I’m reading such a great book right now – Hvíta bókin [The White Book] by Einar Már Guðmundsson.
Einar Már – one of Iceland’s foremost writers – has been one of the most vocal critics in this country since the economic collapse a year ago. He has given speeches [one of which I translated here] at demonstrations and citizens’ meetings, and written long articles in newspapers. The White Book is a compilation of those speeches and articles, amended and adapted to fit the book form. Einar Már has kindly given me permission to translate bits from the book to publish here, so as I find passages that I find particularly moving or inspiring I may just flip them over into English and post them. Kind of in commemoration of the first anniversary of the collapse [coming up this week].
The economic bubble that the Icelandic authorities failed to regulate was complete lunacy. This was repeatedly pointed out to them; not once, not twice – repeatedly. But instead of heeding advice the good ministers travelled overseas to act as PR officers for the banks. Along with the banks’ executives they headed off to foreign countries and held press conferences armed with Power Point presentations and bar graphs. One minister went to America, the other to the Nordic countries. Did Geir Haarde and Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir really believe that things would improve if they called press conferences? What sort of politics is that?
Oh, but of course those people are not responsible. There’s no way they could have seen it coming, they say. But they just didn’t listen to warnings. That’s where the responsibility lies, in that clear and obvious incompetence.
The notion that you could blather the situation up or down became a sort of religion. In fact the government hired one of the main blatherers to act as advisor – but he quit upon discovering that advising actually involves real work. We would also like to see the responsibility of the people in the [banks’] research divisions, who appear to have been systematically hired to lie to us. Take a look at the Frjáls verslun salary magazine to see what those people were earning. Hardly ever less than ISK 5 million a month! And for what? For lying? Also, take a look at how some people close to the government had their hands in the pie – and now those people want to investigate themselves! …
What were the heads of the research divisions, corporate divisions and I-don’t-know-what-else divisions getting paid seven million, eight million, ten million kronur a month for? If a publisher paid its poets that much, the publisher would instantly go bankrupt. And yet it seems to me that poems by many writers are infinitely more valuable than the bits of paper those people were pushing around. Do those people not have to take responsibility, work out some realistic wages for themselves, and then deliver the rest to pay off debts? Only in that way will we reach some kind of resolution in this society … but we’re not allowed to say that. This is Iceland today. People from the banks’ research departments appeared daily on television to tell us that everything was just fine, the value of our property was increasing day by day, and that this was the time to take a loan. And there were plenty of loans going around, including those immensely reasonable loans in foreign currencies that were so ridiculously cheap and carried such low interest rates. Of course this resulted in bottomless debt for young people and a completely distorted value system throughout our society. Certainly people are responsible for their own actions, but that sly and cunning system still played a leading role because it added deception and fed it to people, consciously and strategically.
If the public behaved like the government does, then we should now – when we are being submerged in the debts that rain down from the sky – just dump our bills straight into the garbage bin, and then call a press conference. What are the people who are now losing their homes, their jobs, supposed to do? Are they supposed to call a press conference? Do people not see the vast incompetence being played out here? But no – they hold no responsibility. Despite the fact that they were governing the country. It’s like saying: “I destroyed the house, but I’m not responsible because I didn’t realize I was destroying the house.” Would anyone buy that sort of argument? No – but that is the argument that is being fed to us.
[Hvíta bókin, pp. 26-27]
As far as I know The White Book is being considered for publication in English.
WE’VE HAD ALL SORTS OF WEATHER TODAY
Actually these last few days have been characterized by cloudbursts and strong winds – all very dramatic. Earlier today when EPI and I went for a walk around the golf course it was really windy and the waves crashing in were spectacular. Then just a minute ago the sun appeared, so strong that I had to get up and close the blinds so I could see the computer screen [even though the rays hit me from the side]. It’s a refreshing 8°C [46F]. Sunrise was at 7.23, sunset at 7.11.