Feature

Iceland: Still a land of marauders

Iceland recently announced that it will default on its debt to Britain, said Roy Hattersley in <em>The Times</em>, but we should hardly be surprised<em>.</em>

Roy HattersleyThe Times (U.K.)

Iceland recently announced that it will default on its debt to Britain, said Roy Hattersley, but we should hardly be surprised. “Icelanders are, by nature, intrinsically unreasonable.” They are descended from the same “marauding old Norsemen” who, when they realized they had mistaken Venice for Constantinople, “sacked it anyway because sacking was their business.” Of course these people will not “feel many qualms about keeping 3.6 billion pounds of somebody else’s money.”

I know what I’m talking about: I earned firsthand experience with their nationalistic pigheadedness when, as a Foreign Office minister in the 1970s, I had to negotiate with Iceland in what became known as the Cod War. “Of course we lost.” The Icelanders had illegally decided to claim jurisdiction over international fishing waters, and they sent their navy to cut British nets. They would listen to neither reason nor threats, and in the end, we had to give up.

Still, perhaps we shouldn’t begrudge the Icelanders their stubborn unreason. It is probably the secret of their survival. If the founders of the country—Norwegians plus their Irish and Scottish slaves—had made “a rational appraisal of their prospects, they would not have settled on a giant lump of lava in the cold ocean.”

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