Pitäisikö Islannin maksaa?

Islanti on kiipelissä. Pitäisikö sen maksaa velkansa? Vai jättää maksamatta? Helppoa ulospääsyä tilanteesta ei ole. Kirjoitin Financial Times -lehteen jutun, jossa ehdotin, että Islannin kannattaisi  kaikesta huolimatta maksaa. Samalla Hollannin ja Britannian pitäisi kohtuullistaa ehtoja.

Financial Times 12.1.2010
Dear Icelandic friends,
It is painful to observe your agony. A proud and independent nation is forced to vote in a referendum whether to pay billions of euros to the governments of the UK and the Netherlands. If you say No, your country will be seen as an unreliable partner. If you vote for the reimbursement, you will condemn your children to pay for the sins of their fathers. The national debt will balloon to roughly 200 per cent of gross domestic product – one of the highest levels in the world.
Many powerful people have told you about the dire consequences of not fulfilling your obligations. You will not be able fully to participate in the international financial system. The cost of lending will skyrocket. Your businesses will suffer. The world will turn its back on you.
But has anyone told you what good might come out of saying: “Yes, we will pay whatever it takes. We will pay even if it was our bankers who brought this crisis upon us. Even if our European friends failed us when we needed them most. Even if they used laws meant for terrorists to deal with a clean cut bankruptcy situation”? Has anyone even tried?
Let me give you an encouraging example. Finland was the only country to pay back to the US the debts incurred during the first world war. It was not easy. We gained independence in 1917 and were engulfed by a bloody civil war that cost the lives of tens of thousands of men and women. We were as dependent on wood as you are on fish. But we had sold most of our wood to other parts of the Russian empire. Now that we were independent, the Soviet Union refused to buy from us. Yet we kept making payments on our loans. I suppose we were either a little slow or nobody told us that other countries had simply forfeited. But we had signed a contract, so we kept paying.
When Stalin attacked us and the Winter War of 1939 began, we got huge amounts of support. American, British and Swiss newspapers wrote about a country that had paid back its war debts. A young boy named George Soros began to collect money for us. What good did it do that we had paid our debts? Well, nobody sent any ammunition or tanks to help us. But when it came to the postwar settlement, the image of an honest – if slightly dimwitted – Finland persisted. Despite having later joined forces with Hitler’s Germany, Finland got a better peace deal than most people outside the country expected.
Fifty years later, Finland was in a different kind of crisis. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s wiped out about 20 per cent of our foreign trade, the banking system collapsed, unemployment approached 20 per cent. The government was not at all sure that banks would continue lending to Finland but they did. Why? Because Finland was the only country that had paid back its debts from the first world war. Because Finland had never reneged on an obligation.
What is the moral here? There are two. First, paying back huge debts is possible even if you do not think so at the time. The huge debt made us look for new markets and opportunities. It forced us to be efficient. Second, you will need friends, and friends are easier to find if people have a positive impression of you.
Few countries in the world have a better public image than Iceland: an isolated island that has reached one of the highest standards of living in the world, a resourceful people known for their independence, courage and beauty. An ancient democratic culture. It would be a shame for that good image to be tarnished by a refusal to honour an obligation. It would be a shame if the European Union found an easy excuse to refuse membership to you.
I know paying the debt is a lot to ask after you have been so bitterly let down by the very countries that are your creditors now. But take my word for it: your integrity is more important than the debt to GDP ratio.

Your Nordic neighbour

PS If you decide to pay up, the British and Dutch should reciprocate by making the terms of the deal more palatable to you.

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