In the endless stream of bleak dispatches about the global economic crisis, you’ve got to pick which calamities to follow or you’ll drown in a sea of misery. I’ve been tracking the news out of Iceland with particular interest—not because it’s cheery but because I can’t seem to look away.
For one thing, I vacationed there a few years ago and, like many visitors, was enchanted by the place’s mix of humongous landscapes, fantastic mythology, and coolly efficient society. For another, the current drama is absolutely riveting, with all the epic plot turns and vivid characters of an Icelandic saga: The country has gone bankrupt, the government has collapsed, they’ve installed the world’s first openly gay prime minister, and young people have been gathering every Saturday in downtown Rejkyavik, lighting bonfires, throwing eggs at Parliament, and banging pots and pans in a grassroots outpouring that some are calling Búsáhaldarbyltingin, or the Saucepan Revolution. Meanwhile, an obstinate central banker refuses to resign and has come to be the most hated man in Iceland.
I’ve been relying on a couple of English-language blogs by Icelanders to give me the news out of this tempest. One of my favorites is The Iceland Weather Report, which is full of fiery, literary, and informed commentary on all things Iceland—and lately that’s been a lot—from a young woman named Alda Sigmundsdottir. She has captured the movement’s politely radical zeitgeist in posts like “Who Needs Concerts When You Have Protests?” and “On Holding the Tycoons Accountable.” And yes, she provides actual weather reports from downtown Reykjavik. (Catch her on a recent BBC report about Icelandic bloggers or a World Focus online radio show about Iceland’s economic collapse.)
I’ve also been checking in at The Reykjavik Grapevine to take the country’s pulse. A “life, travel, and entertainment” guide, it’s lately been full of great political blogging and on-the-scene reporting from the restive streets of the capital. See “Iceland’s Rainbow Revolution” by Valur Gunnarsson for a blow-by-blow chronicle of the march on parliament and “Things Falling Apart” for stunning photos from January 20 by Jóhann Trast Pálmason. (His photos accompany this post.) Gunnarsson even digs up the juicy nugget that the obstinate banker, David Oddsson, “started his career as an actor, playing the part of deranged despot Ubu Roy. It seems he will end his career the way he started it.”
One needn’t be an Icelander to apprehend and analyze the situation; in fact, a big-picture perspective can be valuable. U.S. writer Rebecca Solnit uses her Icelandic connections and background knowledge—she spent nearly three months there last summer—to sketch out the social, environmental, and global political ramifications of Iceland’s crisis in a brilliantly incisive essay at TomDispatch.com. The Icelanders she’s talked to since her visit, she writes, “are exultant to have reclaimed their country and a little terrified about the stark poverty facing them.”
Images by Jóhann Trast Pálmason, courtesy of the photographer.