Published October 11, 2010
I spent part of the weekend with friends in a bar discussing the coming revolution, which now is again beginning to sound like a distinct possibility. At some point, this might have sounded like a boyhood dream. But like all boyhood dreams, the reality is not what one had hoped.
Last time around, January 2009, the demands were quite clear, despite the many groups and agendas involved. We wanted elections, a new government, former PM Davíð Oddsson to resign from the Central Bank and the head of the Financial Supervisory Authority to resign. This all came about, but somehow no one is quite happy with the results. Davíð Oddsson is now editor of Morgunblaðið, instead of subsiding off his considerable pension. And no one seems to like the new government very much. Where did it all go wrong?
COLD WAR POLITICS AGAIN
Part of the government’s problems lie in some of its successes. The first real left wing government in Icelandic history did not go in for radical social change. Instead, they went ahead with the IMF’s demands for severe welfare cuts and have been rebuilding the economy in the direction of its pre-boom/bust level. This has been painful but largely successful. The economy is starting to grow again and the depression has been far less severe than many dreaded. There is little doubt that Minister of Finance Steingrímur J. Sigfússon is very capable, which is a welcome change from the excesses of the Independence Party. All these initiatives should endear them to conservative voters, who supposedly vote with their wallets. However, to those same voters, the Left-Greens will always be a gang of communists, no matter how fiscally responsible they prove themselves to be, and the coalition Alliance Party little better.
WHY IS EVERYONE UNHAPPY?
Meanwhile, the government has managed to alienate most of the left with precisely the lack of social change that many had hoped for. Increasing GNP matters little to those on the left when there is little prospect for social justice. Many of those responsible for the collapse have had their huge debts written off, while common folks with far smaller debt face the prospect of being carried out of their houses. There has been very little restructuring of ownership of breaking up of the monopolies that led to disaster. This is probably one of the reasons why prices keep going up, even though the króna is stronger now than it has been at any time since the collapse. To make matters worse, the Social Democratic Alliance, already tarnished by its place in government along with the IP during the collapse, brazenly protected its own members from indictment by a national tribunal.
THE POINT OF THE PROTESTS
All this leads to the very Weimar-like situation of a Social-Democratic government under siege by both Left and Right. Small wonder, then, that the aim of the protests sometimes seems unclear. But the protesters still have a very good point. As the possibility for any kind of justice seems to be slipping away, the anger is not unfounded. It may even be healthier for society than complete apathy, which is likely the next stage if nothing is done.
Many people, understandably, are afraid of eviction. Others demand new elections (yearly elections were another late-Weimar staple), although it is not certain this would improve matters much. But probably everyone can agree that we really need to see those responsible for this whole mess brought to account. Without, there is really is reason to fear that all hell will break loose.