Anxious Icelanders say honesty their chief value

Sat Nov 14, 2009 2:03pm EST
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By Omar Valdimarsson

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - Icelanders, still stunned by the collapse of their banks a year ago, chose "honesty" as their chief national value on Saturday at an experimental assembly of politicians and ordinary people to map the island's future.

Some 1,500 Icelanders, from ministers to fishermen, took part in the experiment, dubbed the National Assembly, in an attempt to define their basic values as the country of 320,000 continues to grapple with its worst-ever economic crisis.

Participants aged 18 to 80, who were randomly chosen to provide a representative sample of Icelandic society, gathered at the country's largest sports arena where they were seated nine to a table to meet, chat, and discuss values.

Finance Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson sat next to a burly fisherman at one table, while at another the minister of justice discussed family values with a small-town checkout girl.

Honesty topped the list of Icelandic values that resulted from their conversations, followed by respect, equality, justice, responsibility and compassion.

"These are people from all walks of life," said Dora, 50, an artist. "We were all pleasantly surprised to realize that we were all on the same page when it came to values."

Icelanders have been suffering from high levels of household debt, joblessness and inflation since their banking system collapsed last year, leaving the economy in tatters.

The country was forced to accept billions of dollars in aid from the International Monetary Fund and other lenders as its currency, the krona, virtually stopped trading overnight.   Continued...