For those who haven't been following the "saga", Bobby Fischer was granted Icelandic citizenship last week by special act of the Alþing (Parliament). His shiny new Icelandic passport was effectively a Get Out of Jail Free card for the Japanese government, which had been holding him in detention while they decided what to do with him. His American passport had expired and was unrenewable as the U.S. was (and still is) requesting his return on charges that he illegally visited Yugoslavia in 1992, when travel to that country was banned for U.S. citizens. Fischer arrived in Iceland last Thursday.
Fischer helped put Iceland on the map in 1972 when he defeated Boris Spassky here in a Cold War showdown. The Russian Spassky was the favorite, Fischer the young upstart. The match was the Rocky IV of the chess world. And Iceland has always had a fondness for chess.
Fischer's sudden Icelandic citizenship bothers me for a number of reasons. I am also an American citizen, but unlike Fisher, I came to Iceland to work here and my work directly benefits the Icelandic economy, both through the new products I am creating for my clients here, and in the 39% income tax I am paying to Iceland while I live here. Despite this gainful employment, I and my company must reapply for a new work and residence permit every year for 4 years. At that point I can apply for permanent residence status, for which I must pass a test to show that I am competent in the Icelandic language. And even then I am not a citizen.
By virtue of his notoriety, Fischer, who had previously spent only a couple of weeks in Iceland, does not have to jump through any of these hoops.
Fischer is also a controversial figure, known in recent years for his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Once again, he is shining the spotlight on Iceland, but this time many of the international articles also contain recent quotes of his, trashing the Jewish people (he was born to a Jewish mother) and raining abuse down on the United States and Japan. This is surely not the kind of publicity this peaceful and forward-looking nation needs.
Contrary to international press reports, all the Icelanders I've spoken to believe Mr. Fischer reflects badly on their country and think it very strange that their Parliament made an exception for this man to come here. "He has friends in high places," says one friend. Guess I'd better brush up on my prejudice and my castling.