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Bread and circuses

Monumental day today: for the first time in Iceland’s history, parliament voted to indict a former prime minister for negligence and misconduct in the line of duty.

I am, of course, referring to Geir H. Haarde and his involvement in the Icelandic economic meltdown. Three others were up for indictment with him [I wrote about this here] but they were let off the hook [by a narrow margin].

Icelandic society is buzzing right now and opinions are REALLY divided on this issue, which has so many facets. Some people feel that either everyone should have been indicted, or no one. Making Geir into a scapegoat doesn’t really cut it, since he certainly didn’t act alone. Meanwhile, if all had been indicted, then there would have been outrage that members of the current government — including PM Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and Foreign Minister Össur Skarphéðinsson — were not included, since they were influential members of the government at the time of the collapse. And of course there are many other variables. The responsibility for the collapse goes back several years and started in effect with the privatization of the two largest commercial banks. In which case old Davíð Oddsson, as well as his sidekick-at-the-time Halldór Ásgrímsson should also be indicted. However, unfortunately the statute of limitations period is only around three years, so it’s too late to indict them.

And of course there are all the bankers — but if they are to be tried, that will be before a normal court of law. This instance requires a completely new court — called landsdómur in Icelandic, literally “national court” — to be set up especially for parliamentarians and, like I said, it’s never been done before in the history of the republic.

In any case, I don’t think this outcome gives anyone a great sense of satisfaction. There is a lot of outrage, and not only among IP supporters. Many people feel the Icelandic Alþingi [parliament] sank to new lows today. Personally I think this is a sad day in the history of the republic. I’m no great fan of Geir nor of his previous work, but somehow this seems to completely miss the mark.

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  • Tom Harper September 28, 2010, 10:46 pm

    I agree that this “missed the mark”. It seems like the MP’s thought the Icelandic people were looking for someone to blame and that giving them a scapegoat would mollify them. I think they saw through this ploy.

    The Icelandic parliamentarians need to stop seeing everyone else as sheep to be herded…

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland September 28, 2010, 10:47 pm

    Poor Geir, Dave gets to walk “I’m outta here”, maybe you could help Geir flee back to Norway in a long boat and he could claim asylum due to well founded fear of persecution.

  • Chris September 28, 2010, 11:11 pm

    Thats a difficult question. I think its not right to blame only Geir Haarde. He surely carries a lot of responsibility, but he is not the only one. The question is, where you want to draw the line.
    Are there any plans for bringing David Oddsson to a court for his part in this game?

  • Bromley86 September 28, 2010, 11:44 pm

    Funniest thing is that, from what I’ve seen, you can’t spell “landsdómur” without “establishment”. So even if they’d indicted everyone, there was little chance of an impeachment.

    That said, I’ll copy what I posted on Icenews (more for its links than anything else):
    ————————-
    I’m trying not to ham this up, but is this not a total betrayal of the people?
    http://www.icenews.is/index.php/2010/09/27/icelanders-want-former-ministers-to-face-trial/

    Reyk Grape has a link to & explanation of the voting:
    http://www.grapevine.is/News/ReadArticle/Former-PM-to-Be-Charged-with-Negligence

    Simplified, LG & Movement voted 100% impeachment, Independence voted 100% not. Progs were 67% all, 33% none. So it’s the voting of the SD that counts. And their leader said that she thought it shouldn’t happen. Fair enough, she voted that way, but her statement will have altered the vote on Arni by the 1 needed.

  • Rik Hardy September 29, 2010, 12:17 am

    I agree, Alda. It misses the mark.

    As for the statute of limitations, I think many of our current laws completely miss the mark too.
    For me, the point is that nothing – not even a natural disaster – has ever come so close to totally destroying Icelandic society before. This is a new type of treason, beyond precedent and utterly shameless.
    That is why I find it unbelievably pathetic for “the authorities” to talk about statutes of limitations and other bygone traditions of Icelandic justice.
    These new crimes demand new remedies, and I’d be in favour of throwing out the statute of limitations until the REAL culprits in this matter are brought to justice. Our Alþingi just doesn’t have what it takes.

    Look, folks, these parasitic vermin are smart. That means they know what the likely outcome is of any given set of circumstances. It also means they knew about the statute of limitations and counted on it while they planned their next step of consolidating their stranglehold on Icelandic society.

    Too dramatic? – Conspiracy theoretical?
    Just ask the average Icelander whether or not he feels that stranglehold.
    Most people tend to know when they are being strangled.
    I know I do.
    It’s a kind of unique feeling.

  • Rik Hardy September 29, 2010, 12:42 am

    My apologies:
    When I said that nothing – not even a natural disaster – had ever come so close to totally destroying Icelandic society before, I was forgetting the Black Death.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland September 29, 2010, 1:52 am

    @Rik Black Death interesting period of history I am not a doctor whatever but have never bought into that Rat-Flea-bites human theory, it just moved too fast once it touched down in Sicily making 30 miles a day, I once read that Iceland never had rats but you still got a ⅓ wipeout just like england,ireland etc ,but we dont have worry anymore because we have thermonuclear sunshine drops.

  • idunn September 29, 2010, 5:50 am

    Always seemed to me that the best possible outcome from the kreppa would be a total appraisal of Icelandic society, and a new path forward.

    Former PM Geir H. Haarde surely has a few things to answer for. As noted, so do many others. I would include all the innocents who got their fingers burned, but would otherwise happily be whistling to the bank if their gamble in such an economy had worked out differently.

    In other words, it would be a good time for everyone to take a deep breath and consider to what degree they participated in such a miserable outcome, if only ignoring where it was surely headed. Pinning the blame on but one individual may be convenient, but entirely misses the point. Or in finding the will to make some fundamental, true structural changes. Otherwise this a hard lesson lost, and but forerunner of worse to come.

  • D_Boone September 29, 2010, 7:06 am

    Why can’t Oddsson be prosecuted for his actions (or lack of them) when he was Governor of the Central Bank at the time of the collapse? The key issue is around the level of reserves that were maintained by the central bank relative to the size of the banks. Surely this must have broken some provisions of the act establishing the central bank? In doing so he isn’t he likely to be subject to general criminal charges for exceeding his delegated authority? This is a teaser question for the Nicelanders to reply to.

  • Joerg September 29, 2010, 9:23 am

    I think, you are right about this missing the mark. Geir Haarde being the only one indicted, while other responsible protagonists like Davíð Oddsson take advantage of a short statute of limitations period, appears quite unfair, even if it’s difficult to decide, where the line should be drawn.

  • andy kj September 29, 2010, 9:41 am

    Iceland needs catharisis. The special prosecutor has thus far singly failed to deliver this and remains unlikey to do so (US / UK lawyers are more likely to inflict damage on the Icelandic follygarchs than Deputy Dawg will :)).

    It is unfair on Geir, but he was the captaon of the ship when it hit the rocks. You get the power, pleasure….and responsibilty, however unfair.

    General point that shirking responsibility is not just an Icelandic cultural phenomena….the UK have whole political parties that do it.

  • Peter Reeves September 29, 2010, 10:13 am

    Democratic nations a free press that publishes a spectrum of opinion – IWT – but most Icelanders are fed a diet of primitive propaganda by publications that are controlled by proxy by public enemies No1 & 2!
    Every day more and more Icelanders are turning to soup kitchens a once ‘rich’ society disintegrates and polarises into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
    The level of ineptitude – exclude Skysla – and chaos are staggering (IBM) without achieving any concrete results and its simply another layer of noise that is destined to evaporate like Magma etc – truly pathetic …

  • Michael Schulz September 29, 2010, 10:41 am

    Just another farce by Althingi.
    Cheers,
    Michael

  • Alexander E. September 29, 2010, 11:51 am

    «Go, Jóhanna! Go, baby!»
    «New patliament! New Government!»
    «Revolution!»
    «Bla-bla! Bla-Bla!»

    Welcome back to the future – a two year anniversary of 2008 “hick-up”

    It’s amazing how people might be so naive 🙁

    PS. Couldn’t find a link to blog’s archive – would be interesting to recall that “hopes”….

  • Virgile September 29, 2010, 11:54 am

    Would you ask drug addicted to vote on prosecuting their drug dealer?
    I think we should drag the whole nation for negligence in front of this Landsdóm cout. This law about the landsdóm is absursd and make PM super citizen. The matter should have been handle from the beguining by a special prosecutor. PERIOD.

    People in Iceland just want blood. The fact that some angry mobs want them to be procecuted is saying that they are guilty.

    The most pathetic thing on it is the attitude of VG that decided to show one more time that they are not involved in the Kreppa making process, and decided to score just a bit more support for the next polls.

    The way things are handle in Iceland starts feel like an endless hot waxing session.

    Sad, painfull, pathetic and useless

  • PeterRRRRR September 29, 2010, 12:21 pm

    Hard for me to tell — exactly what law is Geir H. Haarde being accused of breaking? Is there an actual law on the books in Iceland that elected officials must do a good job, especially in hindsight? Otherwise, this is just one group of politicians going after another group of politicians. A waste of time, doesn’t your parliament have anything better to do?

    Interesting — this made the “front page” of this mornings HuffingtonPost.com, must be pretty sensational. No mention of it in NYTimes.com.

  • alda September 29, 2010, 12:38 pm

    @ Peter — thanks for the heads-up on Huffpo

    @ Flo — yes I have written about the subject in the past and readers have weighed in on the subject. I’m sure if you do a search on the blog you can find lots of info. I’m afraid I’m not able to write a detailed post about it, very busy with work and other projects. Sorry.

  • Easy September 29, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Does anybody really belive that he will be found guilty?? or that there is acctually a “political persecution”? Please!! this is just a show. Unfortunatelly he will come out of this as a victim, he is allready beeing victimized. He will be declared innocent and his name will be vindicated and what is worse the name of the party will be vindicated, they will come out of this even stronger. Bread and circus, that is all.

  • legal September 29, 2010, 2:21 pm

    I fail to see how this will help advance economic recovery. I do not ignore the cathartic value of public trials. Yet, especially given the tone of the posts and comments where a few are guilty and all other completely innocent of any economic mistakes, how is this exactly going to help in the long run ? Or does Iceland expect that EU membership (with the money, without the fishing) will bail out the island ?

  • sylvia hikins September 29, 2010, 4:13 pm

    Oh bloody dear. This feels well wide of the mark. The scapegoat syndrome is the easy way out. Looks as if it will be way out for your Prime Minister too- ie: exit stage left (or maybe, right). Sad really. How long do you think this coalition will/can last????
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • Alexander E. September 29, 2010, 6:18 pm

    How long do you think this coalition will/can last????

    Don’t worry, Silvia. They will try to hang on as long as they can cause they know – this is their last time there.

  • James September 30, 2010, 2:25 am

    If you allow MPs (rather than public prosecutors) to decide the indictments of other politicians, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when the votes and decision are political. The legal process is at fault, not the MPs for behaving predictably.

  • Mark September 30, 2010, 4:38 am

    It IS all just bread and circuses. If Geir Haarde was put behind bars for the rest of his life the rent doesn’t get any cheaper, maybe a bit of schadenfreude but that’s fleeting. I despair sometimes.

  • Pieter van Pelt September 30, 2010, 1:41 pm

    Alda, I didn’t follow the Icelandic bank meltdown and its legal follow-up for a few months. I wonder: are there already court-proceedings going on to get some of the Kaupthing and Landsbankki bankers behind bars for some time? Or better still: are some of these people already incarcerated? Because indicting the politically responsible persons is one thing, but throwing the big money stealers in jail would be quite another thing (and recovering some of the stolen goods, off course..)

  • alda September 30, 2010, 1:54 pm

    Pieter — there have been some arrests and interrogations, and as a matter of fact today the first court case brought by the Special Prosecutor’s Office got underway. But no, to an outsider it looks like it is moving very slowly. However, I trust there are good reasons for that — I’m deeply entrenched in watching The Wire at the moment and can see that sometimes there are very good reasons to wait before making indictments.