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Opinion

Angry in Iceland

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WFAE commentator Jean Roznik hspace=4

http://66.225.205.104/CM20090130.mp3

This week Iceland's government collapsed under the weight of popular outcry over the country's financial distress. In the months leading up to this crisis I sent my niece Ruth, who lives in Reykjavik, an email enquiring if I should send a food parcel. I was joking or, at least, half joking. I wasn't sure what happens to the food supply when a country goes bankrupt. When my son, daughter and I visited Iceland last August to attend Ruth's wedding we found the place vibrant, quirky and very expensive. Groceries stores were well stocked although a lot of the fruit and vegetables, which were mostly imported, looked a little worn from their travels. Downtown Reykjavik featured an abundance of restaurants some of which incorporated local ingredients in unusual ways. In a Spanish restaurant my son ordered a tapas featuring puffin. This little black and white bird was, apparently, a mainstay of the Icelandic diet before the good times came along. Icelandic puffins should probably be watching their backs right now as the abundance of the past decade gives way to leaner times. One thing that struck me during my visit was the peacefulness of the place. When I rented a car for a few days I asked if my insurance covered theft. The rental representative, who spoke flawless English, looked at me oddly. "People don't steal cars here," he said, "where would they go?" Recently that civic calm has been shattered by regular demonstrations outside the parliament building. The protestors came armed with pots and pans, drums and other noise-making paraphernalia in order to disrupt the politicians inside. The people are frustrated by the cronyism and incompetence that they believe is largely responsible for the country's financial mess. One does wonder how a veterinarian like Arni Mathiesen, with specialized knowledge in fish pathology, became the Minister of Finance. Apparently, among other posts held by Mr. Mathiesen, he was chairman of the Council of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Pity his expertise didn't extend to the prevention of cruelty to currencies. Mr. Mathiesen, a member of the Independence Party, may soon be back to tending sick fish as Iceland struggles to put a new coalition government together. My niece doesn't quite know what to make of what's happening. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in environmental science and natural resource management at the University of Iceland and has always been interested in a minimalist lifestyle. I tell her that her time may have come -- with economies all over the world wobbling like Jello, less may be the new excess.