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Notes from … our Nokia time*

Like many others here in Iceland, I’m absolutely appalled that there has been no sign of repentance from our leaders after all that has happened. Most of the people who are in power have been so for years and years, they designed and engineered the system that has prevailed and were absolutely blind to the signs that it was imploding. Despite this, nobody has resigned [except one MP who stepped down for a completely different reason and has become an unlikely sort of hero – simply by virtue of the fact that he’s the only one showing any semblance of humility] — and nobody has even said they’re sorry. Instead they scramble all over each other trying to whitewash themselves of any wrongdoing and pointing fingers in every which direction but back at themselves. It’s totally obscene.

The concerns I and many others currently have is that now that this IMF loan and a bunch of others have been secured and we as a nation have been plunged into debt more massive than most of us can fathom, the money will be handed over to the same people who caused this colossal f*ck up. And I’m afraid it’s just going to slip through their fingers. Witness the fact that our fearless Central Bank governor used a full hour last week to make a speech in which he talked only about the past, only about how blameless he was in all that has transpired, and said NOTHING about how he was going to take this nation’s monetary policy forward. Obscene indeed.

Until very recently, I was not in favour of the government resigning at this point in time. But I’m changing my mind. As long as the same people remain in power, I fear nothing will change. They ran this ship into the ground and now they want to rescue us? I don’t think so. It’s a question of trust – and trust is something they don’t have from the Icelandic nation now.

So I’m leaning more and more towards the idea of “utanþingsstjórn” – for once I don’t know the term in English [and can’t find it in any dictionaries] so please help me out … it’s a government that is appointed by the President and that does not sit in parliament. [In Icelandic it’s literally called an “outside-parliament government”.] Having the Prez [who I’m not terribly keen on either, but whatareyougonnado] hand-pick qualified individuals for each post seems like the most eminently sensible solution right now. We need new people with fresh ideas – not the same dusty old parties with the same dusty old candidates. And after such a government has run the country for a few months, and we’ve had a taste of something better [because surely they cannot make a worse mess than has already been made] and new ideas have surfaced and – most importantly – been listened to [which is SO not happening right now] … then with any luck we’d have some new directions and fresh candidates and could hold elections.

Even though the Prime Minister and leader of the coalition party have blatantly announced to the nation that there will be no elections next year and, in fact, no elections at all before the end of the term, three years from now.

Is it any wonder we’re spitting venom around here?

On a completely different note: I’m totally loving the little stickers they’re putting on all Icelandic products in the shops now, to remind people to buy Icelandic:

Áfram Ísland!

“Áfram Ísland” means Go Iceland! and is what people yell at sports matches when the national team is playing. Guess it’s to remind us that we’re all playing as a team now, gotta stick together, all that good stuff. [Now if only our politicians would get the idea.]

With occasional bright skies, but mostly overcast. Chilly, right now 2°C [36F], sunrise was at 10.23 am, sunset at 4.05 pm.

*As many of you will undoubtedly know, Finland went through a similar economic crash back in the 1990s [although ours is much worse – because we do everything best here in Iceland, even economic crashes] at which time they focused on finding new solutions. A quintessential example of that is the company Nokia that before that time manufactured rubber boots, but with the new renaissance there got with the times and began manufacturing cellular phones. The rest, as they say, is history.

PS. I’ve decided that calling it ‘depression’ – even if slightly tongue-in-cheek – is just too much of a downer these days. So I’m gonna banish that word from this blog and replace it with euphemisms – like “our Nokia time”. Good, huh?

UPDATE: A reader emailed this morning to point out that one woman, Sigríður Ingibjörg Ingadóttir, actually did resign from the Central Bank’s board – and urged her colleagues to follow suit. None did. So – major props to Sigríður for this truly exemplary act! [I’m totally embarrassed to have forgotten this.]



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kristjan November 24, 2008, 1:17 am


    try “shadow government”

    best wishes,

  • Lissa November 24, 2008, 1:20 am

    I’m guessing that the English translation of utanþingsstjórn would be “caretaker government”. This is a bit beyond my 5 words of Icelandic, though.

  • Cassie November 24, 2008, 1:38 am

    Okay, I totally *need* an Áfram Ísland sticker. (And no, I have nothing perceptive or deep to add – its been that kind of a week.)

  • Jon November 24, 2008, 2:09 am

    Icelanders should tell their leaders that things will be different after the revolution. It will be entertaining when the police join the protesters. Who will protect the egomaniacal crooks then?

  • Jessie November 24, 2008, 2:20 am

    Sounds kind of like an Administration — like cabinet officials that our Prez in the US chooses, maybe?

    I wholeheartedly agree (but only speaking as an outsider who doesn’t fully know what it’s like there) that there should be an election. The people who put Iceland in this position should not now be handling any significant sums of money, let along the amount the IMF will be loaning. What a travesty.

    My only question is: are there people that the public has in mind to replace these officials, who they can trust won’t act in a similar manner as the ones currently in office?

    I like the term “Nokia time” much better than “depression”, and also those stickers are great!

  • Zoe (a.k.a. Sólveig) November 24, 2008, 2:22 am

    You know what, I kind of agree. I’m all about stocking up the leadership but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to throw elections into the mess that is going on. Even though there are all kinds of issues with having the same people get us out of the mess that got us into it, then I figured at least that they would be familiar with the situation and have the networks and institutions in place to liase with the IMF and other governments etc that is needed at times like this. Having new people take over would mean they’d have to start by putting themselves into the situation, and there’s always the possibility of them not making the best decisions simply from not having all the information. And a part of me would feel bad for the hypothetical politician or bureaocrat who honestly is doing their best and wants to get out of this mess who would have to step down or be voted out… but those would just have to be casualties of extreme times which call for desperate measures.

    But… we really MUST have reached the bottom. If any more stupid decisions and mistakes are made by the current government… then I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. Probably spontaneously combust. Therefore, I’m starting to consider changing my mind to wanting them out. This utanþingsstjórn doesn’t sound bad at all.

  • James November 24, 2008, 2:42 am

    A “shadow government” is just a government-in-waiting (which, in the UK, is the main opposition party). I suspect Iceland needs several senior government roles filled by “caretaker individuals” with specialist skills; a recent example of this in the UK is Peter Mandelson being brought into the government as Business Secretary. A broader point is whether Iceland needs a new Prime Minister and an entire caretaker government…

  • Andrew November 24, 2008, 2:54 am

    Does the President of Iceland have the power to sack the current government on his own accord, or does he need to negotiate with the PM?

    Oddsson has created a bit of a stir and may make himself even more unpopular (Is that possible!?):


    And here’s an article in The Scotsman (a Scottish newspaper in case you hadn’t guessed):

    A near-riot and parliament besieged: Iceland boiling mad at credit crunch
    24 November 2008
    By Omar Valdimarsson


    Thanks for all the information about trees in Iceland! I’m trying to decide which of Alda’s photos would make a good screen-saver.

  • Andrew November 24, 2008, 3:01 am

    Hopefully, the President does have the power (some emergency clause in the Constitution?) to sack the government and appoint competent people. For example, the central bank board could be replaced by professors from the economics departments of Icelandic universities!

    If you were the President and could appoint a new government, what sort of people would you appoint?

  • ino November 24, 2008, 3:58 am

    business cabinet? that might be a good word for it. seeing as how everybody knows and is connected to everybody in the icelandic money-world, it might even be smart to go outside the country and hire professionals from abroad. you know, just to be on the safe side….

  • Vikingisson November 24, 2008, 4:12 am

    That sounds a bit like the Canadian Senate. In theory it should be fine for elected officials to pick certain positions. But we know what happens when we make the wrong electoral decisions. Over here we have people that tried to run for prez or prime minister getting these appointments. It doesn’t make me comfy that portfolios are held by political people that only need a check box on the resume. Hire non political professionals for the real work.

    Speaking of doing a Nokia, leverage the hydrogen and alt fuel investment to develop a home grown automobile. Then export the thing with infrastructure knowhow. We need district heating systems over here. Clean water and nearly instant hot water and heat is one of the things I miss the most already since leaving Niceland.

  • ljósmynd DE November 24, 2008, 6:47 am

    Could it be some kind of “round table” like they had in Eastern Germany before the German reunification?
    Isn’t the president of Iceland probably part of the problem himself? I remember reading about some quarrels in connection with his controversial veto to the new media legislation in 2004 subsequently facilitating a concentration in media ownership.
    Hopefully they will not come up with the idea of building more and more aluminium smelters and hydropower stations as the sole path towards salvation.

  • Marc Scot November 24, 2008, 6:58 am

    This sounds to me almost like a separate caucus rather than a government per se (I guess it would depend on how much actual decision-making power this new group would have). And yes, those stickers are deeply cool…

  • Roy Roesel November 24, 2008, 8:37 am

    The Swiss have a “direct” democracy system which is worth looking into.


    Here is an example of where it might be used:


  • joseph November 24, 2008, 8:38 am

    “So I’m leaning more and more towards the idea of “utanþingsstjórn” – for once I don’t know the term in English [and can’t find it in any dictionaries] so please help me out … it’s a government that is appointed by the President and that does not sit in parliament.”

    In English I’d go with “government in exile”. As an example, in June 1940 King Olav fled Nazi occupied Norway and set up the Norwegian government in exile (eksilregjering) in London. After the rabble were finally expelled in 1945 he returned the true Norwegian government to Oslo. Hopefully Icelanders can do the same.

  • Muriel Volestrangler November 24, 2008, 9:21 am

    The President, if he has any power, should ask the Scandinavians to bring in a group of (foreign) advisors to run the economy for Iceland.
    The real danger is that the current government could screw up the upcoming attempt to re-float the currency. There are $3 billion of short-term bonds held by traders and speculators (mostly “carry traders”) who want to cash out their Icelandic bonds as soon as possible (i.e. as soon as the kr. gets to an acceptable value after the re-float). And probably others holding kronur want out too. So what if the ISK returns to its currently untradeable status after the float? Then you’re really screwed. The IMF funds will be gone, flown to money heaven. Do you trust the current crop of clowns to manage the float given their woeful track record? Oh dear, I have a headache, and I don’t even live there. Where’s my aspirin?

  • Schnee November 24, 2008, 10:18 am

    “extraparliamentary government” would appear to be a literal translation, but I think it’s difficult to translate things like this since – they may not actually have equivalences in anglophone countries (I’m not from one myself, so I’m not 100% sure there) and therefore, there may not be any perfect translations, either.

    Anyhow! Someone (you? :)) should really start selling these stickers internationally – I know I’d order a batch (assuming the price was reasonable, of course), and I’m sure many others would, too.

  • alda November 24, 2008, 10:44 am

    Thanks for weighing in, everyone!

    I thought the term for ‘utanþingsstjórn’ would be fairly straightforward, but clearly not! I remembered I’d translated it once before so went through some long-winded channels of googling and found it at last: extra-parliamentary cabinet. Props to Schnee, who appears to have been the closest.

    In response to the question whether the President has the power to sack the government – yes he does. The President holds ultimate authority in Iceland but rarely applies that authority. He’s lost some of his lustre too in the last few weeks (he was one of the champions of the bankers and businessmen that were buying up/opening businesses abroad) but he’s also done some good work and I trust him better than the government. As for that media bill – that was a complex issue that ran deep and concerned old power structures, the will of the people, etc.etc. – impossible to explain in just a few words.

    And as Muriel points out, there is a very real danger that the IMF loan will be sucked out of the country through those short-term bonds, which is very worrying. Because – indeed – if efforts to re-float the krona fail, we really are screwed.

  • Marc November 24, 2008, 12:39 pm

    I think you mean to say: ‘a technocratic government’. This is a government where ministers are not politicians but are perceived to be experts in their field. They would still need to submit to parliament’s scrutiny though. That is how democracy works.

    A caretaker government in my view is a government that keeps things running while waiting for a new cabinet.

  • ed November 24, 2008, 12:48 pm

    At least in the States, “shadow government” has a more nefarious connotation–as in an rogue element within the an agency or agencies which act outside of the law. (But that could NEVER happen in the US 🙂

    I suppose the most appropriate translation depends on the system of government. In the US, the president can appoint a “Presidential commission” to investigate wrongdoing or research an issue; though extra-parliamentary cabinet makes sense to me .


    Roy brings up the Swiss system of direct democracy–which at first glance would suit Iceland very well, being a relatively homogenous and small population. I’ve been living in Switzerland for a few years and am very impressed with the system.

  • Gray, Germany November 24, 2008, 2:39 pm

    Imho it’s a “presdiential system”, like in France, and different from the parliamentary democracy we have in Germany:

  • James November 24, 2008, 3:14 pm

    After today’s no confidence resolution is inevitably rejected by parliament, perhaps the people should write a formal appeal for elections, gather signatures, and present it to the President. And after that request is also inevitably rejected, perhaps Che Guevarason should step forward and lead a revolution…

  • Gray, Germany November 24, 2008, 3:18 pm

    “Che Guevarason”
    However, Che’s Icelandic name would have been Ernesto Ernestosson!

  • Lissa November 24, 2008, 4:36 pm

    Great…now I’m picturing a Che Ernestosson t-shirt with him wearing one of those horrible tourist horned helmet hats and “Áfram Ísland!” underneath.

  • tk November 24, 2008, 4:57 pm

    The Icelandic Constitution gives the President the power to sack the government:

    Article 24
    The President of the Republic may dissolve Althingi. A new election must take place within 45 days from the announcement of the dissolution. Althingi shall convene not later than ten weeks after its dissolution. Members of Althingi shall retain their mandate until Election Day.

  • Bryan Bessette November 24, 2008, 6:11 pm

    As I strolled through the posts my thoughts always seemed to appear in the next the comment. (Except Che, that was unexpected! lol)

    Since we are sharing fascinating ideas about government I would like to share a modified version of the democracy of Athens. Particularly the concept of the Assembly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athenian_democracy

    The Athenians democracy has many flaws. For example their citizenship qualifications and slavery to name a couple. But I am infatuated with the idea that serving in the Assembly as a duty of a citizen (Like jury duty in the USA) and a lottery is held to select Assembly members from the citizenry. The Assembly members would make decisions based on a debate presented by professionals that offer a “Pro” and “Con” to an issue. With the intelligence of the Icelandic people and their interest in their government I think it would be exciting to see.

  • Marc Scot November 24, 2008, 6:27 pm

    Interesting, but would an extra-parliamentary cabinet actually have the ability to make binding decisions? Then there’s the whole question of accountability. In the end, an earlier election may be inevitable as the only way of demonstrating that responsibility is being actually taken and change is en route.

    I’m actually starting to use “kreppa” and “kreppanomics” to describe economic crises in other countries (and getting the occasional confused look).

    And yes, a failed attempt to re-float the krona would be awful. Think Thailand in ’97…

  • Schnee November 24, 2008, 6:51 pm

    Yay, thanks for the props – what do I win? 😉

  • Grif November 24, 2008, 7:48 pm

    Ohh, those stickers are great! It’s a real good idea to remind people to buy local products to support each other.

    If they are still around by mid February (when I come to visit Iceland), I’ll be sure to bring some of them home :p

  • Gray, Germany November 24, 2008, 8:56 pm

    “I’m picturing a Che Ernestosson t-shirt with him wearing one of those horrible tourist horned helmet hats and “Áfram Ísland!” underneath.”

    I can see it in my mind, sure looks like a hit!
    Start a T-Shirt business and you’ll make a cool million, uh, krona…

  • jaappan November 24, 2008, 11:10 pm

    Ouch, what a mess. Finland was also a mess in 1992-94 (BNP drop 12-13%). But you’re right: Iceland is definitly worse off in the coming years. You should, however, not make a mess of politics as well. The last thing Iceland now needs is political instability. The ones now in charge have anyway very little room for any manoeuvre other than accepted by IMF and the rest of creditors.
    Small correction.
    Of course Nokia didn’t come out of the blue (rubber boot industry) to become leading telecommunication company in the world. No, Nokia was already a major mobile phone supplier as the Nordic countries had established a common phone market (NMT) already in 1982, which was soon largest in the world. It also produced computers and televisions etc. 1992 onwards it would focus on mobile phones (GSM) and networks. So, european wide standard was to boost Nokia’s business in a market it was already deeply involved with.

  • alda November 25, 2008, 12:01 am

    jaappan – thanks for pitching in with that. Obviously I have only a very superficial knowledge of events.

  • Paul Barlow November 25, 2008, 2:27 pm

    How about Loya Jirga – like the Afghan council that chose Hamid Karzi? 😉

    I toyed with ‘Government of national unity’ but that’s usually a coalition of the parties. ‘Caretaker government’ might be best, as they are likely to take more care than the current one!

    It’s most similar to the US Presidential system, where the Prez chooses all the appointments (although they are ‘vetted’ by Congress)

    OK, that’s my first post on here after being a regular reader – I’m in Hastings UK and married (well, civil partnershipped) to an Icelandic doctor…