miðvikudagur, janúar 28, 2009

"wha' happening?"

I have gotten a few panicked emails from American friends these last days which give me the impression that somehow the US media is once again disasterizing the wrong situation (while probably ignoring, or at least whitewashing, the real disaster unfolding daily in the Middle East).

What seems to be going on, through the lens of these fear-filled missives, is that American news outlets are reporting some kind of governmental collapse / slash / humanitarian nightmare unfolding in Iceland. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

In fact what is happening is entirely welcome from the perspective of most Icelanders, and from the perspective of anyone who understands Parliamentary systems of government. (Check that out on Wikipedia, yo.) The governmental coalition of two parties, one of which ran this place into the ground over the last decade, and the other of which tends to wander around issues like Reagan Democrats playing shuffleboard, finally ended their uncomfortable marriage. We had been waiting for this for months, as all confidence in leadership here had evaporated: it was not one but a whole team of Brownies doing "a heckuva job". That coalition collapsed on Monday.

That left the President of Iceland to pick an interim governing coalition, until May, when we'll have new and early elections for Alþingi (Parliament), probably combined with a referendum on joining the EU. The Prez picked the Democrat-shuffleboarders (Samfylkingin), plus the Left-Greens (Vinstri-Græn), a badly named party whose popularity has taken off in the wake of the "October Surprise", leaving out in the cold, for the first time in 18 years, the local equivalent of the Republicans (Sjálfstæðisflokkur).

So it's nothing more than a peaceful transition of political power, in a country where the tradition of representative government was already 1,000 years old in 1930. My worry remains, however, and that is from which corner(s) the true competent leadership will emerge, leadership that can help this country pull itself together and rebuild for a bright future. That part remains to be seen.


Blogger Björn Friðgeir said...

Hi, first off, great blog, would say it's good to get a 'outsider' view of the country, however I'm not sure you count as outsider any more :)
Just one point, the prez does (normally) not 'pick an interim government' but gives a party leader an official permission to discuss forming a government, in this case unusually, two leaders got the baton.
Of course people are allowed to discuss forming a government whenever, but as in '79 when a weird concoction of parties and individuals formed one, discussions first took place without any of the participants having said presidential baton, and the actual forming only happened after the president was informed of the feasibility of a new government and handed the soon-to-become PM the official permit.
We'll leave aside for now what the president can actually do if he wishes to become more involved in the process, there lie umpteen constitutional, procedural and political arguments.

Blogger JB said...

Thanks Björn for the clarification.

And yes, I am now sort of an insider these days, having received citizenship here last summer. Although still treated as an outsider by some of the hard-core lopapeysa-wearing old men.

Blogger Unknown said...

You'll always be an outsider to me :)

Blogger JB said...

Thanks Chief. As an American who's spent more than 14 days out of that country, I'll probably spend the rest of my life being an outsider everywhere. Americans who own passports are generally regarded with suspicion by the other 80%.

Blogger JB said...

I had lunch with a friend who used to work in the American media, and she validated my theory that the headline:

"Icelandic governing coalition breaks down, President to name interim government, elections in May"

...would never have been considered newsworthy, at least by CNN/Fox News.

But "Icelandic government collapses" ... now there's a worthy headline conjuring up images of mass anarchy!

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Yahoo (quoting AP) seems to be more concerned about the fact that the new PM is
0) a woman and
1) gay
than anything else. The headline is "Iceland to appoint gay woman minister to PM".
And it goes on: the first paragraph is "Iceland's next leader will be an openly gay former flight attendant who parlayed her experience as a union organizer into a decades-long political career."
Talk about twisted!

Blogger JB said...

Funny, the big take on her here in Iceland was that in 1994, in a Nixonian moment after being defeated at a party convention, she famously declared, "Minn tími mun koma!" - "My time will come!" It became an SNL-like catch phrase here and people laughed about her saying that for years. And now her time has come.

But I didn't even realize she was gay until my coworker pointed it out.

Blogger Unknown said...

Excellent blog post JB.

Even though she has been a public figure for as long as I can remember, I did not know she was gay until two days ago. The state media (RÚV) pointed out that if she gets chosen to be PM she will be the first woman PM in the history of The Land and the first (openly) gay PM in the world.

Go Iceland.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Hey Jared - now you'll get to use your newly acquired right to vote sooner than you thought..... :-)

keep on blogging and take care,



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