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And so, all the animals in the forest decided to be friends

Yesterday, our fearless leaders [Jóhanna and Steingrímur] decided to call a meeting of the heads of all the political parties in Iceland’s parliament.

At the meeting, all of them – including the Independence and Progressive Parties – agreed to join forces in order to work towards a solution to the Icesave mess – to present a united front and try to get the British and the Dutch back to the negotiating table [and thereby avoid the referendum].

This after more than a year of incessant infighting and bickering, where the Icesave issue was used and abused by the IP and PP to bring down the other side and further their own political agendas. Where virtually all of parliament’s energy went into fighting over Icesave, while other, no less pressing, issues were relegated to the back burner.

A whole f*cking year!

In the oft-cited Silfur Egils last Sunday there was a very good interview with Stefán Jón Hafstein, an Icelander currently working in development aid in Africa, who drew various parallels between Iceland and developing African nations. He made one excellent point, to wit: If the economic collapse had been a natural disaster, say a volcanic eruption, EVERYONE would have immediately banded together to save lives and try and salvage whatever valuables could be salvaged. But because it is a man-made disaster, it has become a political issue and has caused widespread chaos and dissent.

So let us see if the presidential veto last week turns out to represent a natural disaster or a man-made one.

[PS last chance today to nominate the Iceland Weather Report in the 2010 Weblog Awards. We appreciate your support!]



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Peter Reeves January 12, 2010, 1:26 pm

    Alda, in the aim of impartiality, the article is a little unfair, as the government has often reached out – just as now – and just been undermined by IP & PP, who have been nothing but destructive.
    The IP are beasically petrified about setting any precedent with referenda – EU etc – as they prefer to rule by decree, hence they want to talk!

  • alda January 12, 2010, 1:33 pm

    Absolutely right. In fact, that is what I meant – I just wasn’t expressing it clearly enough. I’ve amended the post to reflect this more clearly.

    My, we are getting along well today, aren’t we? 😉

  • kevin o'connor waterford Ireland January 12, 2010, 2:15 pm

    Yes a whole year and for the confused brigade its getting clear as mud with all the revelations that Alda brings up,talking of volcanoes apparently your Hekla is getting ready to blow, just tell it to hold off till I can afford a trip to Iceland, the Icelandic Gods are angry as well as the electorate.
    Heres the webcam for all you Iceland affinicados out there
    that would really make my trip a volcanic eruption yes yes!

  • Karen January 12, 2010, 2:19 pm

    Oh sure, all the parties have agreed to get along and present a unified face – but will they actually do so? I remain skeptical.

    And being in a pessismistic mood this morning – natural disasters are fodder for politics too. It just takes a little longer after the fact to get to the bickering.

    The absolutely criminal response (or more accurately _lack_ of response) of the US Federal government to Hurricane Katrina comes to mind.


  • Gestur Erlendsson January 12, 2010, 2:22 pm

    The only thing a politician fears more than losing power for his party is losing power to the people who elected him.

  • Joerg January 12, 2010, 3:26 pm

    Can the followers of the IP and PP still follow their parties’ leaders? When they wake up in the morning, their parties’ position might have changed overnight. It can’t be easy for them, they might get dizzy.

    I guess, if this had been a man mad disaster inflicted from outside, everybody would have reacted like in a natural disaster and banded together. The problem here is, that the men, who created this disaster, are rather busy covering their tracks and make people believe that this was a natural disaster, than helping to salvage whatever valuables could be salvaged.

  • Tom Harper January 12, 2010, 3:35 pm

    I have to admit, though, that the Icelanders have once again surprised me. Last week I was near to fuming with indignation for over the fact that the Icelandic president vetoed this bill, totally halting the potential closure of the Icesave issue. Whatever his motivation, though, it seems to have several positive impacts. Iceland is back in the papers abroad, and now that everyone else’s crises have died down, people are showing their human side and the tide of public opinion seems to shift toward sympathy for Iceland. Then, back at the Althing, there’s a national effort to renegotiate Icesave? And they’re trying to present a united front? After partisan squabbling for over a year? AMAZING! I don’t know what it says about the President, but it says a lot about the adaptability and intelligence of Icelanders to be able to see potential and take advantage of it by (it seems) setting aside a lot differences when grudges would hold strong in Congress or UK Parliament.

  • Alexander E. January 12, 2010, 4:21 pm

    A whole f*cking year!

    Very correct summary of the “new” government and “new” Parliament work….

  • sylvia hikins January 12, 2010, 4:25 pm

    Internal bickering will bring you down. A united front might get you a better deal. Fingers crossed this might be a breakthrough.
    in solidarity, sylvia from viking wirral

  • Kris January 12, 2010, 4:53 pm

    Real democracy needs to be avoided at all cost. Additionally, a rejection could end up hurting their pocket books! The IP and PP are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee as far a policies go. The same goes where other fake democracies exist (US, UK, etc.). Amusingly, they are terrified of the referendum.
    The genius displayed in the financial world seems to be spilling over into the negotiating world.
    Memo from Kris to Johanna: Patience is a virtue in negotiations. Don’t you think it is better to let the people reject the deal and then go back and negotiate a deal? I do.

  • Michael Lewis January 12, 2010, 5:29 pm

    If a deal is bad then it should be rejected. If it took a week, a month or a year to negotiate. Some posters are clearly irked, they tend to be those expressing sympathy for the current Icelandic government. One sided. Volcanic eruptions too. (thanks to Kev for the link) and Slyvia – isnt the wirral on the merseyside? viking wirral, brings to mind vikings pinching cars or travelling somewhere to pillage and saying ‘calm down , calm down’ … the blog seems to have gone all ‘Twin Peaks’ (for those of you that don’t know or are perturbed by the terminology: Twin Peaks was a great TV show by David Lynch)

  • Richard January 12, 2010, 6:03 pm

    The title of this post makes me think of the animals from South Park´s “Woodland Critter Christmas”.

    starring David O as the Squirrel

  • sylvia hikins January 12, 2010, 7:27 pm

    Michael: My local viking historians are quick to tell me that the vikings didn’t come to the wirral to plunder but they came as settlers having probably been driven out of Ireland. That was over a thousand years ago, and people here still have nearly 70% viking genes in their bloodlines (DNA testing done in 2000), so whatever they got up to – it worked! My remarks about a united front were purely pragmatic- solidarity should bring strength, so swallow hard and do it. Alas, there’s plenty of time left in 2010 to return to the power struggles. I just hope that Johanna survives- that woman is one brave viking.
    in solidarity, sylvia from viking wirral

  • Andrew (the other one) January 12, 2010, 8:17 pm

    Getting negotiations going again as soon as possible would be a good idea. Given that Gordon Brown is likely to lose the next election in Britain and be replaced by a Conservative administration – if you think the British are taking a hard line at the moment then “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet” (see Bachmann Turner Overdrive).

  • Joerg January 12, 2010, 8:20 pm

    “Don’t you think it is better to let the people reject the deal and then go back and negotiate a deal?”

    Kris, I doubt it. There are many reasons for both sides to bring this affair to an end, the sooner the better. As Alda said, so many important issues are left unresolved in Iceland. It might be prudent to take advantage now of the positive momentum by the unexpected public support from abroad and by the uncertainties of legal recourse for UK/NL. And in the UK there are elections ahead. After all, the referendum can serve as a fallback scenario – threatening to make the Icesave mess open-end.

    But sure, the lates development seems to be showing, that nothing is feared more by most politicians than pots and pans revived.

  • The Fred from the forums January 12, 2010, 8:41 pm

    How united are the people that the politicians are supposed to represent?

    The polls trying to anticipate the referendum results don’t show the kind of unanimity that, say, the independence referendum had.

    How are normal Icelanders reacting to all this? The foreign media rarely does man-in-the-street interviews of Icelanders, and although I read them eagerly, it’s clear that people who write blog comments in English may not be a representative sample.

    Manmade disasters just feel different to all human beings. Imagine how differently my own country would have reacted if an earthquake in New York had brought down the twin towers.

    Also, imagine how divisive it would be if a volcanic eruption had dozens of seats in the Althingi.

    P.S. — one of the things that contributed to my admiration of Icelanders was reading about the response to the Heimaei eruption. At one point the lava was threatening both the harbor and people’s houses. The mayor reasoned that without a harbor there’d be no town anyway, and ordered all the lava-fighting equipment to the harbor. Houses that people and their neighbors had built themselves got ignited and buried, and the people just took their losses and moved on. (Source: “The Control of Nature”, by John McPhee). I’m not sure other countries would have done as well. But those losses would have been a lot harder to accept if someone had been getting rich stealing the houses. Justice and practicality can get in each other’s way.

    #*^@@! you deserve better.

  • alda January 12, 2010, 9:26 pm

    Fred – RÚV published the results of an opinion poll (Gallup) today that show that 2/3 of the Icelandic population want the Icesave bill to be withdrawn and for negotiations to be taken up again with the British and Dutch. 1/3 say they would reject the bill outright in a referendum.

    The population seems pretty much split 50/50 on whether or not they agree with the president’s decision to veto the bill – although support for him has grown in the last few days and the majority (56%) now say they agree with his decision.

    As for the Heimaey eruption — what happened was that they took all their pumps and hoses down to the harbour when the running lava was threatening to destroy it, and pumped water around the clock onto the lava to cool it. No one knew if it would work – but in the end they managed to stop the flow of lava and the harbour was even better off than before since it now had a perpendicular wall of lava sheltering it from the elements.

    Don’t know if that’s what you were trying to say. 🙂

  • Brian January 12, 2010, 10:29 pm

    I’ve heard rumblings here and there of getting some other nations in the mix to help mediate an agreement. Does that seem like a possible scenario? I think it would help greatly to remove hurt feelings on both sides and hammer out an agreement that is equitable to all.

    Not to mention it’d absolve both sides of direct political responsibility for whatever the outcome turns out to be. Spread the blame wide enough that every involved party can point to someone else as being at fault and no one takes a hit at home!

  • kevin o'connor waterford Ireland January 12, 2010, 10:31 pm

    @alda what category are you running for in the blog awards there are so many and I and dont know which box to tick on that link

  • alda January 12, 2010, 10:33 pm

    Brian – yes, that idea is definitely floating around — but the first step is for the UK and Holland to agree to go back to the negotiating table. Appointing an arbitrator before that happens is a bit premature.

  • alda January 12, 2010, 10:45 pm

    kevin – any one that fits! You can nominate in as many categories as you want. Best European, for example.

  • The Fred from the forums January 13, 2010, 4:24 am

    Alda, was I rambling again?

    The point I was aiming at was that the Westman Islanders made painful sacrifices in their fight against the lava, apparently without complaint, and those sacrifices would have been much harder to swallow if the disaster had been man-made.

    (Their story is amazing, btw. I recommend looking it up for anyone not already familiar with it. Alda, not only was nobody sure it would work, I seem to remember that some foreign experts dismissed or even ridiculed the idea of trying to control a large lava flow).

  • Sigvaldi Eggertsson January 13, 2010, 5:06 pm

    Fred (and Alda), nobody is really sure if hosing the lava with water actually did any difference.
    The lava might have stopped on it´s own but we all feel much better that they at least tried.

  • John January 14, 2010, 7:14 am

    Curious Norwegian

    I am wondering what is gone happened with people and their homes when as I understand from 1 of February when people must start pay mortgages again?
    It seems to me that the private lending is also very high ( Thorolfur Matthiason https://www.nopecjournal.org/NOPEC_2008_a03.pdf)
    ? I must say after reading the paper that I ended up with the impression that the Iceland has been on a buying “spree” ? To be “tabloid” ; the way your nation organize the banking system it to 5 years to bring Iceland to its knees ?
    The more I read about how the fishing quotas were handed out the f more distressed I got ? The political parties nepotism so on and so forth. Is this a accurate description?
    Initially when this started I my sympathy was with Iceland but after I check the page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icesave_dispute ) and some others my shifted towards the view that deal was not unreasonable ( the argument about Non-discrimination was important ) and high focus on the “insult” of the anti terror laws and not much ( or I have not found it) compassion for the ordinary people of those nation(Nederland and UK) and who had also suffered losses of their deposits. Most of them savers decent ordinary people (as most people on Iceland) but maybe that has been in other media on Iceland ?

    After reading
    A speech
    the President of Iceland
    Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
    at the Walbrook Club
    3rd May 2005

    I would say at least it did not sway me in Iceland’s direction or it is made in jest ?

    There is much praise to the Faeroe Islands about their loan, but far as I can figure the interest is 5,25% compared to 5,5% ?

    I am not sure the help from Norway will be so forth coming as Iceland may hope but them again maybe you do dot expect so much help? Norway is in EFTA https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Free_Trade_Association
    and Norway is not gone challenge UK or Netherlands over a Icesave since it may not be in Norway’s best interest(there is no political interest for a discussion about EEA. Norway have said now to EU twice and if EU wants to dissolve EEA. I am not sure Norway want that. ) And I am not sure that the merit of the case convinces the Norwegian government. And do remember that Glitnir had a bank in Norway also. The sentiment (insulting enough) is that Iceland should be accept into kingdom of Norway (again) It might not be the solution Iceland wants.

    Even if it is off topic what is the reason that Iceland is in NATO without having military forces themself ?( NATO is build on the idea that an attack on one is an attack on all. Mutually helping each other. As i gather Iceland has 50 persons manning the radar there)
    Is it the idea that Norway should send people to die and defend Iceland in case of an attack on Iceland

    The people I know from Iceland are good decent people. I must say i worry a little if Iceland say NO to the deal. But I dont see the whole picture

    Disclaimer ( and this might be wrongly posted and if it is, I am sorry. Or if my comments should be felt as hurtful for being unconsidered towards Iceland and it’s people for the dire straits they find themself.)