Starting tomorrow, this website will be featuring regular interviews, in English, with Icelanders who are contributing significantly to the debate on how to build up a new and better society in this country.
As most of us know, the Icelandic government has shown itself to be utterly incompetent when it comes to engaging in discourse with the public. Meanwhile, this society is a bubbling cauldron of ideas and opinions. People from all walks of life are coming out with fascinating, creative ideas and solutions, some of which are brilliant. Others are pointing out things that have been in front of our eyes the entire time, but which many of us are only now beginning to see. Still others are exposing corruption and lies that have been permitted to flourish far too long.
When Iceland’s economy imploded in early October, the government should have called together the brightest minds and most eminent experts in different fields to get them to brainstorm solutions. Subsequently they should have formed a plan of action, both to deal with the crisis and to set out a road map for the future. Neither was done. Instead our leaders have muddled along with random and ineffective responses that at times have been downright destructive. There is no leadership in this country, and no vision for the future. And we have no time to lose. The future is now.
That said, it is hard to keep a good thing down and the brightest minds and most eminent experts in Iceland ARE coming together to brainstorm solutions – but at the grassroots level. There is no lack of energy in this country. There is no lack of ideas and fire and passion. But it needs to be channeled, and people with something important to say need to be listened to. At the moment the government operates behind closed doors, with no transparency, segregated from the public. Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is also leader of the Social Democratic Alliance that makes up half of the coalition along with the Independence Party, dismissed the audience at a citizen’s meeting last November with the words “You are not the nation”, words that have evoked fury and which she will almost certainly never live down. At last night’s citizen’s meeting, the governing Independence Party – in a characteristic show of arrogance – was the only political party without a representative on the panel.
With the slowdown in participation at the Saturday demonstrations in December, many people feared that the nation was once again being lulled to sleep and that we’d soon return to our herd mentality. But I believe we are seeing a resurgence of the movement with more strength than before, a vast build-up of populist energy, like a geyser about to explode. And that is good. As Robert Wade, one of the speakers at the citizen’s meeting last night, said: “This citizen’s meeting is the best news I have heard come out of Iceland in months.”
In an article in Fréttablaðið last week, Thorvaldur Gylfason*, professor of economics at the University of Iceland and one of the most powerful and lucid contributors to the current debate, likened Icelandic society to a family beset by alcoholism. The family members may bicker and complain amongst themselves, there may be dark secrets and even abuse, but they will go to great lengths to make everything appear perfect to the outside observer. In the same way, we Icelanders engage in debate, denounce our leaders, complain about corruption, but tend to present something very different to the outside world. Gylfason urged Icelanders to speak to people abroad about the dysfunction in this society. Mindful of that, it is only fitting that he should be featured in our first interview, tomorrow.
Sites like the Weather Report feebly try to convey some of what is happening here to non-Icelandic speakers, both at home and abroad, but the task is so colossal that it is obviously beyond the scope of a humble blogger. However, it is my hope that this new effort will help deepen insights and broaden horizons, and perhaps [gasp!] even entertain.
As well as having a link in the sidebar, the interviews will be accessible under the “interviews” category.
It’s been wery cold for the past couple of days – although as soon as I write that I feel like a fraud, because I know our friends on the European continent, in the UK and even parts of the US have had it a helluva lot worse than we have in the past few days. Phwoar! Some seriously cold conditions, while we’ve been basking in spring-like temps. Anyway. It’s been below zero, how’s that. And today it snowed again [huzzah!]. Right now ’tis -1°C [30F] and the sun came up at 10.59, set at 4.14 pm.
* or Þorvaldur, if you speak Nicelandic.