Iceland 2

"The first thing in your life here is the weather,” says Iris Kramer. A musician from Hamburg, married to an Icelander, Kramer is in a café waiting to hear if the plane to her husband’s hometown in the Western Fjords will be able to take off. Outside on Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street, the only moving thing is a shrouded figure trying to advance uphill against the gale whipping the North Atlantic a few blocks below. It is snowing and it is going to snow and in between has come piercing sunlight, fog, hail and rain and it is not yet 10am. The Gulf Stream makes Iceland’s climate milder than the 64° latitude would suggest and, in March, this is a freak storm, although somewhat discouraging just as the days grow longer.

But people are taking it in their stride: there are no fair-weather patriots in Iceland. And not only because of the climate. For the past two and a half years, the entire country has been struggling to make a fresh start after the bank failures that wrecked one of the world’s most affluent societies. Added to the volcanic eruption in Spring 2010 that closed airports across Europe, Iceland’s image as the resilient, hard-working island nation has turned into a reputation for exporting disaster. “Like their weather, Icelanders are either very bad or very good,” says Lýður Arnason.

Good or bad, they don’t lack qualifications and confidence, either. Arnason, both a medical doctor and an acclaimed filmmaker*, has recently taken on a new task: to rewrite his country’s constitution. In November 2010, he and 24 other citizens were chosen from over 520 candidates in a national election to form the new Constitutional Assembly. The international press hailed it as a remarkable demonstration of direct democracy. Inside Iceland, however, things aren’t quite so simple.

When Iceland got its independence from Denmark in 1944, it basically adopted the Danish Constitution. “About the only thing that changed was to substitute the word ‘president’ for ‘king’. “It wasn’t ours”.

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by Sarah Meyer de Stadelhofen

(Photos © Rita Scaglia / The Global Journal)