Hello and welcome to another thrilling installment of Iceland This Week, March 10-15.
You can take DO out of the Party but …
So, we all remember Davíð Oddsson, right? Ex-prime minister of Iceland, the longest-reigning of them all [13 years], who having laid the groundwork for the economic meltdown promptly installed himself as Central Bank director. There he sat in his ebony tower while this country crashed and burned all around him, then basically gave us all the finger when we demanded he should resign. Eventually he was forcibly ousted from the bank, after which the oligarchs of this country [the fishing vessel operators] purchased a major national newspaper and installed him as editor-in-chief so he could spout their propaganda for them. He’s known as King Davíð around here because he treats this country like his own little kingdom and has ruled in front and behind the scenes for almost as long as anyone can remember. Anyway. Lest some of us thought he had segued into semi-retirement rewriting history and producing spin that no one in their right mind takes seriously, this week it was brought to light that he regularly meets the head of the Independence Party Bjarni Benediktsson for lunch at the über-stuffy Hótel Holt. Now sure, they could just be having a friendly chinwag, but I don’t think anyone who has tracked the careers of those two believes that. It is far more likely that Doddsson is mentoring BB in how to conduct the affairs of the party, including making him aware of the repercussion that might be incurred if he goes ahead and makes good on his election promise to hold a referendum on accession talks with the EU. And BB is such an obedient fellow that he is apt to do anything that the most powerful man in Iceland orders him to do.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough …
Rumour has it that Davíð Oddsson and PM Sigmundur Davíð have also been holding semi-clandestine meetings. One source claims that they recently spent time together at the cabin of the latter, and that there have been long evening meetings between the two at Doddsson’s home. According to the same source, the IP’s cabinet ministers are rather disgruntled about this fact, asking themselves whether Sigmundur Davíð is in a coalition with them or with Doddsson. [Not that it matters as far as I can see, given that Doddsson appears to be pulling all the strings in the IP as well.] Doddsson himself has refuted the claims about the cabin, but has said nothing about the evening meetings. Whatever the truth to the claim, it spawned a rather fine Halldór cartoon, seen here to the left [and nicked here]. In it we have DO reading SDG a bedtime story, and the caption … well it speaks for itself.
Meanwhile, the pots and pans are a-banging
The first Saturday afternoon demonstration three weeks ago drew a crowd of around 8,000 protesters. The one last Saturday around half that, which was pretty good given that the weather was abysmal. The third demonstration is going on as I write this [I'm not there since I've escaped to a cabin for the weekend] and with any luck it will be numerous, though the weather is pretty bleak today as well. In addition to the Saturday demonstrations there have been protests outside the parliament buildings daily at 5 pm this week, though they have been rather more sparse, numbering a few hundred people each day. The protests don’t seem to be making much of an impact with the prime minister, however, as he is stubbornly adhering to his hardline stance not to hold a referendum on EU accession talks as promised. Indeed, this photo speaks volumes: here is the PM and an IP party member sitting in the window as demonstrators bang away outside last Monday. Did it faze them much? Apparently not.
That said, the aforementioned Bjarni Benediktsson on Friday made some allusions that suggested he might be reconsidering his stance on the referendum. Maybe he’s finally waking up to the fact that he’s political toast if he doesn’t respond to the demands of 80 percent of the Icelandic nation, including those 50,000 who have signed their name on a petition saying they want the promised referendum to be held. Then again, it could be a bluff, much as the promise to hold said referendum appears to have been prior to the election. And since it seems that Doddsson is the one who is really calling the shots it is impossible to really know what the deal is. Wait and see, I guess.
The debate rages on about how to protect Iceland’s delicate nature from the current deluge of tourism. This week a court denied a request by the IP for an injunction against the landowners in the Geysir area to stop them charging admission to the area, meaning visitors will indeed have to pony up a fee to visit the site very soon. Meanwhile authorities seem to be leaning towards so-called “nature pass” which will cost ISK 2,000 for four days, 3,000 for a month, and 5,000 for three years. Also, it will not be limited to foreign visitors, meaning we Icelanders will also have to pay for access to our own nature. Predictably these propositions are highly controversial, so again we’ll have to wait and see if they come to fruition. In the meantime, expect landowners throughout the country to start charging admission to various sites at their own discretion.