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On the occasion of the opening of the Harpa concert hall

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.

Comments

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  • Kevin OConnor May 13, 2011, 3:18 pm

    Yea tax records made public,the norwegians stick it up on a website,imagine trying to float that idea in Anglo-Saxon-Celtic land, Rupert Murdoch brigade along with Fox News would be in a frothing at the mouth frenzy.As to the Icelandic masses suffer comrades as the 1% show they are in charge despite your pathetic pots and pans effort,but look on the bright side at least it will not be the sniveling spectacle of the recent wedding in Ukplc that shall remain nameless, “Aw does’nt she look luvly,what a nice dress etc”,just remember to tug your forelocks at the appropriate time Icelanders.

  • sylvia hikins May 14, 2011, 12:20 am

    Maybe Iceland should give all former IceSave depositors free entry to
    any events in the concert hall, perhaps even special access to the elite room by way of a small compensation. The British taxpayer still owes the £2.2 billion borrowed on the international money markets to recompense customers of the Landisbanki London branches.Likewise, the Dutch Government. I am very sympathetic to Iceland’s resistance to take on the debts of failed banks, but I also think that many of your banks former overseas customers would be appalled if they knew Landisbanki assets had been used for funding a prestige civic building
    in Reykjavik.

  • hildigunnur May 14, 2011, 11:35 am

    there is no elite room, otherwise I think Sylvia’s proposition is a very good idea…

  • idunn May 14, 2011, 8:04 pm

    ‘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.’
    – per Svarthöfði

    Well put. I’ve run across that type of attitude elsewhere as well, hardly endemic to Iceland.

    Do hope the people of Iceland enjoy their new concert hall … all of them.

  • idunn June 17, 2011, 11:33 pm

    I sure do miss ‘The Iceland Weather Report.’

    This has nothing to do with the Harpa concert hall. But in watching the attempted looting of Greece, and possible end of the Euro, I’m reminded all the more of that lately transpired in Iceland.

    Namely, of a few elite seeking to privatize income derived from national assets and resources, but socialize across society (but not themselves) the huge resultant costs when such schemes so often collapse.

    I am heartened that the citizens of Iceland seemed to have awoke in time, taking a dim view of such practices. In hopefully preventing a fire sale of their basic resources, these in effect being stolen from the nation. Of in the end no longer being masters of their nation and fate, but only corporate serfs. That within such a small, remote, but enchanted place such things will not come to pass, or allowed.

    But details of ongoing events are often vague. One wonders. And one longs for the return of what was such a wonderful voice and resource here.

  • John Hopkins July 26, 2011, 5:07 pm

    Halló Alda — I wanted to FYI a slightly off-topic posting at http://tech-no-mad.net/blog/archives/43169 relating to Iceland …

    Regarding the Harpa debacle, it’s incredible how people are trampled all over by those in power. It’s the same everywhere, though the Icelanders seem to have honed the being-trampled part to a highly-refined national character. But it’s a similar phenomena as the (under-employed) right-wing acolytes in the US who blindly support their idiot leaders in the Tea Party who are attempting to butcher any possibility of a job-producing economic recovery for those self-same under-employed people. No use banging head against wall about it, though, it’s a hopeless agenda unless people get the point where they do more than say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

    Nice to see your writing here at any rate!!

    jh

  • Matrassen December 13, 2011, 10:18 am

    Hello, nice to read about the weather in Iceland, Ive been there once! In holland the weather is crappy, like allways 🙂

    Grtz from Amsterdam!

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