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Business Comment

Baldur Arnarson: Iceland looks for a reason to move on and rebuild

Protesters were noticeable by their absence from the public squares of Reykjavik after the release of yesterday's report. Mindful of the heated demonstrations outside Iceland's parliament in the months following the collapse of the country's three main banks in 2008, the police had prepared for the worst: fortunately, it did not materialise.

But while the streets of downtown Reykjavik were quiet, the internet was not, with bloggers such as Olafur Isleifsson, assistant professor at Reykjavik University School of Business, calling for the resignation of Bjorgvin G Sigurdsson. Mr Sigurdsson, a Social Democratic Alliance MP and a former minister of commerce, was accused by the report of having committed serious errors during his period in office. However, with so many holders of high office having already quit, the report's damning conclusion that the political class failed to prevent the meltdown will not claim as many casualties as one might expect.

Those seen as the main architects of Iceland's collapse are now ridiculed to the extent that they avoid being seen publicly on the island. But further humiliation may follow: this report will be used in criminal cases ahead. And charges are expected.

While Britain prepares for its first parliamentary elections after the credit crunch, Iceland has already seen the collapse of a centre-right government, and the sweep to power of its first left-wing government. In fact, this report may give the government a breather from the political albatross that the deeply unpopular Icesave dispute has turned out to be, overshadowing other matters of urgency.

The nine-volume, 2,300-page report is the most eagerly anticipated political investigation in the history of Iceland. As such, its results were bound to disappoint as well as to surprise.

Eighteen months after the 2008 economic collapse, the report has been regarded as a crucial step towards a new social contract, with some hoping it would rid Icelandic society of the ills that contributed to the meltdown. To compound the drama, a series of delays since November and secrecy during the investigation – the volumes were printed during weekends under the supervision of guards to prevent a leak – have added to the suspense.

The delays have not diminished the interest. Moments after the report was published online, hundreds of pre-ordered copies were handed out in Reykjavik bookstores: one bookseller said the excitement exceeded that of a Harry Potter release.

This has been more than a process of apportioning blame. Yesterday's report has reinvigorated the debate on how Iceland rebuilds its society.

Baldur Arnarson is a journalist at 'Morgunbladid', the Icelandic national newspaper