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Iris Erlingsdottir

Iris Erlingsdottir

Posted January 19, 2009 | 08:17 PM (EST)

"'Crime Once Exposed Has no Refuge but in Audacity." -Tacitus


I don't believe that Elvis is still alive. I don't believe that the moon landings were an elaborate hoax. I don't believe that Princess Diana was assassinated by British intelligence agents.

From what I've observed in my life, I just don't believe that people are smart enough, discreet enough, and devious enough to think up, execute, and keep the lid on such conspiracies.

Although there has been much energy expended imagining the intricate conspiracies that have led to Iceland's rapid rise and fall, the simple reality is that the architects of this catastrophe were ordinary people acting in their best interests. I don't believe that the modern Icelandic Viking raiders, sat in a private booth in 2000 and plotted out some outrageous scheme to defraud Icelanders and destroy their country.

Rather, they (and their fellow politically-connected entrepreneurs) realized that the steps the conservative government was taking under Prime Minister David Oddsson (beginning in 1990, when it literally gave, free of charge, selected fishing ship owners fishing rights within the Icelandic Exclusive Economic Zone, and through the privatization of the banks in 2003) could lead to great personal profit, and thought, "Why not?"

And while everyone was winning, it seemed like a brilliant strategy.

Unfortunately, there was no moral underpinning behind the actions taken by the government, ostensibly for the public good. Rather than protecting the public, high-ranking government officials had used the occasion to solidify their positions and to enrich themselves, their relatives and their friends. Knowledgeable oversight of the financial sector never materialized, and warnings of impending disaster were ridiculed and ignored.

When a commercial opportunity arose, it went to one of the in-crowd. When an important position opened in the government, it went to one of the in-crowd. As was happening in the United States, talent, competence and experience took a back seat to loyalty.

And as the Americans learned when disaster struck New Orleans, loyalty can't hold back the floodwaters once the dam bursts. As thousands of Icelanders are swimming in debt, the top officials and plutocrats fly over in their private jets, mouthing words of pity, but not accepting any responsibility for allowing matters to get out of hand. Not one member of the government has resigned or accepted responsibility, and not a single member of the financial elite has admitted any error. No investigations appear to be under way, but the government has appointed a special prosecutor: the sheriff of Akranes, a rural town of 6,000, is to investigate some of the most complicated financial crimes of all times! And we are told that we need to "move forward" and "stop pointing fingers!"

Somehow, the members of this small tribe got it into their heads that they were special, and that the rules applicable to everyone else did not apply to them. They see themselves as indispensable to the proper functioning of the government and the business enterprises -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- and cannot conceive turning over the reins to others.

Ultimately, their failure is their lack of trust and solidarity with their countrymen. They had to have known long ago that the house of cards they had constructed would fall, and take down their country with them. Rather than coming clean early on and trusting their political opponents to work out a solution, they funneled money to foreign bank accounts, foreign businesses, and foreign homes to ensure that they would escape the wreckage, then used their contacts in the government to keep the illusion intact as long as possible, while they jumped in their lifeboats.

Now, as the rest of Iceland begins to suffer for its trust in them, they have the audacity to maintain their grip on the reins of power, claiming that they alone can extricate us from the morass they created.

I'm afraid that ship has sailed, and it's time for the people to have a say in our future. We may ultimately have to sacrifice some of our sovereignty to regain economic stability and effective government, and to obtain impartial regulators and judges. But the choice must be ours. We must have new elections and speak in our own voices.