Andri Snær Magnason just wrote a Postcard from Reykjavík, Published in The World Today, June 2013:
“Anarcho-surrealism thrives: a tweeter in exile is hopeful for Iceland”
If you read the news about Iceland you must understand that my country tends to be a projection of journalists’ wishes. Spanish reporters talk about the place that arrested all the bankers, threw out the government, crowd-sourced a new constitution and made a brand new economic system.
In reality, most of the bankers run free and the old regime is making a comeback. But Icelandic reality does not matter as much as the need for hope. Germans write about a quirky island in close connection to nature, where people talk to elves, and ride around hot springs on ponies. Living in the Ruhr Valley you need such a place to exist. The hipsters of the world imagine a place where you listen to experimental ‘prog rock’ with your grandmother while she is knitting you a retro-style wooly cap.
I am a bit codependent and try to tell people what they want to hear. Why talk about corruption, greed and scandal if it only spreads more pessimism? If the Icelandic fantasy creates a new economic system in Spain, we can follow them.
Wishful thinking is getting harder because the Independence Party and the Progressive Party won the recent election. For those not familiar with our local politics, these are the ‘Parties of Economic Mass Destruction’. Two leaders from rich families have formed what is called the Silver Spoon Alliance. They are full of self-confidence and simple solutions, just like they were in the run-up to the bursting of the Great Bubble.
We had been recovering slowly from that disaster under a slightly boring social democratic government. Tourism and fisheries are booming. Music, literature and theatre have been thriving like never before. I actually know more people who work in start-ups than are unemployed. But it’s no fun to clean up a mess, and people were impatient. They missed the boom times of 2007. The winning parties promised economic growth, lower taxes, and debt reduction for home owners.
Personally, I suffered a strange feeling of suffocation at having the crazy capitalist parties back in power. I was afraid of being stuck in another rollercoaster ride of financial mess and environmental disaster. That anxiety resulted in me posting a toxic Facebook status: ‘Being Icelandic is like being stuck to a retarded Siamese twin’. The status went viral before I could erase the remark so I managed to offend (a) people with disabilities, (b) the 51 per cent of Icelanders who voted for the new regime and (c) Icelanders in general. I personally thought it was tasteless, but what is done is done. So now I am actually not in Iceland. I am writing this from my hiding place in Carrowkeel, Ireland.
Looking home from a distance, I am not totally pessimistic. A recent poll shows that the Best Party is still popular in Reykjavik. One of the results of the crisis was the decline of political parties and the rise of people willing to fill the void. In some countries racist extremists do that but in Iceland it was a group of humourists, punk rockers, film-makers, actors and activists. They call themselves anarcho-surrealists and are led by Jón Gnarr, a comedian who has been Mayor of Reykjavik for the past three years.
Some people might think we had gone mad handing the city to a bunch of creative artists. But our anarchosurrealist mayor has taken our almost bankrupt Reykjavik energy company and put it back on the right track. How did he do it? He hired qualified people instead of political friends.
Why did we think that artists were incapable of running a city or a country? What does a director do? He pulls together a wide range of talents: musicians, actors, a playwright, carpenters, designers, marketing people, lighting, the janitor, make-up etc. They manage a complex machine. They have to follow a vision and implement it with more precise timing than a subway system. And how complex is it to manage a rock band touring 40 cities in five weeks, performing for a million people?
So where did people get the idea that artists were unreliable slackers while a middle-aged man in a suit with a vulgar taste for luxury cars and wines was destined to rule us? So while nothing has changed in Iceland, at least this is changing – or perhaps not.