A nation destroyed

 

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Yesterday evening a capacity crowd of over 1.000 people filled Haskolabio auditorium to attend an open citizen’s meeting. These meetings have been held regularly for weeks, the most famous one was when the government showed up to answer questions from the crowd in early December. That was the one where Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, Foreign Minister entered a new catchphrase into Icelandic folklore, “You are not the nation”. 

Last night, one of the speakers Sigurbjorg Sigurgeirsdottir told the crowd that before she came over to adress the gathering she had received a call from one of the government’s ministers. She did not name the minister but she was told to watch her words if she cared for her career. 

So the community of Iceland, once likened to me by an American to Seahaven Island from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, has turned into the Joker’s Gotham.

Make no mistake about it, other countries have a financial crisis on their hands. Iceland is facing a financial, social and structural demolishion. An earthquake has never left such a deep impact, the only comparable volcanic eruption would be Skaftareldar of the 1780’s.

At that time, the earth was schorched and poisonous fumes killed 75% of livestock and eventually one in every fifth Icelander. The weather changed in Iceland and abroad, temperatures fell and some have even linked the beginning of the French revolution to the eruption.

A revolution is needed in the North Atlantic.The economic disaster happened, and its causes are well documented. The fallout has so far been equally disastrous.

Currently, those who created the most damage are doing the most to spin the situation. All the same politicians are still in power. The head of the financial authority still holds his position. The Central Bank governors are still the same. The politicians are creating laws and making extremely important decisions when they clearly have lost the faith of the nation.

The mainstream media is basically limp. Most of the important journalism taking place in Iceland at the moment is on the web. While thousands wanted to know what had taken place in the citizen’s meeting, the media has concentrated on the story of Georg, a giant lobster saved by PETA from a New York restaurant. And the occasionaly warning about the dangers of the discourse taking place on the internet.

While they are sleeping, the Apple store in Iceland has reopened in a location the business moved away from in September. A new social security number, massive underwriting of debt, a friendly bank and good connections made the business a steal.  Those who still have a job with albeit lower pay are just happy to have one and scared to death if they don’t. The ones who were dumped did not even get their severance payments. The system at work, yet again but no aspiring journalists dare digging through the dirt.  

Jardboranir a drilling company cut all pay by 25% except for executive pay which was cut by 10%. That’s not how you win trust in dire times. The message in the society is clear, those worst off are going to pay while the rest of us are pillaging.
  

The generation that holds the reins is tightening the noose around the rest of our necks. Price indexation means that this summer you will have lost 20% of your home equity in one year. The housing market’s situation means that you will have lost at least half. As no one is in fact buying homes they are in reality currently worthless.

The generation in power shrugs while their sons and daughters are bleeding. Why would they abolish price-indexation when they were lucky enough to get their home loans without and now own their homes outright? Their pension after all is secured with price indexation.

Still payments are up and so is unemployment. And many of the unemployed are realizing that in some cases they were on illegal contracts. What did the lower ranked former employees of Kaupthing think when they sought the assistance of their union, VR which incidentally enough stands for Respect/Justice after a recent rebranding from Commerce Union of Reykjavik? Certainly not that they had been working for years on illegal contracts violating their basic rights. After all, the CEO of VR used to be on the board of Kaupthing and took part in getting his best paid employees off the hook from loans the bank granted them to buy shares in the bank.

Respect and justice.  

Few people command respect today and many are losing hope in justice. Tryggvi Jonsson had to be chased out of Landsbankinn by protesters, not the cops. In Denmark Stein Bagger of IT Factory was arrested and brought to justice. In the US, Bernard Madoff was cuffed and his assets frozen. In Iceland Tryggvi managed to leave the debts of his business partner Jon Asgeir Johannesson in the hands of the taxpayers while securing his assets. Amazingly, the architect of Baugur’s house of cards was hired by Landsbankinn to clean up the mess.

Justice?

Bjarni Armannsson got away with billions as CEO of Glitnir, ran to Norway and showed his generosity by handing back a couple of hundred millions and admitted to feeling a little bit guilty. A year earlier he broke every moral law possible by trying with FL Group to weasel an exclusive contract with Reykjavik Energy, one of Reykjavik council’s most valuable assets, to save FL Group from bankrupcy. His buy-in rate guaranteed him a delicious windfall in weeks.

Respect?

There are some eggheads that only see the sunny side up. The minister of industry writes columns about the possibilities for start-ups in times of recession. There should be ample opportunities in his opinions for the nation to rise again with all its brain-power.

A few problems with that, one is availability of capital. The government has demonstrated that when any is made available it is directed into some directions and not others. The banks are unable to lend unless you accept criminal rates and foreign investors are a little bit wary of handing over money to anyone who’s name ends with –son or –dottir these days. The opportunities to build a new Iceland have to be available to all equally.

Masked protesters are showing violent tendencies on the streets of Reykjavik. Some call them dangerous, some think they are funny. The question is whether the same government who dismisses protesters, unmasked and masked so easily really thinks they are doing a credible job when this has almost never happened in the modern history of the republic.

Are they really right and everyone else wrong? Are they still living on Seahaven Island while the rest of us are in Gotham? They are living dangerously. As the Joker said so memorably, Madness is like gravity, all it needs is a little… push.

If nothing is done soon then this will happen. Businesses and people will go bankrupt. Those who cannot pay their home loanes will see them repossessed by the bank and sold on auction for a much lower price than the loan amount. They will be stuck with the difference while Bjarni Armannsson, Tryggvi Jonsson, Jon Asgeir Johannesson et al. will buy the homes and businesses on the cheap and the proceed to rent us our homes and complete the circle where they have been selling us all our stuff. They will name their price, just like they do today when a regular 4.000 krona food-basket now costs 10.000 kr.

They might seem like extreme ideas but the times are extreme, the problems as well and the solutions must be. Njordur P. Njardvik’s idea of a new republic with sounder foundations has to be considered. The EU must be approached, not to strike any deal at all but to find out what we can gain, not just what there is to lose. Price indexation must be put to the guillotine and a new and stable currency has to be adopted. Everyone must feel they are carrying the burden of the past few years in the same way and everyone has to have the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Iceland does not need to have a couple of the richest people in the world, it needs to be a place where everyone has at least enough.

The alternative is already showing its face, a state where fear and distrust rule the day. Then the exodus. 

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