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Big news yesterday…

United States authorities announced quite unexpectedly yesterday that they will be substantially reducing their military presence in Iceland as of this fall. [In other words they’ll be moving out virtually everybody.] For those that don’t know, Iceland has a NATO base that is manned by US troops, as Iceland was considered a strategic vantage point during the Cold War. However in recent years the military presence has become increasingly superfluous and about three years ago US authorities announced that they’d be pulling out. This was met with a flurry of panic on the part of the Icelandic authorities, as the removal of the base will have a major socio-economic impact on the Keflavík area, where the base [and the international airport] is located. “Negotiations” between the US and Iceland got underway at that point to determine the best way for the army to ease out of the area. These were supposedly ongoing – until yesterday, when one of the “negotiating” party announced its decision unilaterally.

While I personally don’t give a donkey’s ass about whether the US army stays or not, I have to say that I consider the manner in which this news was announced more than a little arrogant. Last I heard, “negotiations” involved talks and agreements and mutual deliberation with the aim of arriving at a decision. However, as the opposition parties in government have pointed out right from the start: ‘The US military arrived when it suited the US military, and it will leave when it suits the US military.’

On the whole, though, this is sure to be a positive thing in the end. It’s like the deal with the aluminium smelters – when you get a whole community dependent on a single employer working only for its own interests, you’ve got trouble when that employer decides it is no longer beneficial to stay. To that end, it would be best for the community of Keflavík to start building on rock, rather than sand.

I’ve already given an account of the amazing Baugur case in three separate instalments starting here, and much as I’d like to recap it – because everyone loves a story in which the underdog ends up on top – I fear I’d be here all night. The important thing is that, after that long, drawn-out, excruciating court case that weighed heavily on the entire Icelandic nation [the implications are too extensive and far-reaching to do them justice here] the Baugur bosses were acquitted in court yesterday of the eight charges that remained after the Supreme Court had thrown out the other 32 brought against them.

This whole entire saga has been so intense and dramatic that if it were a mini-series people would think it was made up by someone with an overly active imagination. Forty counts of economic crime were brought against the heads of Baugur, who are wildly popular in Iceland because they were like Iceland’s version of Robin Hood – they brought reasonably-priced food to the little people and along the way rocked the establishment and the power blocs that owned everything, incurring the most incredible political wrath and ill-will from those whose empires came toppling down. Those oft-cited e-mails that came to light last August proved that there had, in fact, been a conspiracy to ‘take down’ the family behind Baugur – which incidentally not only has enormous power in Iceland but also controls around 1,000 retail outlets in the UK. This case has already cost Icelandic taxpayers millions – and it was a serious blow to the State Attorney when all 40 charges except for eight were thrown out of court after an intensive two-year investigation that was badly done and completely amateurish. Eight charges remained – and yesterday the accused were acquitted of those.

The State Attorney has yet to decide whether he will appeal to the Supreme Court, but if you ask me he’d be a fool to do so. The public is so utterly, completely fed up and most people are so completely on the side of the Baugur family. Bónus – the budget supermarket chain that started the whole Baugur adventure – is consistently named the most popular company in Iceland in surveys, and indeed just yesterday it received the ‘consumers award’ from the Icelandic Consumers’ Union for outstanding achievement. And as Jóhannes Jónsson – who started Baugur – pointed out, when there’s not enough money in the budget to run the country’s main rescue helicopter [which has been grounded now for over a month] there is no way the public is going to condone wasting more of the taxpayers’ money on a trivial court case that seems utterly pointless and founded on dubious motives at best.

And on that note I shall sign off – no weather today as this post has gone on far too long and I’m knackered. Adieu!



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