It feels like the pots and pans are about to be brought out of the cupboard again. By the time you read this, they may already be being battered outside the Parliament building in Reykjavík once again.
A couple of weeks ago it emerged that the wife of Iceland’s prime minister, had some years ago ‘inherited’ a very substantial chunk of money from her father. The inverted commas are there because the lady’s father is in fact still alive, and it seems bizarre to be able to inherit someone’s possessions before they’ve died. But the crux of the matter is that she stashed away a chunk of the family wealth in an offshore bank account, choosing Tortola of all places to keep her ‘inherited’ dosh.
That’s not all… it also turns out that she’s one of the claimants on the estates of Iceland’s sunken banks.
So when the prime minister thunders in Parliament about the ‘vultures’ seeking to extract their wealth from the estates of these banks, a situation that has not been resolved because it could terminally wreck the economy, his wife is one of those vultures.
Iceland has been gradually coming to the boil as all the old anger is beginning to well up again. There have been some tough years, but in fact Icelanders aren’t too badly off again now. The economy is turning over money, the cranes are back and there’s something close to full employment once again – in fact, there’s a shortage of people in some sectors and it seems inevitable that foreign labour will have to be brought in.
So why the anger? Well, it might have been an idea if the prime minister had come clean right away about his wife’s colossal nest egg squirrelled away under the Caribbean sun. There have been plenty of the party faithful’s voices prepared to come to his aid to protest that he didn’t actually do anything illegal… which may well be the case. But that doesn’t mean it’s morally defensible.
People weren’t happy about the skeleton rattling in the prime minister’s closet, and it hasn’t helped this supremely unpopular government that its coalition partners who have been quietly looking at their hands and saying nothing, are believed to have much the same egg on their faces as two cabinet ministers (finance and internal affairs) apparently also have similarly murky financial arrangements with cash stashed offshore for a rainy day.
The minister of finance has since stated that he had no idea he owned a stake in a company registered in an overseas tax haven, but he has something of a record of not knowing what was going on around him.
There has been a great deal of bluster and some digging into the past misdeeds of those fallen banks that were advising wealthy people just how to take their money quietly offshore (presumably to somewhere the taxman wouldn’t notice it) as far back as the years when those banks were still state-owned and when those at the head of government could hardly have been unaware of what was discreetly taking place on their watch.
Icelanders are getting angry again, and it’s hardly a surprise. Ordinary working people have been made to pay through the nose for the misdeeds of the wealthy and adventurous financial class that left Iceland teetering on the edge of bankruptcy after the 2008 crash. It wasn’t those closest to the causes of the crash who were worst hit by rising prices and shredded public services – the state of the health service alone is cause for despair – as everything was cut to the bone.
In 2009 there was the closest thing Iceland has had to a revolution since old Jörundur tried and failed two hundred years ago. What happened on the Austurvöllur square outside Iceland’s Parliament as people hammered out their protest on kitchenware has been dubbed the pots and pans revolution, as it hurried the demise of the unloved government of the day.
Now the feeling is that enough is enough, the lies, half-truths and excuses have gone a little too far and the the pots and pans might be out on the street again on Monday night.