Davíð Oddsson: Life imitates satire

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Published September 3, 2004

Davíð Oddsson started his career as a man of the people. He was the first student at his secondary school to be elected Inspector Scholae, or student representative, who was not the son of a leading politician. At the same time, he also starred in Alfred Jarry´s play Ubu Roy, as the corrupt king of the title. The play became a huge success, toured the country and was even shown on national television.
When Oddsson graduated from secondary school in 1970, two years after the people who had started there with him, he seemed torn between the two possible directions his life could take, art or politics. For a while he considered studying drama in Japan. As it turned out, he married his high school sweetheart and studied law at the University of Iceland, meanwhile working at the Reykjavík City Theatre office. Along with two other school friends, director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson and writer Þórarinn Eldjárn, he started the popular radio program Útvarp Matthildur, which engaged in frequent political satire. Davíð could well have continued his career down this route. Instead, he got an even closer look at how Icelandic politics worked as parliament correspondent for Morgunblaðið. It has been surmised that in observing politicians at work, he decided he could do better. He fought his way to become candidate for Mayor for the Independence Party, the son of a single mother from Selfoss often outmanoeuvring far better connectoins and more established politicians. After a ten year stint as mayor, he finally became Prime Minister.
When he took office, the Octopus was at the peak of its powers. Rival conglomerate Sambandið, sometimes called the Squid, had been broken up. It was deemed safe to open up the economy and privatise state industry, assuming that the interests Davíð Oddsson was watchdog for could snap them up at their leisure. But the Octopus was slow and lazy, and the new money men, some of whom had made their fortune abroad, snapped up the newly nationalised industries. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the media. In the early 90´s, all party affiliated newspapers apart from Morgunblaðið, which for a while reigned supreme, had folded. Ten years later, two out of three daily newspapers and virtually all non-state run TV and radio stations had been merged into a single conglomerate, Northern Lights, owned by the owner of a supermarket chain and one of the newly rich.
Meanwhile, Davíð Oddsson still reigned supreme in the Independence Party, having surrounded himself with what seemed like a group of yes-men. His last act of office was to push through a media bill that would have restricted media ownership and broken up Northern Lights. This was only halted by the first presidential intervention in the history of the Republic. Hence Davíð Oddsson, who, with a combination of skill and charm, fought his way to the top of Icelandic society, is abandoning the field in the hand of his enemies. Or, as Ubu Roy would say, “Merde!”



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