Published May 11, 2012
Geir Hilmar Haarde, Geir Haarde for short, was Prime Minister of Iceland when the economy sank back in 2008. His signature moment was addressing the nation on TV right after the crash and asking God to bless Itceland, which in terms of Icelandic political discourse was as incongruous as hearing the Queen of England quote Linkin Park.
That was ages ago! What has he been up to since?
He has been arguing about how much he is to blame for the events that led to the downfall of the Icelandic financial system. He and his defenders argue that he was a good man in an impossible situation and that he did the best he could with the information that was available to him at the time. His accusers say that he neglected his duties and was at least in part culpable for what went wrong, that a man of his experience should have seen the iceberg coming. He is basically the Edward Smith of Iceland.
Who’s Edward… ah, the captain of the Titanic.
Yes. Though, to be fair to Geir Haarde, Iceland did not literally sink to the bottom of the Atlantic. But like with the good-or-not-so-good Captain Smith, people disagree vehemently about his conduct while in command. The Icelandic parliament charged him with neglecting his duties as a minister. A special court called Landsdómur finally ruled on April 23 that Geir was guilty on one count of four. Specifically he failed his ministerial responsibility and his constitutional duties to keep his cabinet informed about major events, namely the precarious situation of the Icelandic banks.
He was found guilty of violating the constitution? That seems pretty serious.
Geir Haarde argued in his post-verdict press conference, in a tone that even the most co-dependent friend would describe as mildly intemperate, that he had merely been found guilty of not fulfilling a minor formality. Others have joined him in interpreting the verdict this way, notably Pawel Bartoszek, one of the authors of the proposed new constitution who summed up his defence of Geir Haarde by saying: “It is a peculiar sort of justice to find a man guilty of violating procedural rules, even though they are laid out in the constitution, in connection to the collapse of an entire banking system.”
Violating the constitution still seems like kind of a big deal.
You are not alone in thinking so. For instance, law professor Sigurður Líndal, Iceland’s most well known legal commentator of the last few decades, says that Geir Haarde was found guilty of more than violating a mere formality, and that it is clear that Geir was constitutionally required to hold cabinet meetings about major issues, which he neglected to do.
So what awaits Geir Haarde now, the gallows?
No, given his age and lack of prior convictions, the court did not sentence him to any punishment. He is available for work should you have a national economy that needs an experienced captain.