From Iceland — One Nation, One Party, One Bank Account?

One Nation, One Party, One Bank Account?

Published October 12, 2009

One Nation, One Party, One Bank Account?

A year after the economic collapse and one can’t help notice that nothing has really changed. The oligarchs, though officially bankrupt, still control Iceland’s industries. Of the two daily papers, one is run by the main architect of the collapse, former PM and Central Bank Manager Davið Oddsson, and the other is still owned by Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, one of the most indebted men in Iceland’s history.
Free speech has been all but suspended, while no one has assumed responsibility for any of the decisions made here in the past twenty years. Even the Icesave issue remains unresolved. Which brings us to the question, are Iceland’s politicians merely incompetent, or could it be that they don’t actually want the current problems solved? It seems the latter might actually be the case.  
In a recent issue of Time Magazine, columnist Joe Klein calls the US debate about Health Care a national embarrassment. Icelanders are no strangers to national embarrassment, but let’s let Klein finish. He writes “Obama should be heartened by the fact that most of his Republican adversaries oppose the bill for crass political rather than ideological reasons.”
He then goes on to explain this, saying that the Republicans are terrified that the healthcare bill will pass, not because they are afraid that the results will be a failure, but because they are afraid that it will be a success. If Obama manages to reform health care, end America’s hopeless wars and rescue the economy, in other words, pull the US out of the quagmire the Republicans have mired it in, the Democrats will be in an unassailable position for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the Republicans seem to have decided to put their own party’s’ political interests ahead of the good of the nation.
They would rather do harm to their adversaries than take part in doing good for their people. No wonder bipartisanship has proven impossible on this or any other major issue.
The Good, the Bad
and the Icesave
Which brings us to Iceland. A year after the October collapse, the Independence Party has proven to be as irresponsible in opposition as it was in government. They spent all of summer squabbling about Icesave while the nation’s households sank deeper into debt. Even after they had made their amendments, they still refused to support the bill, instead electing to remain idle as the bill was passed.
No doubt they hope to accrue political advantage from this. If the bill proves a relative success, they will claim credit for their amendments. If it proves a failure, they will claim to never have supported it to begin with. This argument, of course, can easily be stood on its head. There are no good solutions to Icesave, only various degrees of bad. If worst comes to worst, it will be because the Independence Party left the country in a hopeless position. If the problem can be solved, it only proves that the current government is that much better than the last.
Party or People?
The Progressive Party is little better, if slightly less obvious. On the same day that the current government made their first real proposals, a lowering of the debt of Icelandic families by up to 40%, it was the Progressive Party that captured the headlines by announcing an imaginary loan from Norway.
The Icesave fiasco is something that was created by the previous government. Not wanting to see the country’s problems solved, problems that were created by itself, is therefore a case of the Independence Party offending the people twice. But they don’t stop there. The party still controls the city of Reykjavík, and from there are busy continuing their futile policies, currently by selling off the energy supplies and trying to tear down old houses in the city centre.
From a party-political perspective, this makes sense. Eighteen years of the Independence Party rule led to national bankruptcy. If the Red-Green Alliance manages to solve the major problems, it will be the end of the Independence Party’s dominance in Icelandic politics. It is therefore understandable that it chooses to put its own interests ahead of those of its country. It is also very unfortunate.

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