There’s an old joke about how many famous Belgians you can name, alluding to the concept of the country having an image problem within Europe and being perceived as a dull, bureaucratic place with few redeeming features. I’ve written about this before on my previous blog site, but I digress.
Well apart from Hergé, the cartoonist and creator of Tintin, Georges Simenon, creator of fictional detective Maigret, Django Reinhardt the jazz guitarist, Jean-Claude Van Damme the so-called actor, the Tour de France-winning cyclist Eddy Mercx, King Leopold who left a dubious colonial legacy in the Congo, Sandra Kim, winner of the 1986 Eurovision Song contest, Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, the Renaissance artist Ruebens, the 20th century artist René Magritte, pop musician Plastic Bertrand, Jean-Marc Bosman, the footballer who changed the transfer rules, tennis players Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin and the singing nun Jeanne Deckers – I’m afraid I can’t think of a single famous Belgian.
Another European country which suffers from a similar syndrome is Iceland. Although a country with a tiny population of only a few hundred thousand (ie equivalent to the population of Greater Belfast) Iceland has something of a reputation for punching above its weight. Apart from its banks’ unsuccessful attempt to buy the world, the country’s national football team recorded a famous victory over Northern Ireland – a team which also recently lost to that other great footballing superpower Albania – but of course it’s all the fault of those nasty southerners for stealing their players – as a certain blogger would have us believe.
The only famous Albanians I can think of are King Zog, the fomer communist-era premier Enver Hoxha and the nun Mother Teresa, who was actually born in what is now the Fomer Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, so techically may not count. Neverthless the Albanian authorities still saw fit to name their main airport after her. Rather ironic that a former atheist state, now nominally Muslim should hold a Christian figurehead in such high regard. One of Belfast’s two airports is named after an alcoholic wife-beater, so follow that as they say.
Iceland however despite its small population has produced many celebrated sons and daughters including the late former Mastermind presenter Magnus “I’ve started so I’ll finish” Magnusson, the pop musician Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the band Sigur Rós, the odd “Miss World”, Erik the Red, discoverer of Greenland, Eggert Magnússon the businessman and former chairman of West Ham and the Tottenham footballer Eiður Guðjohnsen.
Anyway, getting to the point of this blog – Iceland has been in the news twice during the last 12 months following two unforeseen disasters – the collapse of its banks (and by extension the whole national economy) and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which has sent a cloud of volcanic dust into the air over Europe resulting in chaos at the airports. However one wonders whether the eruption was purely natural or might if have been man-made?
Iceland was of course engaged in an obscure trade war with its not-so-near neighbour China in 1902, an event which still causes some resentment between the two countries.
There is speculation among world intelligence sources that the eruption was deliberately engineered by Icelandic geologists as an act of revenge for the Sino-Icelandic war, in the hope that the cloud of ash would eventually find its way to China.
Stranger things have happened (but not in Iceland).