Pirates' tales from Iceland and Tortola
By Oscar Ten Houten at Jul 04, 2011
Last night our two guests from Iceland, Gunnar and Gandri, held a public screening of Gunnars film about the Icelandic crisis (http://argoutfilm.com/english). The organisation was all a bit improvised. When they arrived at Latina metrostation late in the evening there’s a graffiti-filled wall with a white square to serve as a screen, there are chairs in different forms and sizes, but there’s no equipment to show the film.
“Spanish style organisation”, our guests say, with a smile.
The people from the Humanities working group who have organised the screening start calling around, they start moving. I imagine it’s going a take a while. I go for a walk and coffee.
It turned out I was wrong. When I come back all the equipment is up and running, with the sound as well. I’m amazed. Especially when I think about the dire state of Audiovisuals at the moment. When we interviewed Gunnar and Gandri for the radio a couple of days ago they said they would be happy to arrange a meeting with Audiovisuals. Still, despite repeated sollicitations, no-one there heeded the call to meet the Icelandic film maker and his comrade. The Audiovisual commission is probably too busy working on one of their fabulous organisational schemes.
I hate to apologise for someone else’s negligence. But this time I felt I had to. Because from a p.r. point of view this is not just a bad image that Audiovisuals offers of itself, it’s also a bad image for Madrid as a revolutionary capital. Fortunately, Gunnar and Gandri will receive a warm welcome from the Audiovisuals commission of Barcelona tomorrow.
Before the film starts there’s discussion. About money. About how money has transformed from a means to exchange comodities into a comodity itself. About banks. About speculation. About derivatives and trash funds.
“These derivates shouldn’t be sold to people, they should be delt around a table in Las Vegas”, says Gandri.
The film has a great soundtrack. It’s called ‘Maybe I should have’ and it tells the tale of Gunnar’s personal inquiry into the Icelandic financial crash.
Until late 2007 Iceland was a happy and prosperous little island in the north Atlantic with a population that could easily fit into one of the neighbourhoods of Madrid. The banking sector was particularly prosperous. Banks offered to rent money from the people at higher prices than normal. This way an immense ammount of capital was diverted to Iceland. It spawned unprecedented economic growth, real estate madness and political corruption.
When stories in the Danish press at the end of 2007 started to raise questions about the solidity of the Icelandic economy, the wind started to surge. People withdrew their money. Icelandic funds in England were seized using anti-terrorism legislation. The banks soon crumbled and the once prosperous country of Iceland found itself condemned to be indebted up to the seventh generation. People who entrusted the banks with their life savings and their pensions found their assets had vaporised.
“If a bank gets robbed, the robber will be sought after until he is in jail. But now that the bank herself has taken the money of the depositors, no-one is held accountable.”
Gunnar asks himself the question: “Where did all the money go? Did it go to money heaven?”
He sails off on an adventurous quest, collecting clues in such tax-friendly territories as Guernsey, Luxembourg and finally the island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Like nothing has ever changed, the British still maintain their pirate coves in the Caribbean. But while the buccaneers of yore would mainly hunt for Spanish booty, the 21st century financial pirates are also allowed to steal from Britain herself.
Tortola is the legal home of over half a million enterprises. But the only firms that have their actual headquarters on the island are the ones that administer the hundreds of thousands of mailboxes, all from the same building.
Tortola is just another place where money passes through. Only a small part of it sticks, enough to turn the island into a top class luxury resort. Where’s the rest of the treasure? As long as western countries allow their corporations to flee taxes and leave only normal citizens to pay a country’s debts, we might never found out.
Gunnar returns home, without having succeeded in his quest. Iceland is still bankrupt, it owes a lot of money. “But we will not pay it. It is not our debt. The ones responsable for this crisis will have to account for this. And they will have to be judged. Because if we do not, then the message is: crime pays, and the bigger the crime, the more it pays.”
After the screening there’s discussion until late at night.
“Whenever you hear someone talk about debts, ask yourself this question: to whom exactly do we owe all this money? I want a name, a telephone number and an email address.”
Gandri warns that people from the government and big business are only changing their seats instead of leaving the stage. Nepotism is rampant in Iceland. He explains how the power of the banks can easily be broken. “Just take 50 euro out of your account, everyone, on the same day at the same time. You will send a shock wave through the top floor offices. It’s like saying: ‘Next week we could close our accounts all together’.”
That’s the revolutionary way. But Gunnar and Gandri also advocate the institutional way to change things, through parliament. “You must market yourself as a citizens’ movement. You must identify the problem and synthesise the message. You must make people understand.”
As an example, they speak about the way people have used their right to vote at the last election for the Reykjavik city council. To show their contempt for the political class the people elected a comedian to be the new mayor, a clown who had openly promised that he would be the most corrupt mayor ever.
“And did he keep his promises?” someone asks.
“Of course he didn’t. He is a politician now!”