Gambling Nation (ESA)


eyglo02_dl“Congratulations!” was on everyone’s lips on Monday.

What else was there to say? Whatever people may have thought about taking the Icesave dispute to court, all were bound to be happy with the outcome.

The foreign minister wanted to throw a party, the PM did a little victory dance and the leader of the ‘no’ movement (those campaigning for a ‘no’ in the referendums) screamed his lungs out like a maniac.

“Iceland won. A full victory can be declared,” was sprawled across the front pages of newspapers the next day and for a while everyone felt like celebrating.

The never-ending story has a happy ending. The case is closed, forever.

Or is it?

No. Because now the naysayers are accusing all who voted ‘yes’ in the last referendum of treason and have thrown national unity out the window so that they can use Icesave to lobby in their favor before the coming election in spring.

I’ve written about Icesave many times in the past, yet the dispute’s four-and-a-half-year history is so complicated that I must refresh my memory each time I write a new story about it.

My recap of the Icesave saga on Tuesday reminded me that the controversial agreements Icelanders rejected twice in referendums had their origins with the Independence Party-Social Democrat coalition.

The Finance Minister of the time, notably of the Independence Party, negotiated the terms of the very first agreement, which were far worse than that of the final version.

Reading up on the series of events also made it clear to me that neither the Independence Party-Social Democrat coalition nor the Social Democrat-Left Green coalition, which inherited the dispute, had any other option but to negotiate.

Their backs were up against the wall. We wouldn’t have received any significant financial support in our greatest hour of need had the government refused talks and wanted to take the dispute to court straight away.

The referendums changed their position because then the decision was out of the hands of the government and parliament—the nation had declared its intent.

A nation of gamblers. Taking Icesave to court seemed far too risky to me. A Russian roulette. No one could foresee the outcome and the future remained uncertain. Losing the case might have resulted in the multiple debt, crushing the national economy.

So, I chose to stay on the safe side and went with the final agreement. The terms were fair, I thought, and as it seemed Landsbanki’s bankruptcy estate would cover more or less the full Icesave debt, taxpayers’ money wouldn’t be at stake.

Besides, I simply considered negotiating the more decent thing to do.

I was surprised—pleasantly so—with the verdict, but I’m not so sure I find it entirely fair.

Since the dice had to be cast, this was the best possible outcome. However, I don’t think we ended up saving much money because of it. Or our dignity for that matter.

And I wonder—even if the case cannot be appealed—whether there will be consequences for interstate relations.

I hope not. And I really wish the Icesave saga can now be concluded with a happy ending for all.

But that’s wishful thinking.

There are still many angry people out there who feel they have been cheated and there are plenty of opportunists who will use the verdict to their advantage.

And I’m still waiting for the ‘I told you so’ speech from our president, whose recent bashing of Gordon Brown was nothing short of shameless.

To my huge relief, the big Icesave bet has been won. Yet the final word has yet to be spoken.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]

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