Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

Living the Icelandic Kreppa

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By guest contributor Michael Schulz. A social scientist who has worked for 30 years as a humanitarian manager in development, natural disasters and conflict on missions for the Red Cross in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Russia and Trans-Caucasus and was i.a. based in Ramallah for two years. The last 5 years Michael was a diplomat with a Red Cross delegation in New York, accredited to the UN. – His Icelandic connection is through his partner who gives Michael an ‘Icelandicness’ and the authority to speak of Iceland though seen through his European eyes. Michael takes a keen interest in all aspects of the ‘Kreppa’ (Icelandic for ‘crisis’) in a philosophical, historical, political, socio-economic and cultural context.

Living in Iceland, as pointed out earlier on Icelog, ‘it’s clear that,’ as pointed out here earlier, the collapse of the Icelandic banks ‘wasn’t an event but a process that hasn’t yet come to an end.’

What I’ve been missing in discussions are much more conscious and informed references to the process, or, perhaps even more accurate, the accumulation of many events that make up the various processes we’re witnessing. (Far from being a linguist I do wonder if possibly the notion of creeping could be inherent to the meaning of Kreppa, the Icelandic word for ‘crisis’ – a crisis in motion, a process?)

This is not to say that the SIC (Special Investigation Commission) in its by now famous Black Report, did not revisit the history that lead up to the collapse of the banking sector. Or that politicians were and are not in the art of making optimistic prophecies on account of some yet unknown future, trying to talk an end to crisis into existence. All quite to the contrary.

Of course, the length of this crisis does matter, and to none more than those worst affected, those with acute human and humanitarian needs. Of course, debt and interest accrue every day while credit/debt payments are delayed. But length as a measure of a process or processes, as if a timeline of crisis, does not suffice to the understanding of Kreppa. Besides length there have to be also other directional and qualitative measures of depth, width and height. At least I experience Kreppa multi-dimensional during my physical and virtual Rambles in Iceland. As you so rightly say it is: there’s an ongoing collapse.

Isn’t it true that risks are omni-potential and omni-present? That crisis reveals itself in sudden onset, and that its unraveling progresses with a time lag, in slow motion, almost invisible, felt only over expanses of time? Trends continue, further spiraling downwards, further into the depth of Kreppa. A friend, working with an NGO, reports that the numbers of families in need of (food) support remain staggering and that needs are real and serious. Countless people are caught in the web of toxic loans. How to manage credit card debts in times of Kreppa?

As point out earlier on Icelog two “Sparkassen” (building societies) went into receivership mid April. Last week, I heard that pension funds had to cut back on pensions. A few weeks ago two councils went into receivership; reportedly other eight communities hover on the brink. Quasi on the 1st of May, Labour Day, statisticians report: the number of employed persons was 163,900 and unemployed persons were 13,600. The unemployment rate was 7.6%. The number of unemployed persons increased by 900 from the first quarter of 2009 and the number of employed decreased by 1,600. Never mind the verbal logic, the message is that unemployment increased during the 1st quarter 2010.

A business friend called from abroad alarmed by the fact that already meager hard currency quotas had been further restricted, holding hostage her investment capital, Icelandic Kronur, on her Reykjavik bank account. More still: on the 3rd of May, statisticians reported that 292 companies in Iceland went bankrupt in the first quarter of 2010, according to new information from Statistics Iceland. This is an almost 12% increase compared to the first quarter of 2009, when 261 companies went bust.

One could carry on and on. But, so I believe, thus far the facts augur enough ill to state q.e.d. (or quod erat demonstrandum): the Kreppa is moving on to new depths claiming a daily toll on individuals and all sectors of society. The next question might then be whether or not it is gaining width? Perhaps that‘s only a hypothetical question as above stated facts illustrate that the Kreppa has and continues to spread while growing deeper. What started – and continues – in the financial and monetary sectors has taken firm hold of the economy. Austerity measures in the fiscal sector are increasingly and negatively affecting all other sectors by means of tax hikes and budget cuts, not least the public domain: social, health, education, culture, et cetera. People, individuals are hurting.

If Kreppa gains length, depth and width, what about its height? When will measures of crisis resolution gain traction? When will the Kreppa peak? What will the consequences be? No, I will not join the choir of prophets. Yes, the Kreppa in its directedness and dynamics is a process. And, as said, it is also an accumulation of events, and there are, along the way, events that will result in partial resolutions. The Black Report, for example, seems to feed into the work of the Special Prosecutors Office. Justice shall be sought in cases when neglect or criminal intent prevailed. There shall be an agreement concluding the Icesave scandal and the like.

But, apart from legalistic proceedings in selected events, what are the answers and solutions to the process as if the totality of events? I remain dumbfounded by, for example, politicians who seek patchwork answers, solutions in conventional doctrines of salvation. Is it done with vague blanket apologies? Temporary resignations? Displays of ignorance? Escapism or denial? Finger pointing, singling out one as opposed to the other? Change image as if solely a matter of PR?
Is it done with a hastily rewritten legislation here and there, changing a few rules and regulations, or job descriptions, or redrafting the President‘s terms of reference, or … ?
Is it desirable to simply work at re-establishing the status quo ante allowing only a few erratic corrections? Shall self-serving elite allegiance again matter more than competence and merit?

True, there are exceptions in all walks of public office, academia and media, or the corporate sector for that matter. But they are too few versus. Some of the few have voiced calls to look at the problem in its entirety, to take a holistic view.
I am convinced that only a full understanding of the Kreppa as a process will allow an understanding as to why and how it has and continues to (holistically) impact the society at large, all sectors, the state and the nation because. While not convinced, I would not be surprised if a full understanding of Kreppa would turn out to stand synonymous with a Kreppa of statehood.

Again a few have called to join the EU as a member and to adhere to the Euro. A call by the few against the objections of the many, according to pollsters. Another call is made for a constitutional assembly. Are these timely calls in the absence of a full understanding of Kreppa and its diverse, multi-facetted impacts? What are the objectives? Certainly, the EU is not a Kreppa repair workshop, the Euro not a tool to salvation. What does a constitution matter if its spirit doesn‘t become a reality because it misses reality? Could such initiatives defeat good intentions because the Kreppa-process falls short in understanding?

In Iceland I now sense, rightly or wrongly, a desire to reach a holistic solution to Kreppa albeit without a holistic understanding. Not only the politicians have failed this society in the past but also they treated the Republic badly. Res publica, public affaires, were too often handled by elites excluding the Republic. Let us hope the politicians will now assume responsibility and leadership and conduct a public discourse for all to understand Kreppa and what the options are.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

May 6th, 2010 at 10:29 am

Posted in Iceland

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