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Althingi is Vanished and Gone

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Shortly after the crisis hit, I was driving from IKEA in Gardabaer back to Reykjavík and noticed that someone, seemingly both frustrated and original, had fastened banners with quotes from national poet Jónas Hallgrímsson’s “Iceland” to bridges along the way for commuters to read. Never have those words rung more true.

Iceland, fortunate isle! Our beautiful, bountiful mother! Where are your fortune and fame, freedom and virtue of old? All things on earth are transient: the days of your greatness and glory; flicker like flames in the night, far in the depths of the past.

(Translation by Dick Ringler. Click here to read the entire poem, both the original and English version.)

Hallgrímsson wrote the poem while studying in Denmark in 1835. It first appeared in the magazine Fjölnir, published by Hallgrímsson and three other Icelandic students in Copenhagen, Brynjólfur Pétursson, Konrád Gíslason and Tómas Saemundsson, a group commonly known as the Fjölnismenn.

The Fjölnismenn fought for the renewal of the Icelandic language, which had been heavily influenced by Danish at the time, marking the beginning of romanticism in Icelandic literature. Their magazine had extensive political influence and proved an important tool in Iceland’s fight for independence from Denmark.

One of their goals was to have the Althingi parliament restored, first founded in Thingvellir in 930 AD. “Ah! but up on the lava where Axe River plummets forever; into the Almanna Gorge, Althing is vanished and gone,” Hallgrímsson wrote.

Although Iceland lost its independence in 1264, first to Norway and later to Denmark, Althingi was held in Thingvellir until 1799.

The parliament was restored in its present form in Reykjavík in 1844—100 years later Iceland achieved full independence from Denmark—and MPs still convene in the old parliamentary building (built in 1881) on Austurvöllur square.

However, if the Fjölnismenn could witness what took place at Althingi today, they would surely roll over in their graves. It is a mockery of the parliament, the beacon of democracy we once had.

The current government has less than 80 days to implement change until the elections on April 25 and the clock is ticking. The Social Democrat-Left-Green coalition has come up with a seven-point action plan to carry through until their time in power is up and the parliament is anything but cooperative.

Case in point:

When Althingi was set on February and after the new prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, gave her keynote speech (specifically asking for cooperation from all parties so time wouldn’t be wasted), MPs—clearly angry about the termination of the Independence Party-Social Democrat coalition—blabbered on about who was to blame, taking cheap shots at each other, not uttering a single word of reason. Tick tock.

The debate was broadcast live and while I was enthusiastic about following “democracy in action” at first, I quickly lost interest and missed the ER episode that was canceled because of the event.

I wasn’t the only one bored senseless about the speeches, MPs were yawning, texting, chatting with their seatmates, PM Sigurdardóttir was busy reading documents (important ones, I hope) and at one point half of the MPs weren’t even in the room. Apparently, they’re not obligated to sit there.

What are we paying those 63 MPs for? They just waste our time and money talking about things that don’t matter and then they always take sides with their own parties anyway. One representative from each party would suffice and the rest could be sacked. In times where funds are scarce, I’m sure we could make better use of our money.

My view was reaffirmed the following day when the new Minister of Justice Ragna Árnadóttir presented her first bill, a bill on debt relief.

While everyone seemed to agree that the bill was a good idea, all MPs could talk about was whose idea it was, the Independence Party accusing the Social Democrats of having “photocopied” the bill they had come up with.

I know that egos were bruised and toes were stepped on when the old coalition was terminated. I know that people are angry because they feel they were treated unfairly. But, honestly, who cares?

Iceland is being sucked into a black hole of debt; the crisis is sucking the marrow out of our bones so I truly think there are more important issues to be addressed than the copyright on bills.

Tick tock. The clock is ticking, elections are approaching fast; the hour of doom is upon us. Let ragnarök, doomsday, come so that we can finally have a new beginning. Althingi is vanished and gone.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.