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Iceland’s crisis management In two words: "Þetta reddast"

  • Eyjafjallajökull erupting in 2010 "The unexpected explosion of Eyjafjallajökull that costed the European airlines cosmic sums could become but another fiasco. However, it was so epic that eventually caused the rapid growth of tourism, which helped Iceland’s economy to recover. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Yaroslava Kutsai moved recently to Reykjavík from Kiev to pursue her master’s at the University of Iceland. Here she offers her take on a phrase that has often been described as Iceland’s motto.

Sitting on a powder keg might be not only dangerous but liberating as well. Iceland, which nestles on the divergence of tectonic plates, embodies such assumption perfectly. At this latitude uncertainty is a part of the routine. Just think of that joke you hear again and again—so trite, though frequently apt—about the weather: if you don’t like it, simply wait a little bit.

Yaroslava_Kutsai.jpg

Yaroslava Kutsai

The same works pretty much with any situation in Iceland. Control freaks are a rare species in Iceland—the environment is too unstable and unpredictable. Notorious hálka (“flying ice”) makes everyone, whom it takes by surprise, equally crooked, red-cheeked, squinted—overall, miserable. And if you are still possessed by arrogance, the wind will take it out of you, like exorcist who expels demons. 

Icelanders learned how to utilize some of the immense forces that surround them. They extract energy, widely considered a key to the future without greenhouse gas emissions, which puts the country on the map with respect to climate change. Long-term planning is nevertheless always threatened by capricious volcanoes. To live here, one has to embrace this mode with the help of peculiar local mantra: “Þetta reddast!” (“It will all work out well!”).

Read more: 10 words and phrases in Icelandic that don’t exist in English

Icelanders’ ancestors, whose life was harsh, would take everything the nature gave them to a proverb. This is one of the reasons why there are so few trees in Iceland, but perhaps also the reason why the islanders survived without abandoning the island.

Though their condition encourages them to be opportunistic, comparing with many other prosperous societies, Icelanders don’t seem particularly rivalrous—they are at ease with each other. Since they have to deal with their restlessly creative nature, which prevails over their ambitions, there is no strong incentive for envy. For success can be regarded as phoenix: it sooner or later turns into ash and one once in a while rises from it.

The slumps and losses are shared
And Icelanders don’t dramatize this. Similarly to the triumphs and attainments, the slumps and losses are shared here. "Everyone suffers a little; no one suffers a lot,” elucidates Eric Weiner in his discovery of the happiest spots on Earth called The Geography of Bliss. Happiness in Iceland, as he titled it, is a failure. Failures can bring about inspiring awakening, shake-ups and aha-moments.

In Iceland, they know it. The default of 2008, which was the largest banking collapse in world’s history, also led to evaluation of values within the society: what had started to be taken for granted, became appreciated anew. The unexpected explosion of Eyjafjallajökull that costed the European airlines cosmic sums could become but another fiasco. However, it was so epic that eventually caused the rapid growth of tourism, which helped Iceland’s economy to recover.

Things are constantly changing. By trying to enjoy the process without fixing on the result and consequences, you comprehend the power of “Þetta reddast!”.

Yaroslava Kutsai is a journalist focusing on issues that have to do with identity and environmental justice and is currently writing her thesis on climate change as a media phenomenon. Back in her home country she started as a staff reporter in daily news program Time at 5 TV Channel, then contributed articles to the local edition of National Geographic and several national newspapers such as The Ukrainian Week and Mirror Weekly. 

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