Published October 15, 2012
Which one do you mean? There is the most recent one in Denmark. The Icelandic gang was caught with 35 kilos of amphetamines, and half a kilo of ecstasy. According to the media, Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and Spanish police were involved in cracking the case. And earlier this year an Icelandic man was arrested for organising ecstasy trafficking from Spain to Brazil.
Ah, the magic of globalization.
Icelandic criminals have been busy in the last few years. Like ethnic gangs everywhere, Icelanders often trust other Icelanders more than fellow crooks of other nationalities. And if you are a criminal, it can help to speak a language that is spoken by only three hundred thousand people world-wide.
Whoa, I didn’t know you guys were the Sicily of the North.
The medieval Kingdom of Sicily was founded by descendants of Vikings, so there is some relation. Vikings were obsessed with honour, and so are mobsters, at least according to the movies. And movies would not lie to us. Perhaps these criminal gangs just took to heart the President of Iceland’s words in a 2005, pre-financial crash speech, that Icelanders interpret “modern business ventures as an extension of the Viking spirit.”
What, Vikings were drug smugglers?
No, though that is more because there were no illegal drugs to smuggle. Vikings were happy to do anything that would get them some money and had few, if any, scruples when it came to personal enrichment. In the medieval sagas, there are two kinds of Vikings: On the one hand you have those who slaughter innocents, loot towns, and take slaves; on the other you have the really bad Vikings. So, in a way, the Icelandic drug smugglers are, to quote the President again, “heirs of this proud tradition.”
I thought Vikings were fun. That doesn’t sound like any fun at all.
Vikings were gigantic cocknozzles, but outlaws are often romanticised. The same has happened with modern Icelandic criminals. The media have reported rather breathlessly on the underworld, some crooks have become media darlings. And this year, an Icelandic film called ‘Svartur á leik’ (“Black’s Game”), based on a true crime book, showed the rise and fall of a Reykjavík drug syndicate, with plenty of time given over to parties, sex and the high life. Though to the film’s credit, it did not flinch from showing the bad parts too.
How bad were the bad parts? I don’t think I want to know.
Bad enough to not mention in a family magazine. The main focus of the film, however, is to portray the drug syndicate as a model corporation. The main guys are shrewd and ruthless businessmen who enter a staid, traditional market and upend everything with new ways of doing business. The heroic Business-Viking of the Icelandic bubble is reborn as a cold-blooded, hard-partying drug baron. In many ways, he is the ideal of Icelandic society, at least the one that existed before the financial crash.
Oh, so if that’s what some people aspire too, I guess it isn’t surprising that there are bunches of Icelandic drug smuggling rings.
No, it is very surprising. As recently as the ‘90s, the idea of Icelandic organised crime was a joke. People were more likely to believe in the existence of elves than Icelandic drug syndicates. Films generally portrayed Icelandic criminals as fools. Not that there were no career criminals, but they were of the small time sort and sometimes even charming. Once, while burgling a house, a noted crook came across a book by the great Icelandic poet Steinn Steinarr on the nightstand. He lay down on the bed to look up a poem, got engrossed and drifted off to sleep, later to be found by the owners who called the police. This was the image of the Icelandic criminal, bumbling and basically good at heart.
Isn’t that just the Viking way, spitting rhymes out of one side of your mouth and jugulars out the other?
Perhaps it is, and some of the criminal media darlings have gained fame for having a way with words. It has been a long time since the Age of the Vikings, but that has not stopped many Icelanders from thinking of themselves as modern Vikings. The problem with that is of course that while being a Viking is a splendid thing, until you die a gruesome and violent death, living next to one is dangerous to your well being. Alcoholic axe murderers are not desirable neighbours, even if you are one yourself.