5.13.2010

Your Country is Fucked: Iceland

Iceland: Not just another pretty face...






Icelandic women, however, totally pretty faces...

Velkomin to Ísland (apparently, this is how one says 'welcome' to a mixed-gender group in Iceland). This island nation, about the size of Kentucky, has long remained one of the world's best kept secrets for its natural beauty. And, it's going to have to get by on natural beauty, because, gods know, you can't grow shit here, since less than 1% of the surface is arable land. Iceland, is a relatively mild climactic islandwith plateaus, sandy shorelines, and, as you've probably heard, an active volcano or so. 



Eyjafjallajökull..I'll give you $5 if you pronounce it correctly. BTW: It sounds nothing like it looks.



All of the warm Atlantic Gulf Stream waters, the glaciers on the island, and the volcanic activity produces one of Iceland's chief industries: Tourists boiling themselves alive in geyser waters. And tourism factors heavily in the nation's economy, especially in the capital of Reykjavik, a hotspot for the young, hip and upwardly mobile. Then again, tourism is going to have to float a lot of the economy since the other 40% is dependent on commercial and sustenance fishing.



This or fishing. Take your pick.



Iceland's history is also fascinating, for a completely reclusive island with an isolated linguistic heritage. Iceland was "discovered" in the age of the great Viking raids, probably around 847 by the Norwegian chieftan, Ingólfur Arnarson. For a couple more centuries (say, about 600-700 years), Danes and Norwegians wintered here during their western voyages to Greenland and Vinland, protected from the notoriously hostile autumn/winter storms in the Atlantic and North Sea. However, since the late 13th century, Norway and Denmark took turns claiming it as part of their respective kingdoms until the island became independent. 




 Hell, it's covered by glaciers, but it's still warmer than Norway! Unpack the boat, lads.





But, for an uber-dork like me, the greatest accomplishment is the Althing, the oldest continuous codification of law in the world. Founded in 930, the Althing is a parliamentary system whereby the laws of the land would be passed, and then, subsequently, read aloud to all of the nation's citizens. Much like our modern system of "notice" and "due process", the Althing left no citizens in the dark as to what the laws were and what behaviors were expected of the settlers. Even more amazingly, this unicameral system of governance still exists as the parliament of Iceland.




Rule of law, bitches.




Despite the continuous peace, the rule of law, the astonishing natural beauty, and the very, very hot women...


Sorry, I was distracted by the Miss Iceland contest...



...all is not well in paradise. As you're aware, the world is in a toxic economic shitter. Greece is the most recent, America is the most profound, but Iceland's collapse was the one that originally scared the shit out of the global markets. Unemployment is hovering near 9%...still. And, for an isolated island several hundred miles away from the rest of Europe, it's not like the folks can just hop in the longships and go find a new job. Worst -and just like America- the banking system is in a barely-stabilized spiral. And, just like America, the recriminations have begun. In fact, the Icelandic people are so pissed at their bankers, that they are taking no half measures: In addition to suing them, and having hearings at the Althing, today the government started arresting them en masse.


So, isolated culturally, geographically, linguistically, with a fishing and tourist based economy that's taken a serious hit, all coupled with unemployment, inflation and shitty banking, means that -for at least another few years- Iceland is completely fucked.

Don't worry, Iceland, you'll always have this...




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See Previously: Yemen, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Poland II and I, Finland (and Montana!), Japan, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Cyprus, Chile, Slovenia, Vanuatu, and Uzbekistan.



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