JÓN BALDVIN hefur undanfarna máuði starfað sem gistiprófessor við Háskólann í TARTU í Eistlandi. Jafnframt hefur hann flutt fyrirlestra og tekið þátt í málþingum um fjármálakreppuna, orsakir hennar, afleiðingar og ólík viðbrögð stjórnvalda, einkum á Íslandi, annars staðar á Norðurlöndum og í Eystrasaltslöndum. Þann 11. apríl, s.l. flutti hann stefnuræðu á fjölþjóðlegri ráðstefnu um framtíð háskólamenntunar, séð af sjónarhóli smáþjóða. Ráðstefnan var endapunktur á stefnumótun Háskólans í TARTU til ársins 2032, þegar skólinn verður 400 ára.

ASKUR ALAS er eistnenskur blaðamaður, málvísindamaður og þýðandi íslenskra bókmennta á eistnesku. Á sumrum er hann leiðsögumaður eistneskra ferðamanna til Íslands. Hann tók eftirfarandi viðtal við Jón Baldvin, sem birtist í aprílhefti mánaðarritsins KESKUS í TALLINN, en tímaritið helgar sig listum, menningu og stjórnmálum, gjarnan út frá óhefðbundnum sjónarmiðum.

Q: What would you have done differently, if you had been in power before/after crisis?

A: I spelled it out in an interview seven month before the crash. Change the branches of the Icelandic banks abroad into subsidiaries and move their HQs to London, where 85% of their activities were based anyway. Thus the subsidiaries would have been under regulation, supervision and minimum-deposit guarantee systems of the host countries. This would not have saved Iceland from the international, financial crisis. But this would have been effective damage control. It would have saved the Central Bank of Iceland from bankruptcy and it would have saved Icelandic taxpayers a lot of money.

After the crash I would have made sure that the banks themselves would have carried the costs of their illegal loans in foreign currency, rather than their duped clients. And I would have dealt with the exorbitant claims by American hedge funds on the bankrupted banks the same way as Malaysia did, successfully, after the Asian crisis 1997 – 98, by subjecting them to a “windfall-gains” tax. You know, those speculative predators bought those claims in the aftermarket for ca. 5 cents in the dollar, after the original creditors, European banks had written them off. The hedge funds are therefore in for killing profit, wholly undeserved. After all, the nation state still retains the sovereign power of taxation. Nations (taxpayers) should not be treated merely as helpless prey to the predators of unregulated financial markets.

Q: Is there any hope the people´s constitution will be reconsidered?

A: Unfortunately not. Nations usually adopt new constitutions in the wake of wars or other major disasters. Iceland’s Crash was a manmade disaster. The new constitution was meant to lay the foundation for a new republic, the nation having learnt from her previous mistakes. The elections last year brought back to power the political parties that were mainly responsible for our ruin. Those parties admit no mistakes, recognize no responsibility and accept no guilt. Therefore they see no need for a new constitution, a new beginning.

Q: How would you explain the phenomenon of Jón Gnarr?

A You mean the stand-up comedian who is the mayor of Reykjavik? Well, he is the clown in the classical tragi-comedy. The clown was allowed to speak the truth, wasn’t he? While the king and his acolytes were consumed by their delusion of power, the clown, with impunity, simply told the truth. The king stood naked as in H.C. Andersen’s fable. Reversing the roles, crowning the clown as king and dethroning the king as a clown, has turned out to be a sort of therapy.

There is an old Icelandic saying: “hláturinn lengir lífið” – laughter makes for longevity. When do you need your sense of humor, if not when you are down and out?

And by the way: The team around him consists mostly of artists, musicians, jazz players, film makers, writers, comedians and other free-spirits. They have turned out to be, if anything, more effective at running things than the old gang. Their strength is their sincerity. If they are asked a difficult question, they answer truthfully that they don’t know – but they will try to find out. There is no pretention of power, no arrogance of the pseudo-Besserwisser. There is no bullshitting around as we are used to hear from second rate politicians.

Q. What has Estonia to learn from Iceland and vice versa?

A: Both of us have survived, despite the plagues of the past. You had to deal with – and outwit – obtrusive neighbors. We have had to deal with the forces of nature (ferocious seas and volcanic eruptions) which time and again have cut the population down to size. We seem though to have forgotten this experience in our nouveau riche stupor.

You, the Estonians, seem not to have forgotten. We can learn from you to remember – and stop whining about trivial things. Can you, Estonians, learn anything from us? If anything, it would be incorrigible optimism: “þetta reddast” – “we’ll muddle through”, somehow. The message from both of us to others is: Never give up…

Q: Are crisis hot spots in the world, like Syria and Ukraine, only a playground of the big, or do small states have any role?

A: Look at tiny Luxemburg. They give you their answer. They are ready to take care of all the ill-gotten wealth of the oligarchs of this world – for a hefty fee. Isn’t Junkers, the former PM of this shiny tax haven, offering himself as the right-wing candidate for the President of the European Union Commission? Is he likely to reject the secret funds of the oligarchs, in support of Ukraine’s independence? And by the way: Those 60, or so, tax havens around the globe, hiding ill-gotten wealth from taxes and regulation (estimated at 35 trillions dollars) – aren’t they all tiny little places?

Q: How would you describe the world in ten years?

A: It is getting warmer, the ice is receding, the sea levels are rising, innumerable species are disappearing, the forests are dying and we are continuously poisoning the high seas, the lungs of our planet. The international financial system is out of control. Unless we fix it, we are heading into crisis after crisis, at enormous social cost. In our vicinity – the High North – a new continent is emerging from under the ice sheet, revealing enormous natural resources, and making them accessible for exploitation. Will it be done in a sustainable way, under the rule of law (the Law of the Sea Convention)? Or will there be Africa-style grab for resources, leading to military conflicts and environmental degradation? I don’t know.

But I know that global trade between the Pacific and the Atlantic areas will shift to the High North. This development could make my country attractive as a major hub – a warehouse – if you like, for international trade. This will be a major challenge for small nations like my own, even more so for our neighbors in Greenland (60.000 people) in a space the size of Western Europe. This means great opportunities and perilous risks, for humans as well as the environment. Can disasters be averted? I don’t know. I will not be around to keep things under control, but you will be here. And if my dream about a Nordic-Baltic region in cooperation with the European Union will be realized, you will have a chance to influence this risky development for the better. I wish you good luck.

Q: Greatest men who have had effect on you, or you have been inspired by?

A: My grandmother, by her robust earthiness and cool sense of humor; one of my elementary school teachers, for his passionate belief in the liberating power of education; my father, for his uncompromising sense of justice; Willy Brandt – the good German – for his humane warmth and understanding of human frailty; Olov Palme for his powerful conviction, that eradication of poverty is our greatest contribution towards expanding individual freedom; and Lennart Meri, for his wit and deep sense of the resilience of cultural roots. There are many more: My wife, Bryndis, for her contagious sense of the appreciation of beauty in life and art.

Q: Favorite Saga, why this one?

A : Fóstbræðrasaga – The Saga of the Foster brothers. Why? Because the story evolves in the same environment, as I grew up in. Only a thousand years earlier. None the less, I look upon the main characters – the poet and the warrior – as my contemporaries. In the narrative, the manly virtues of physical strength and unfailing courage are glorified by a weak willed bon-vivant womanizer and a life-thirsty poet.

Halldor Kiljan Laxness, our Nobel Prize winning author, used this story in his hilariously ironic 1950s novel – Happy Warriors – on the futility of war and the virile values that lead to it. It would do Vladimir Putin a hell of a lot of good to read this stuff – that is to say, if he has any sense of humor.

When I was eight, Halldór Laxness came on a visit to my uncle´s farm, where I spent my summers, on a field study, preparing his version of the Happy warriors. My foster mother, one of those Icelandic women who know by heart all the best in Icelandic poetry and literature, received him. Normally, I ground coffee for her in the morning, while she cited literature. Those are still today the best literary seminar that I have attended. The Nobel Prize writer in spe and this old lady discussed the finest nuances of literary appreciation for hours, while I ground the coffee.

A few years ago an Italian scholar asked me to write an introduction to an Italian edition of the Saga of the Foster brothers. When I asked him why me, he told me that his wife, a descendant of the old lady of the farm, had recommended me. In all modesty I have a sneaky feeling that the old lady and my humble self, actually made a valuable contribution to a literary achievement, which merited the Nobel Prize. Without knowing it.

Q: Do you believe in elves?

A: Yes, of course. Don’t you? Our place outside of Reykjavik, is called Álfhóll – which means Elf hill. The house itself is built under a cliff, which is a typical elfin residence. The elves are our closest neighbors. When my brother-in-law was mowing the grass too closely for the elves’ privacy, he was taught a lesson: First he lost his marriage ring. Then his wife divorced him. Ten years later he got her back. He suffered his punishment, relented and has since learnt to behave.

When you drive to town, the road in one place takes a major diversion to go past another elf hill. The engineers with the road construction authority have learnt it, the hard way, to respect our invisible neighbors. The world is not as it seems to be, you know.