"By the rude bridge..."

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn”, composed in 1836 for the commemoration of one of the starting events of the American War of Independence. But the flags in my picture are Icelandic flags. And what, you may ask, is the connection between the American War of Independence and the Icelandic flag?

Quite simply that perhaps someday some future Icelandic skáld will write an ode to the Icelandic citizens who may cast their vote in next Saturday’s referendum on the IceSave law. I say “perhaps” and “may” since forces no less powerful than those which faced the embattled farmers are now working to ensure that the Icelandic citizens will not be allowed to cast their vote on Saturday. I fear those forces may win.

I have been at a loss to explain the eagerness with which Icelandic politicians – and, more surprisingly, their British and Dutch counterparts – have striven to find a solution to the IceSave issue and thus avoid the referendum. After leisurely arguing in parliament for most of the past year, as soon as the President refused to ratify the law, the politicians of all parties suddenly began feverish activity to render the referendum unnecessary. Possible solutions have included a newer and marginally better agreement resulting in a new law; rescinding the old law; secret talks with the US and British ambassadors to Iceland reported on Wikileaks, just to name those that have become public knowledge.

In my innocence I assumed that it was as simple as political bloodymindedness on the part of our elected leaders that, when they have told us what we are to do, they’re damn well not going to let us have an alternative opinion. But it is much bigger than that. The answer finally came out in The Financial Times leader of February 26. The final paragraph says:

“London and the Hague have also created an immediate danger. Treating their claims as sovereign obligations means an eventual Icelandic rejection could make investors see sovereign defaults as less unthinkable than before. And the wrath of the Icelandic public raises the prospect of citizens elsewhere* refusing to pay for public debts seen as someone else’s fault. A UK government at the mercy of bond markets should watch its step.”

Even here the real message is hidden. The Financial Times sees a danger to the heavily-indebted UK if its creditors see that a country’s citizens may refuse to accept unreasonable charges made on them. But the creditors, read banks, are even more afraid that, if the citizens begin to question the reasonableness or even legality of such charges, they may equally begin to question the hypothesis which they have been sold by so many governments that the banks are too big to be allowed to fail, and that nothing can be done to change that.

It is my simple contention that they cannot allow that to happen, and thus, by whatever means, legal or illegal, the referendum next Saturday will be stopped. I hope, for the sake of the citizens of many other countries, that the Icelanders manage to hold out for five more days.

* Like, say, the citizens of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, currently being beggared by the claims of Swedish banks.

© James Wilde 2015