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Black is white and white is black

Last Saturday, as I arrived home from the demonstration downtown, I met my elderly neighbour at the front door. My elderly neighbour is a kindly old lady who typically makes idle chit-chat in the hallway, that is when she’s not complaining about something or other to do with the building and its maintenance, which is fairly frequently.

MY ELDERLY NEIGHBOUR: Oh, hello! Have you been out for a walk?

YT: No, I’ve just come from the demonstration downtown.

MEN: [on guard] Oh?

YT: Yes, the one on Austurvöllur. The one demanding the resignation of the Central Bank governors.

MEN: [shaking head and regarding YT with an expression somewhere between pity and scorn] It’s just so remarkable!

YT: What’s remarkable?

MEN: This … protesting. What do you want them to do?

YT: [slightly taken aback] Um, I want them to resign.

MEN: Oh. I see. You want them to resign. And you think that would solve everything.

YT: Well, it would at least give us back some credibility as a nation. They need to take responsibility for the mess they’ve got us into.

MEN: Ah. So they’re responsible for the mess.

YT: Largely, yes.

MEN: And you have insider knowledge of this?

YT: [laughs] It’s obvious. Just look at the situation we’re in. They screwed up completely. They made one stupid decision after another – and not only that, they failed to back up our currency reserves, they failed to halt the massive expansion of the banks … and now we’re stuck with the bill.

MEN: [voice dripping with sarcasm] I see. It’s obvious that you know all about this. You know all about this, do you?

YT: I know I want somebody competent to run the Central Bank.

MEN: And you? What would you do?

YT: I’d put someone in charge who knows what they’re doing.

MEN: It’s just so remarkable. Everyone is always so keen to protest but they never say what THEY would do.

It was a bizarre exchange. It was so clearly evident that my elderly neighbour, beneath a thin veneer of pleasantries, was absolutely seething. Yet her anger was not directed at those who should be held accountable, but at those pressing for change. It was pretty creepy. And for the first time I found myself literally face to face with the disturbing power that the old establishment in this country seems to hold over so many individuals, almost like they have been hypnotized to believe that black is white, and white is black.

And people wonder why things don’t change around here.

The demonstration, incidentally, drew between 500 and 2,000 people, depending on which media outlet you believe. I would have liked to see more, but at least it was something. There was a great sense of unity and the speeches were both rousing and galvanizing. I do have a slight problem with the focus of the demonstration – the heading was “Davíð burt!” [Away with Davíð!], meaning Central Bank Governor Davíð Oddsson should resign. Personally I think pointing the finger at one individual takes away from the broader issue and puts people off, which is unfortunate. I agree that Doddsson has been a viper in the grass for many years and he should have been man enough to resign from his post as soon as the shit hit the fan a couple of weeks ago – but somehow the man seems incapable of looking honestly and objectively at his own flaws and taking responsibility, so I expect that will never happen.

Anyway, here’s a picture.* The sign reads WHERE IS MY MONEY?:

Demonstration on Austurvöllur

There is another demonstration, same as the above, scheduled for next Saturday at 3 pm, so if you are in Iceland, please come out, and bring all your friends!


Well, it was a few minutes ago. Snow showers, I guess you could say. At any rate, the ground is all white and it looks beautiful out there, especially since the sun keeps peeking through. There’s a bit of wind, though, so it’s probably cold. I shall find out soon enough as I plan to head out for some air and to get some daylight to hit my eyeballs. We’re nearing the time, my friends, when daylight becomes precious around here. Which would also be the time to start digging out the SAD light. Right now we have 1°C [37F]. The sun came up at 8.40 am and will set at 5.42 this afternoon.

* More demonstration pics here.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Auður October 22, 2008, 11:52 am

    Hah, vá, súr orðaskipti!

  • alda October 22, 2008, 11:55 am

    Frekar! 🙂

  • gkb October 22, 2008, 2:01 pm

    Do you have any recommendations as to some good, unbiased, English-language reporting of what’s going on in Iceland right now? I’ve been trying to educate some friends and co-workers on the state of affairs from the Icelandic (as opposed to, say, British) perspective, and it’s difficult to find information outside of the Weather Report that they can be directed to.

    Thanks for continuing to write about this, and for being such a great source of news and updates for all of us who can’t get the information direct from the horse’s mouth.

  • Dagný Ásta October 22, 2008, 2:03 pm

    haha, ertu núna fyrst að lenda almennilega í MEN – hún er alveg hreint stórkostleg. Á fullt af minningum um hana frá því að ég var krakki og var bannað að leika mér í “óræktinni” nálægt bílnum hennar 🙂
    Hún er SPES vægast sagt.

  • ReallyEvilCanine October 22, 2008, 2:28 pm

    I was about to write that I see where MEN was coming from but there was Dagný’s comment. Still, change for change’s sake isn’t necessarily good. Doctors can tell you that in a crisis it’s often better to do nothing until you’ve assessed the situation so that you don’t accidentally do even more harm. In this case — devoid of much knowledge of MEN — her responses seem reasonable to me.

    Yes, the banks failed spectacularly and my next trip over got a lot cheaper for me, but (and I’m not trying to defend him) Davið was only playing the same game that all the other banks were, and since the EU and US were both playing it seemed safe. Confirming that belief was Iceland’s stunning growth during the time. The lack of a massive housing bubble only made Iceland’s participation look that much more safe.

    I fully support getting rid of Davið on a number of grounds which don’t need to fill your comments page but who would replace him and what could that person do better?

  • Andrew October 22, 2008, 2:50 pm

    Just keep on demonstating and eventually they may get the message and resign. But there is a valid point – just who are the credible people that would replace them? Do you have anyone in mind yourself?

  • alda October 22, 2008, 2:52 pm

    gkb – I’m afraid I don’t know of any good, unbiased reporting, except maybe icelandreview.com – perhaps because I haven’t really been on the lookout. Perhaps some other readers of this site might know?

    Dagný – það liggur semsagt í augum uppi hvern átt er við?

    REC – right now it is essential for Iceland to reestablish credibility in the outside world. One of the main ways to do so would be for the buffoons in the Central Bank to resign because they have made a mess of things. I don’t know if you’ve been reading the posts on here recently, but it’s evident how much they’ve screwed up. You might want to check out this link, which pretty much sums it up:


    As to who would replace him, that would be something for whoever looks after appointing the CBI governors to figure out. But hiring an economist would be a good start.

  • alda October 22, 2008, 2:54 pm

    Andrew – see my last comment, above. There is one – Þorvaldur Gylfason, professor of economics at the University of Iceland – whom I respect a great deal for his clarity and focus … he saw this coming, rang the alarm bells, and has been very vocal in demanding the resignation of the CBI board. To me, he’d be a good candidate – but obviously I don’t know the ins and outs of his CV or whether it would precisely fit with this post. Again, that would be for HR people to figure out.

  • Dagný Ásta October 22, 2008, 3:13 pm

    ooooojá, hún er sú eina sem er eftir af gömlu íbúunum….

  • mmm ! October 22, 2008, 3:16 pm

    more details
    (global europe anticipation bullettin)
    good reading


  • Stan October 22, 2008, 4:00 pm


    Cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate your blog in general and in particular your coverage of the economic situation in Iceland. It is so hard to find news about what it is actually going on at the ground-level over there.

    While on what has become a routine of Googling, I came across the most inspiring and promising ray of hope about Iceland. It is from a very improbable — to me — quarter and one that I would have least expected.

    Please, everyone, check out this interview of Bjork (sorry, my foreign character keys aren’t working on this computer) in a music site called Pitchfork: http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/146670-interview-bjrk-part-one

  • Marc October 22, 2008, 6:10 pm

    I read the article Stan linked to. I find it inspiring. It is in the toughest times you see what people are really made of. Some are just sitting there, continuing as if they have a God-given right to whatever they were already doing before. Others rise to the challenge of a changed environment and broaden their world, go out, talk, help, protest, get something going.

  • trev london October 22, 2008, 6:28 pm

    Hi Alda. I second everyone’s thanks and best wishes. Bjork is certainly no dork, and speaks a lot of sense. Iceland is the perfect location for high tech clusters. Like an author goes to a quiet room to write, it’s isoluation prevents distraction, to some extent.

    To be honest, the demo looked a little tame. The last I was on was nigh on a million, and very angry. Blair still went to war though. Maybe the peoples’ reticence has something to do with your “MEN”. They’re angry but don’t have answers themselves. It is the same in the UK. Everyone’s sick of Labour. Brown’s had a little bounce but the dire and worsening situation overwhelms him. Because we want change, the Tories are ahead in the polls, but you won’t find a soul enthusiastic about them. They have no answers, either. They know it themselves – they’d have been even worse.

  • JoeInVegas October 22, 2008, 7:23 pm

    Don’t make changes in a crisis, leave things as they are, why change? Sounds like the politicians really know how to get people to just accept things. I would suggest throwing out all of the b@stards, unfortunately it isn’t happening here either, and the replacements in the wings are not much better.

  • Annie Rhiannon October 22, 2008, 7:53 pm

    Hey Alda Kalda. Happy anniversary, keep it up.

    Big love from America. xx

  • alda October 22, 2008, 9:06 pm

    Stan – thanks so much for the Björk link. I was thinking of doing a post about her efforts, which are really excellent and eminently sensible. As far as I’m concerned the push for more heavy industry is a big threat right now and she’s been working very hard to prevent that from happening.

    In fact, I think they should hire Björk to run the Central Bank.

  • pierre l October 22, 2008, 10:30 pm

    Having just read both the FT article and the Björk one, I agree: Björk for the CBI or even country leader — she would probably take expert advice instead of making incorrect decisions.

  • Jessica October 22, 2008, 11:10 pm

    Alda, another great link for you & TIWR readers:

  • alda October 22, 2008, 11:16 pm

    Thanks, Jessica. I’ve signed it already and encourage all the Icelanders and Brits in the crowd to do so.

  • Roger Wiseman October 23, 2008, 1:55 am

    Your old lady neighbor has a point. Who would you put in charge of the Central Bank?

  • Roger Wiseman October 23, 2008, 1:57 am

    And what does this “Segdu per auli” mean?

  • Zoe October 23, 2008, 4:20 am

    Segðu af þér auli means resign, idiot. (Other translations for auli could be jackass, fool, looser, lame-o… you get the picture.)

    Normally I’m wary of change for change’s sake, or resignations without a clear alternative, but in this case I would really really like Doddson to resign. But, he won’t; he’s had such a long history in politics and I just can’t see him as someone who would let his career end that way. But, in a mess this catastrophic, I can’t believe that no one except for one person on the central bank governing board, has resigned. I say let the government stay for now but have elections in few months time, but change central bank governors. Get some actual economists in there.

  • PJ October 23, 2008, 7:51 am

    Reporters have mentioned Jante Law. Maybe it applies in Iceland. If so, perhaps YEN considered that you protestors were breaking it ?

  • hildigunnur October 23, 2008, 9:18 am

    I’m very afraid that they mean for Davíð Oddsson to be able to quit “for reason of failing health” or some such 1st of January :@

  • Gray, Germany October 23, 2008, 8:39 pm

    “Black is white and white is black”

    But Gray stays gray! Thank the Lord.

  • maja October 24, 2008, 3:29 am

    I can see that the point of David Oddson resigning is about accountability. The change is in regards to a change in the way people are held accountable for their actions. If these people actually did have to pay for their mistakes, maybe they would think a bit harder about the consequences of their decisions. Good on you for trying to do something about the situation, Alda.

  • The Other Katherine Harris October 27, 2008, 2:46 pm

    This is a rift we’ve seen a whopping lot of in post-9/11 America. Especially in a crisis (real or imagined), authoritarian personality types are easily bamboozled by whatever pontifications emanate from the “top” — and they can turn with horrifying fierceness against those who challenge extant leadership, no matter how boneheaded it is. They aren’t given to rational observation and analysis, these folks.

    According to what I’ve read, this sort of gullible fascist-fodder constitutes about 30 percent of any given populace. This is why roughly that many die-hards in the US still support Shrub and His Thugs.

    For a long while, their numbers are amplified by those disinclined to pay attention, whom a worsening personal situation eventually brings around. That’s where we are now, with 70 percent of us clamoring for change — and yet the bullies are making away with another fortune on taxpayers’ backs.

    I hope Iceland’s general clamor comes sooner, not later. Those who profited from your troubles should be the ones made to pay.

  • The Other Katherine Harris October 27, 2008, 3:30 pm

    Oh, and — after reading the interview with Björk, there bursts the full dazzle of clarity. In my prior naïveté, I’d hoped Russia was trying to be a pal and keep Iceland from suffering as it did at the hands of the IMF/ World Bank wrecking crew. With their aluminum oligarch in the picture, it’s clear they were also in on the bear-raid. You guys never had a chance.