Nicelanders are notorious for their apathy in the face of injustice, particularly if it involves political transgressions. Typically a minor fury will erupt in the immediate wake of a blatant offense but in a few days it subsides and within a couple of weeks most people can’t even remember what the commotion was all about, they just vaguely remember that something was rotten in the State of Denmark, but hey, we’ve moved on. Hence politicians rarely resign in this country, even when their compatriots in neighbouring countries would have been tarred and feathered for a lesser offense, and in the rare cases when they are forced to resign and even incarcerated for their crimes, they are quickly pardoned and reinstated by their buddies in the party.
In the last few weeks we’ve seen an example of something we rarely see here – demonstrations in which those who consider themselves slighted take their discontentment to the streets. More specifically I am talking about Iceland’s truck drivers, who have been protesting the high cost of gas and demanding that the government lower taxes on petrol.* In the past three weeks or so they have repeatedly closed off major traffic arteries by parking their trucks in the middle of the streets, with the resulting discomfort – not to mention safety risk – for their fellow citizens. They’ve also repeatedly turned up en masse in various locations and honked their horns incessantly for about half an hour. Make no mistake: Icelandic truck drivers are pissed as hell.
Until now, law enforcement officials have dealt with these demonstrations with a curious mixture of forbearance and good humor. Typically they’ve showed up, had a chat with the drivers, hung around until they’d blown off some steam, and then everybody went home [or to work]. There was even a famous media clip a couple of weeks ago where the chief of police showed up to talk to the leader of the truck drivers and jovially offered him some snuff.
The truck drivers initially met with considerable public sympathy but as time went on most people have became increasingly annoyed and finally just plain angry – not just at the perpetrators but also the impotence of police officials. An increasing number have pointed out the comparison between these protests and those over the past couple of years by a group called Saving Iceland, who were mostly young people demonstrating against the destruction of our beautiful countryside to serve the interests of evil multinational corporations. In contrast to the truck drivers, the Saving Iceland people were treated as terrorists by the police, arrested, shackled, deported, tried, and whathaveyou. Whereas the drivers, with their loud and belligerent demonstrations, get offered snuff and are given a pat on the back.
Until yesterday, that is, when they decided to block the Suðurlandsvegur highway [the one that leads to Hurdygurdy** and Selfoss], on the outskirts of town. This time the cops showed up in full force and demanded they move their trucks. Of course they refused. They were told they’d be arrested, which only incited them more. The conflict escalated, the Viking Squad was called out and within minutes we had a [Iceland-sized] riot happening with rocks and stuff flying and police using clubs and pepper spray to disseminate the crowds. The whole thing was even sent out live, courtesy of RÚV.
This sort of unrest is something we’re not used to here and seriously, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I watched the news last night. Laugh because it seems so ludicrous to see something like this happening in our tiny country [I can never quite shake the feeling that it’s like we’re play-acting, pretending to be all grown-up and tough] and cry because, well, it was quite shocking. What I found most disturbing was not the clubs or the mace or the shouting or flying rocks, but rather all the teenagers and other ‘spectators’ that showed up and started pelting the cops with eggs and other items that they’d bought at the nearby gas station for that purpose. Probably because it’s so indicative of the widespread disregard for authority that we see here – in the schools, on the streets, wherever. It really bothered me. I think it’s a bad sign and it does not bode well for the future.
Meanwhile, Reykjavík’s finest are getting flack for their ‘overly harsh’ actions. [Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.] And the truck drivers are on fire and say they will step up their measures. Guess we’re in for more excitement, then.
IT’S THE FIRST DAY OF SUMMER TODAY
And it does not look very summery outside, although thankfully we’re not confronted with flurries or any such thing, it’s just very overcast and grey. Winter and summer did not freeze together last night so according to ancient popular belief we’re in for a bad summer – but hey, who believes that stuff, anyway? Not me. At the moment we have a balmy 11°C [52F] and the sun came up this morning at 5.23 am, will set at 9.30.
* We’ve seen prices skyrocket from ISK 110 to 150 per litre in just a few weeks – that’s equivalent to EUR 1.27 or GBP 1.02 per litre, or USD 7.40 per gallon – but then again so has everyone else, and as it turns out our taxes are not higher than, for instance, those in the other Nordic countries.
** Or Hveragerði, if you prefer.