Thursday, October 16, 2008

We thought we had friends

We thought we had friends, in Europe and in the United States. They were sought in the hour of need and found to be busy with their own problems; only the Scandinavians were prepared to extend a helping hand, and then, all of a sudden, Russia — somehow the world has changed. The disappointment with our old “friends” is great and people ask, did we really behave any worse than the others?

People joke about going back to the ’70s, when there were restrictions on how much currency one could take abroad and the government devalued the krona regularly to reduce spending on foreign luxuries. It wasn’t all that bad then, they say, apart from the bellbottoms and high-heeled shoes for men, perhaps.

But the jokes are not funny, for we did join the party in the 1990s, we did pour money into our apartments, houses, cars, gadgets, stocks; the money was borrowed, too. After an era of deprivation, we were eager to enjoy the newfound freedoms of capitalism and credit cards. We believed everything would add up; certainly the free-market enthusiasts told us so time and again. And most of us could pay our mortgages and credit cards, at least until last week.

Now that we don’t know if we can, the shock is so strong that neither anger nor sorrow have really taken hold. We thought Iceland was an independent country that could take care of itself without the help of Russia or the International Monetary Fund, that our currency amounted to something, that we could own companies and banks all over the world. We thought we could enjoy our beautiful country and clean air in the backyard of the aluminum smelter.

In many ways, we uncritically accepted the capitalist system, which now appears to have been a gigantic casino without an owner. We did in the end believe that we could get “money for nothing” and now we face the fact that we will get nothing for our money.

What to do, nobody knows, least of all the politicians, bankers, tycoons; but then again, I heard that a new edition of “The Communist Manifesto” will be published here this autumn. Coincidence, of course, but like everything else, unreal. Kafka’s Iceland probably has an ending different from anything that we can possibly imagine.

I extend my friendship Iceland.

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