bank when he was in charge there.
    So what does the guy do?
    Walk into some other offices in another building and take charge there instead.

    And Icelanders allow it.
    Beats me…

    Perhaps he’s a sorcerer – or a hypnotist – but then I’ve never been a good subject for hypnotism.
    It’s most likely some sort of cult – and that’s just DO’s slice of the cake.
    Interesting that they were showing “Eyes Wide Shut” on TV again just yesterday.

    And then there are all those bankers…
    Heaven help us.

  • Gunnar October 1, 2010, 6:12 am

    I’m going to apologize in advance for this comment, as I’m fully aware of how crazy I sound. Sometimes the crazy must have its way.

    Your footnote read: “And all the animals in the forest should be friends. Clearly we have the opposite of that happening in Althingi. ”

    I’m teaching maths to first year undergraduates and we’re covering basic logic at the moment. The negation of “all the animals in the forest should be friends” is not “all the animals in the zoo shall be enemies”, but “there exist animals in the forest that should not be friends”. Or, if we admit that the opposite of love or friendship is not indifference but hate, “there exist animals in the forest that should be enemies”.

    Despite this comment’s appearance as batshit insane nit-picking at its most batshit insane, it does have some tangental relevance to the matter at hand. That is: based on my experiences as a teacher and frustrated mathematician, I’m sure that many people in daily life and parliament would agree with your negation of Egner’s phrase. That negation is logically wrong. If my experiences are accurate, we must conclude that many of the lawmakers in the Icelandic parliament do not possess a firm grasp of basic logic.

    I strongly feel that this has some relevance to current affairs.

  • James October 1, 2010, 7:14 am

    I wonder what the betting odds are for your former PM being convicted…

    “it is maddening that DO and his crew get off. But as I’ve said before, the laws relating to landsdómur have a three year statute of limitations”

    To remove DO from office, I understand that Johanna had to first persuade Althingi to change the law. To remove DO’s freedom, perhaps she should try persuading Althingi to extend landsdomur’s statute of limitations…

  • sylvia hikins October 1, 2010, 8:48 am

    Kevin – re Icesave. I have changed my mind completely on this. Being in banking must be the safest form of investment at the moment -be irresponsible with other people’s money, f*** it all up, keep drawing your bonuses, big pensions, share distributions, and if you go arse up, the government will put every citizen in debt forever to pay for it. So Icelanders – don’t pay back that debt because it isn’t yours as individuals. The line has to be drawn somewhere and here in the UK ‘we’ owe so much that another couple of billion hardly matters.
    One finger up everyone -it’s about time we went out on the streets and started to re-assert ourselves.
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland October 1, 2010, 10:12 am

    Thanks Alda please send us €40 billion euros,
    Iceland the way to go do the wrong thing and the bond vigilantes will lend you money cheaper than Iceland, in final show of defiance our gov has cancelled further loan requests for this year from bond vigilantes(who are these international rescue people ?) 7% and climbing to a greek mountain sorry to sound like the last plane out of Stalingrad but I must rush out to the off license and buy a drop of our new national drink ouzo.


    Perhaps some serious political intercourse will ensue from now on up in Dublin Town.

  • alda October 1, 2010, 11:06 am

    @ Gunnar — and if it does have some relevance to current affairs, I’m sure you’re the man to find it. 😉

  • Michael Lewis October 1, 2010, 11:20 am

    “their government’s inaction over a runaway banking sector.”

    No, they’ve done too much action. They should have left failed institutions collapse.

    And, Ireland didn’t have a “runaway banking sector” – it had a massive housing bubble that many of its citizens happily took part in (much like the UK).

    Ireland through close political relationships is in hoc to a handful of powerful real estate developers. Some may argue that it is plain old corruption. Taxpayers, forced to give money to property developers, as the developers have the politicians in their pocket.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland October 1, 2010, 11:46 am

    @Michael Lewis about ireland yes you are probably right, the grown ups told us everything was going to be alright and now we find that it is not so and we will all suffer come Pearl Harbour day 7th Dec 2010 (Budget day) all the way through to 2014? whenever as we grimly crawl towards a magical 3% deficit and the worry is rich folks aint going to suffer like us, I like this blog, so easy to titter at Iceland thousands of kilometers away not so funny when you hear gunfire outside your front door.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland October 1, 2010, 12:17 pm

    @Sylvia Hikins Tis treason you speak of madam only the “Surrender Monkeys” over in La Francais take their whole goddam gov apart 1789, we with our IRA callous killers and you with your spitfires and hurricanes tend to just go along with that dreadful British phrase ” There is no alternative”, this lady is not for turning haha.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland October 1, 2010, 12:47 pm

    @Øystein-Norway hilarious link do they do 125% mortgages I want to buy into that town,who needs disneyland with a place like that 🙂

  • R.L. Dogh October 2, 2010, 1:50 am

    You all in Iceland, a maritime nation, should know the difference between the captain of a ship and the prim minister of a democratic nation: The captain of a ship is the sole authority on the ship. No sailor, not even the first mate, has a vote in any decision the captain makes. The officers are responsible to provide reports and information; they may offer recommendations with their reports, but they are never authorized to offer opinions, unless specifically asked by the captain. The authority of the prime minister of a parliamentary democracy is not absolute. It is limited. It depends upon support that must be provided by advisors, parliamentarians, media and public opinion. primarily the public opinion of the organized “elite-public”, who are listened to whatever they say, where the hoi-poloi are listened to only when they are supportive. Not even Tony Blair could have pulled off what he did carrying England into war all by himself. Haarde did not lead Iceland into the financial crisis, because he was not driving the Icelandic ship, and he could not drive it, for the way parliamentary government is set up.

    It looks like a whole boatload of politicians in Iceland are looking for an Anabaptist to throw overboard (see Voltaire’s “Candide”) for a sacrifice to the storm-gods, who would appear to be being played by the Icelandic voters in the present situation. They appear to hope that if they slaughter an acceptable lamb everyone will be appeased. It probably won’t work, and the effort is already making Iceland look a little silly and hysterical, in the world of democracies, anyway.