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Vox populi

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.

WINTER’S BACK
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.

Comments

comments

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  • Stan January 13, 2009, 8:43 pm

    Til hamingju!

    I am looking forward to this!

  • Muriel Volestrangler January 13, 2009, 9:16 pm

    Personally I don’t think it will make a big difference if foreigners know more clearly how dysfunctional Iceland really is. The only countries that would be willing to help, Norway, Denmark and perhaps Sweden already know that the country is governed by dangerous fools, especially Oddson, and they won’t help until Oddson is out. The EU, IMF, USA, Britain, Germany, and Netherlands don’t care and have bigger problems to worry about — they just want Iceland to pay back the various loans. If Icelanders want change they have to do it themselves. Foreigners won’t help until there is dysentery or starvation, or full-scale riots with buildings on fire and dead bodies in the streets.
    Here’s a news item that rates 10 out 10 on the Banana-Republic-O-Meter:
    “Iceland bank collapse investigator named.
    Olafur Thor Hauksson, the Sherriff of Akranes, has been named special prosecutor to head up the investigation into the collapse of the Icelandic banks, MBL.is reports. Hauksson was chosen by Minister of Justice Bjorn Bjarnason, in co-operation with an all-party parliamentary committee…”
    Maybe they can hire Matlock from TV too …

  • Auður January 13, 2009, 9:20 pm

    Frábært! Hlakka til að lesa viðtöl 🙂

  • alda January 13, 2009, 9:22 pm

    MV – Foreigners won’t help until there is dysentery or starvation, or full-scale riots with buildings on fire and dead bodies in the streets..

    Manipulating foreigners into helping is not the objective here.

  • Marc January 13, 2009, 9:52 pm

    Well, sometimes the wheels of an automobile have to spin a lot before they start to gain traction. You’ve been giving us the feeling protest is getting traction now. How hopeful I am for you!

  • Marc January 13, 2009, 9:56 pm

    @ Muriel

    Critical to the level of support you will get is the measure of identification people have with victims. So how many Europeans do you think consider themselves moderate democrats and liken their politicians to nepotist incompetent bunglers? It is not all about money, I can assure you.

  • Ljósmynd DE January 13, 2009, 10:31 pm

    This sounds great. I’m looking forward to reading the interviews.

    I think there is a widespread suspicion among many foreigners of the dysfunction in Iceland’s society, even if they don’t know much about the country. The breakdown of the banks and the economy was covered in depth in all media and sticks to the country’s image like those fire and ice stereotypes – at least that’s my impression.

    And self-absorbed as they are, not caring about anything else but themselves, the government doesn’t seem to realize the international implications of their actions – or better non-actions. After permitting their banks to borrow abroad like mad and turning a blind eye to the general shopping frenzy, leaving many bills unpaid, this is not a purely domestic matter any more. I don’t really want to know what happens, if the last installment of the IMF-loan is beeing spent without having achieved anything sustainable. Credibility is certainly very much needed.

  • Lissa January 14, 2009, 12:13 am

    I am looking forward to this. Not because I’m a foreigner who can help, unless the very few tourist krona I spend count (and if it’d take that little to clear up the kreppa, I’d cheerfully give Iceland a loan), but because I find Iceland infinitely fascinating.

    Perhaps part of it is that Iceland is small enough that a mere mortal might actually get their head around the scope of corruption and stupidity, unlike my home government, which deals in vast sums beyond the comprehension of even economists, most of which, if my old macro econ prof. was right, don’t exist to begin with.

    That is to say, Iceland is like a well-crafted novel that one returns to again and again, learning more on each visit, whereas my government is the mutant offspring of the combined papers of all college students and poetry written by 14 year old boys, then run through an Enigma machine.

  • RK in Los Angeles January 14, 2009, 1:50 am

    Alda I am so proud of you for doing this, as well as grateful. IWR is really kicking butt these days. Áfram Alda, Áfram Ísland!

  • maja January 14, 2009, 2:21 am

    Keep up the good work!

  • Steve January 14, 2009, 3:04 am

    Hmm…it`s below zero here too, `cept it`s on a different scale! 🙂

  • Muriel Volestrangler January 14, 2009, 4:06 am

    Sorry if I appeared to be rude, I was thinking of Thorvaldur Gylfason’s comments, which suggested that speaking abroad to other academics might have some effect. It won’t, obviously.
    Here’s a transcript of Wade’s speech, in English:
    http://economicdisaster.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/robert-wades-speech-in-reykjavik/
    It’s pretty good, though short on suggestions about how to deal with some of the imminent problems facing Iceland in the next 6 months, e.g. what happens if/when the government runs out of cash, what happens if the new banks fail, foreclosures, unemployment, high inflation, negative effects of indexing and so on. If the government has only a month to do something, what exactly should they do? That’s not clear. I suppose it might mean removing indexing for home payments, emergency housing and food subsidies, short-term waiver of loan payments for businesses in trouble and unemployed individuals, cuts in pay and hours for government workers, that sort of thing. The cynical move by the government would be to encourage the unemployed to emigrate and offer them free one-way airfare. (Or round-trip to Omaha, Nebraska, where parents can abandon their babies.)

  • sirb January 14, 2009, 7:11 am

    Alda: You’ve been far superior to the Icelandic media and done a splendid job. You’re not paid by them, hence you’re not censoring. I read your blog every day, not all the other media.
    I can’t wait for interesting interviews. Maybe you’ll get one with Bjork who came up with some interesting solutions before the new year. I’d be curious to hear if any of her ideas are coming to light.

    MV: Sadly you sound quite angry/frustrated. There are no winners in this situation, only loosers. The Icelanders have to work towards a solution and remain hopeful. I think your angry tone has left a bad taste in some of the readers mouths.
    It sounds like you’ve found a solution to this whole problem, perhaps you should offer your assistance.

    It is essential that people still hold on to hope that it will all be ok, hopefully with a new government very soon.

    Winter in Iceland is nothing compared to North America. I’m looking at the temps to drop down to -14 celcius in a couple of days, for a few days. Bitter cold 🙁 brrrr

  • Neil January 14, 2009, 8:11 am

    @ Muriel
    Countries are not reading this blog, People who “live” in countries are. I am really looking forward to the next installments Alda, “I” want to hear more. Thanks

  • SOe January 14, 2009, 9:09 am

    I´m looking forward to the interviews.

  • Muriel Volestrangler January 14, 2009, 10:07 am

    I’m not angry, but I’m not naive either. The recent heating up of debate and protest is great but something more is necessary, some sort of actual pressure on the government. Most of the country wants Oddson and Sjalfstaedisflokkur out and new elections, and they’ve made that clear. And Oddson’s solution is … personal bodyguards and stormtroopers. The country and the government are on completely different wavelengths, you might say. Sjalstaedisflokkurinn will not go willingly, they have to be pushed. How did the Serbs get rid of Milosovic? By mass demonstrations, violence, and so on. Not by letters to the editor.
    In Iceland there might be a middle way. For instance, if 40,000 people surround Olafur Ragnar Grimsson’s house or office and demand new elections, that might do the trick. Or maybe some mobs could shut down the electricity to the government’s office and tv station, that would help. Or if that’s too violent, how about combined strikes by the dock workers, airport, bus drivers, or telecom workers? Or why not stop paying any taxes?
    And if Iceland does manage to get elections a new government, the next stage is to ask the Danes, Finns, and Swedes to send over a large team of economic advisers, and pronto.

  • Paul Grant January 14, 2009, 10:34 am

    Great idea, the blog is a fantastic reading., looking forward to more insights as to what is going on in Iceland.

  • Jen January 14, 2009, 4:05 pm

    thank you very much alda, I am really looking forward to reading the interviews!

  • Elín January 14, 2009, 5:35 pm

    You are providing an invaluable service with your writing, I for one am profoundly interested in what is going on and appreciate both your view point and your taking the time to write about it all. These days, googling Iceland news leads to a plethora of recently published travel articles suggesting that this is THE best time to visit Iceland. One article after the other about the Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle tour, elves and runtúrs … so tiresome.

  • Neil January 14, 2009, 11:45 pm

    I would not compare Iceland to Serbia or any other Eastern European Country. The collective sophistication of the Icelandic people put them in a class by themselves. I am sure there will be a nonviolent solution. Protests yes, strikes yes, mobs shutting down power to the city in the middle of winter, I don’t think so

  • James January 15, 2009, 3:07 pm

    There appears to be a technical fault with the first interview article. I can view only the prelude (not the text itself), there’s no commenting, etc…

  • alda January 15, 2009, 5:26 pm

    James – yes, this was brought to my attention by someone else – and when I try to view it in Internet Explorer I get the same thing.

    I have no idea why this is, but it works just fine in Firefox and in Safari.

    I tried to insert a ‘read more’ tag in case IE thought it was too long, but that made no difference.

    I’m really stumped. All I can suggest is to use Firefox or Safari. :-/

  • alda January 15, 2009, 5:35 pm

    OK – I figured it out. It was a problem having to do with having pasted from Word. Fixed now (I hope).

    Still just goes to prove how superior Firefox is to IE. 😉