Iceland is a microcosm of Scandinavia (if it isn’t Scandinavia encapsulated) — prosperous, resilient, self-sufficient, and socialist. It has a small population that is happy and, perhaps, bored because life there is stable and predictable. This is probably the reason why its government is looking for a larger purpose that befits its people’s wealth — which is why it is championing “human rights” and projecting this advocacy far beyond its borders and into a region that regards the notion with a grain of salt.
That’s fair enough, of course. When one is at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, one can’t help looking for a pet project to keep one on their toes — like participating in an advocacy that supposedly “helps” the “less fortunate”. Perhaps, to the average Icelandic voter, the Philippines is like one of those stray dogs one rescues from being euthanised at a dog pound — an abstract notion that is made an object of “charity” to feed a very human need for self-actualisation.
One too needs to understand the average Filipino’s regard for Iceland. This is a people who, famously, don’t get satire and live on a noontime diet of slapstick humour fed by their Big Corporate Media entertainers. Thus, it is not surprising that President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Icelanders eat ice” joke resonates strongly amongst the Filipino masses. It is because Iceland is named Iceland. To the literal Filipino mind, it is a land of ice. In a land of ice, people eat ice, as the thinking goes.
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Duterte is therefore a political genius of sorts. In a country that connects the dots in these ways, asserting that Icelandic people “eat ice” makes political sense. It wins votes. Now that is the pair of dots the strategists of the Philippines’ discredited Opposition need to learn how to connect.
Scandinavian character, after all, is of a nature that flies way above Filipinos’ Catholic dogma-addled heads. Scandinavians are liberal in the true sense — secular, open, exploratory, profoundly sexually adventurous, and very trusting of their public servants. They are the anti-thesis of everything that is Filipino — religious, closed, insular and clanish, sexually-repressed, and contemptuous of their public servants. A Scandinavian coming to the Philippines for the first time would be bewildered by how primitive the society is just as an ordinary Filipino plunked in the middle of Reykjavik would be astounded by how much one could do and be.
The more important key feature that separates the truly progressive from the hopelessly backward society is one most young travellers would know at heart and always frame as an important question: Is it a safe place for a lone female traveller to visit? The Philippines is so extreme that even male Western travellers would give that question a long pause before attempting an answer.
Why is all this relevant to the latest brouhaha surrounding the Icelandic-led campaign to sick the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the Philippines “human rights” record? Simple. Iceland and the Philippines sit on polar opposites of our specie’s spectrum of human development. Thus, Icelandic people judging the Philippine situation from a Scandinavian lens and acting on that judgement is as much a recipe for misguided policy as ordinary Filipinos wondering about the local cuisine of a tiny Nordic island state on the other side of the planet.
This also illustrates the flaw in the Opposition political strategy of deferring to the Far West for guidance on how to win elections in the Far East. Seen under this light, it is easy to see why the Duterte administration has so far been successful in the popularity contests that comprise the Philippines’ democratic practice. He looks no further than the southeast Asian region for validation. Iceland is as irrelevant to Filipinos as heating oil and snowplows.
Icelandic people and most Western Europeans think like a fish swimming in water made of “human rights” molecules. Filipinos, on the other hand, think of “human rights” like a glass of water — essential for life but not really that big a showstopper if deprived of in small quantities. Pegging hopes on seizing power on a campaign to uphold “human rights” initiated by a society that takes the notion for granted is a recipe for another Opposition disaster at the polls. Opposition strategists should take heed.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.