Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

Archive for June, 2010

Kreppa: Reflexions on punity and impunity

make a comment

Part Two (Part one)

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.

As was mentioned, the OSP (Office of the Special Prosecutor) has taken aim at holding Iceland’s “banksters” accountable. But if there were punity for some will there be impunity for others ?

Perhaps in fairness to the OSP one should allow more time to reveal what the prosecution holds in petto. No doubt, again as stated in the Black Report (by SIC, the Special Investigation Commission), there is evidence that members of government and/or Althingi are implicated in the banksters undoings, dating back to the privatization of banks, to oversight, loans et al.

And it remains to be seen if and possibly to what extent organs such as the Central Bank were engaged above and beyond its lawfully mandated functions and supposed independence.

Neo-liberal ideologues of Iceland’s polity served abatement to the financial sector and the economy. Whether there were, and if to what extend, “innocent” political intentions were at play remains to be seen. The privatization of the banking sector, for example, was evidently no act of political innocence but intended to benefit certain circles of the elite. The political and the (private) banking elites interacted closely, and they did reciprocate “favours”.

Politicians seem to be seeking absolution in diplomatic apologies and temporary resignations, mostly not from formal positions and political mandates but subordinate functions, as if political accountability held no lasting consequences. Far too few accept to be held accountable and too few have resigned.

One shouldn’t be surprised if some, many or even most financial transactions between the financial sector and politics were executed for reasons of criminal intent no matter under what the disguise. The interactions were so numerous that they appeared as normalcy, not the exception. Politics was no longer a guarantor of order. It created an environment, a culture of corruption.

Corruption or criminal offenses as well as neglect, on a scale as in Iceland, obviously come along with an extensive break down of political ethical codices and personal moral standards. Unless for associated crimes and corruption, violations of ethics and moral are difficult to qualify and prosecute.

If government and parliament are no longer the standard-bearers of ethics and moral what authority is?

It is difficult enough to bring crimes to their legal resolutions. Even more difficult is it to re-establish the public acceptance of and believe in ethical and moral values because breaches affect not only (passing) officials but also the credibility of the proper functioning of (lasting) institutions they represented, and the offices they held.

Suspects in public offices will seek refuge in immunities or legal waivers. This might apply to instances of professional incompetence or honest mistakes, perhaps even ignorance. But surely no immunities or waivers can lift a culprit above the law .

What then, if punity or impunity could and should not be applied selectively, if not only banksters but also politicians are to be investigated and eventually prosecuted, what then, for example, about academia and the media?

Would it not have been a legitimate expectation by the general public that academia and media would demonstrate the independence of science and research or the freedom of reporting and reflect the facts while critically commenting on and warning of events and developments that drew Iceland into the Kreppa? Were there critics? Where? Were there any warnings? If not why not?

Of course, conspiracy theories are often ridiculed or outright rejected as conspiracies precisely by those suspected of conspiracy But what about motives? Isn’t it in the secretive nature of corruption to seek a match in the secrecy of conspiracy? Doesn’t it make perfect sense for “money” and politics, individually or unisono, to conspire when seeking control over their potentially most qualified critics, by whatever means, for as long as they want to be un-perturbed in their doings?

The objective has to be to undercut the independence of the academia and the media. Their, the conspirators, means would be many, power and money for one, information, mis- and dis-information another, even harassment, intimidation and the like. It has been said that the easiest way to rob a bank was to own one. Wouldn’t it be easiest to own the media?

This is not to say that individuals in academia and the media were or weren’t receptive to material gains. As said, criminal conduct has to be subjected to law.

Scientists and journalists should or couldn’t have stood the ethical/moral grounds of their professions. Could they have stood their grounds in an environment infested by corrupted norms? Who is to investigate? Who is to judge and how to reinstall the independence of academia and media?

In a culture of corruption the methods to control are subtle. One has to conspire for covered control, not open dependency instead of independency. For control to effective it has to become a routine. Control that blankets entire sectors and functions of a society borders on oppression, is invisible but omnipresent.

While writing, the OSP’s actions haven’t lost momentum while suspects gear up their defense. Who would have thought there wouldn’t be fierce arguments back and forth? A quid pro quo, further forcing the pace.

Are there then early conclusions to be drawn on the legacy of Kreppa?

The tentacles of Kreppa reach as far as the undoing of corrupted elites entangling not only the financial, the monetary, fiscal and banking, sector and subsequently the entire economy but also the public sector, politics, academia and media.

Is it not evident that an ideologically calculated policy of laissez faire created an environment that enabled a culture of corruption which was inclusive to elites while exclusive to the public at large? A system that made independence obsolete by imposing dependencies? A system that broke down laws and political rules? A system that broke down societal, ethical and personal moral values?

The justice system will face a tremendous challenge in bringing punity to those that are guilty of breaking the law. Challenge or not, the OSP signals there will be punity.

What is then the authority to decide on punity or impunity for those who did not break the law but who broke all other societal norms, rules, ethical and moral standards? What is the authority to restore those norms that are the key ingredients to statehood and society?

Politicians, academia or the media do not yet appear ready to take a lead. Perhaps they feel too tainted and it takes time to abdicate an ideology of laissez faire and rid oneself from denial, delusion and digression and to regain integrity and respect. It takes time and a sincere process of programmatic self-reflexion.

Perhaps the peoples authority is the only authority remaining intact, the only higher authority?

For certain, the people have spoken out loudly in the meantime, last weekend in May, at the municipal elections. In all major Icelandic municipalities traditional majorities of the old, established four-party system have been voted out. In Reykjavik Besti Flokurinn (The Best Party, founded by comedian Jon Gnarr) became the strongest faction in the City Council. In Akureyri the new Residents’ Movement gained the absolute majority. Not to mention the “silent voices” and the fact that over 6 % of the ballots cast were blank.

The elections were the clearest demonstration yet that punity or impunity are not up for random choice. The votes also voiced the people’s readiness to engage in a public discourse provided they are listened to. Punity or impunity: if the old political parties don’t listen and act people will eclipse them from Iceland’s political future.

Obviously, academia or media were not up for election. One might wonder how people would have voted if their representatives had stood for elections? But people did monitor during election night and the days after what they had to say – if anything.

During election night, admittedly partying, a group watching TV shook their heads in disbelief or outright dismay over the old fashioned reporting, moderators somewhat at a loss for words to grasp a new reality, seconded by a professor analysing statistics. As one observer noted in the early morning hours: they still don’t get it that this is not about them but us!

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

June 2nd, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Posted in Iceland