Iceland's rage at bankers is yet to erupt

Those condemned by the ‘black report' on the financial meltdown will have only brief respite from Icelanders' volcanic anger.

April 17, 2010 01:14 am | Updated November 12, 2016 05:29 am IST

A car is seen moving through the ash from the volcano eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland, on Friday.

A car is seen moving through the ash from the volcano eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland, on Friday.

The news that an eruption had started in Eyjafjallajokull glacier, south Iceland, and that it was 10 to 30 times bigger than the eruption that started in a similar location three weeks ago ... well, it took a moment to sink in. In Reykjavik, Iceland, we were in the midst of the fallout from a fact-finding report into the bank collapse that had been published two days earlier — widely dubbed the “black report,” on account of its staggering revelations of corruption and incompetence in the lead-up to the economic meltdown. The media were ploughing through the 2,000-plus page report to offer up choice morsels for the public, which was already feeling completely overwhelmed by its revelations.

When the media started reporting the news, the Icelandic blogosphere was already abuzz with indignation over an article that had appeared in one of the papers that morning. It had been sent in by Thor Bjorgolfsson, former mogul and owner of Landsbanki — purveyor of the ill-fated Icesave banking accounts — and it was titled “I apologise”. In the article, Bjorgolfsson issued about five maudlin “apologies,” while at the same time explaining why he was really not to blame and dropping choice phrases like: “Every Icelander is responsible for their finances and the decisions they took. I am no exception.” This from an individual who, it is revealed in the report, looked on Landsbanki as a “smorgasbord” and, among other things, vacuumed hundreds of billions of Icelandic kronur out of it for his own purposes a mere month before the collapse. So it is easy to believe that folks like Bjorgolfsson breathed a sigh of relief at the news that Eyjafjallajokull glacier had blown up — just in time to stop the lynching in the blogosphere and elsewhere.

There is, come to think of it, a sort of poetic allegory inherent in this new eruption. One could even view it as the symbolic rage of the collective Icelandic nation bursting forth — rage that has been seething beneath the surface of this apparently placid society ever since the so-called Kitchenware Revolution ended last year. Indeed, Icelandic riot police were standing by in case of civil unrest following the publication of the black report. Protests had even started on Monday outside the parliament buildings, but those, too, have apparently been diverted by news of the eruption.

And now, with flights grounded in the U.K. and northern Europe due to volcanic ash, it was predictable that the phrase “Iceland's revenge” would fly — suggesting that this was Iceland's payback to the U.K. for using anti-terrorist legislation to seize Icelandic assets after the bank collapse, and for playing serious hardball in the Icesave dispute. However, all such remarks that I have heard have come not from Icelanders but from foreigners. Indeed, I believe the diplomatic dispute with the U.K. and the Netherlands over the Icesave affair is such a sensitive issue for Icelanders that most would not even consider joking about it in such a flippant manner.

Besides, we have other things to worry about. One bridge has already been washed out, the ring road that connects west and east Iceland on the south coast is severely damaged, farms are at risk, and Katla — a nasty volcano that could make this present eruption look like a walk in the park — could be awakened. And as if that wasn't enough, we now face the wrath of irate tourists who can't get to their holiday destinations.

But it's an ill wind bearing volcanic ash that blows nobody any good: no doubt, the oligarchs and others implicated in the fact-finding report are enjoying this brief respite from the wrath that will rain down upon them in due course. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

( Alda Sigmundsdottir is a writer/translator based in Reykjavik and runs the cult blogsite Iceland weather report .)

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