This evening will see the official opening of Harpa, Iceland’s new concert hall. The story of Harpa is the stuff of legend – somewhere during the boom years its construction was usurped by one Björgólfur Guðmundsson, former owner and Chairman of the Board of Landsbanki [also former owner of West Ham FC], who planned to present it to the Icelandic nation as a gift. Of course it followed that the original plans were scrapped and Harpa was made far more grandiose than it was ever supposed to be. For example, the gift contained a provision that it would have a special room in which the elite could hob-nob at concerts, free from the prying eyes of the lowly commoners.
And then came the bank collapse and it turned out that Björgólfur didn’t actually have any real money and he went bankrupt and here was Harpa only half-built. For a while, nobody knew what to do with it. It just sat there down by the waterfront, probably the biggest eyesore in Icelandic history, until the government decided that it would be more costly to let it disintegrate before our eyes than to pony up the billions needed to finish it.
And so, it was finished, and the official opening is tonight. Mind you, about 40% of its financing is money that had to be written off by foreign creditors who were silly enough to lend money to Landsbanki and Björgólfur Sr. Also, remember Icesave? Yup, those deposits were funnelled through to Landsbanki, and probably make up a substantial part of the foundation of Harpa today.
But we don’t like to talk about that.
Also? We don’t like to talk about who is on the guest list for the official opening this evening, though it has been revealed that Björgólfur Guðmundsson and spouse are on that list, and of course they plan to attend. A lot of people are irate about that, a common sentiment being that it is a slap in the face of the regular taxpayer, who has had to foot the bill for Björgólfur’s excesses – not just with Harpa, but with a whole slew of other things, as well.
Also causing a lot of bad blood is the fact that the operators of Harpa are refusing to reveal who is on the guest list. Which made me want to share this little column, written on DV.is by someone who calls him/herself Svarthöfði [and loosely translated by Yours Truly].
Operators of the multi-use elite-building at the Reykjavík Harbour refused on Thursday to reveal who is being cordially invited to the opening concert by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Harpa.
“You must understand that we cannot reveal individual names,” said Þórunn Sigurðardóttir, honourable Chairman of the Board of the [Harpa] management company Ago, to a journalist at Pressan, who was silly enough to ask.
Þórunn’s attitude is very sensible, and it is moreover redundant for the journalist to ask. Iceland’s elite obviously enjoys protection. This protection is designed not only to provide peace for the Harpa-elite, but also to protect the paupers from themselves. Information about the elite only incites unnatural impulses among the commoners – prying, and envy. Just look at what happens when tax information is made public.* No – knowing just makes people feel worse. It is bad for them to know, and thus it is wrong to let them know.
We can be grateful that the State Broadcasting Service [RÚV], which we pay for, will do us the service of broadcasting the concert by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, which we pay for, from the new Harpa concert hall, which we pay for.
Of course Harpa is not large enough to contain everybody. It is only large enough to contain Iceland’s most important people, the top one percent or so. “Certain groups in this society will receive an invitation,” said Pétur J. Eiríksson, chairman of the committee for the Harpa guest list, in conversation with DV.is. That’s just how it is. Icelanders are never going to understand that some people are more important than others. Those who are less important get to pay for those who are more important.
The directors of Iceland’s main media received an invitation, of course. Anything else would be stupid. Otherwise they’d just start talking about who was on the guest list. Davíð Oddsson, for instance, is invited. So is Björgólfur Guðmundsson. And of course the most important MPs.
Those who complain will no doubt be accused of negativity. They’ll be told that the Icelandic nation should stick together and be positive, particularly since Harpa is such a stunning building. Loosely translated: You, the paupers, should smile as the giants stand on your shoulders. Only that way can you be part of the show. Smile!
* Information about taxes levied on each individual in Iceland is made public for two weeks every August.