Inspired By Iceland… no, really!

Inspired By Iceland… no, really!

Published October 7, 2011

It is funny how things can turn around. For decades, Iceland languished in neoliberal hell, with signs of opposition few and far between. Meanwhile the opposition to the neoliberal order of things grew all over the world—with massive protests in Seattle, Genoa and elsewhere—and the beginnings of a world-wide anti-globalisation movement represented by the World Social Forum, first held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001. Almost nobody in Iceland did or said anything to support these powerful movements against the neoliberal order, with the exception of the brave Saving Iceland organisation. Even the considerable activism surrounding the anti-imperialist campaigns against American military presence in Iceland seemed to die completely down in around 1990. Neoliberalism reigned, Iceland supported the Iraq invasion in 2003 and nobody said or did anything.
Everything changes
In 2008, everything suddenly changed. The Icelandic banks collapsed, and out of nothing there grew an immensely powerful protest movement, leading to the collapse of the ideological hegemony of neoliberal order in Iceland. It was symbolised by the January events of 2009, when saucepans and pots were taken into use by protesters, who drummed the right wing neoliberal government out of office in the last week of January. Suddenly everyone and her brother was involved in organising some sort of protest, with many thousands turning up at rallies in the centre of town on a regular basis, and hundreds or thousands of people involved in organising alternatives to the prevailing neoliberal order.
Even the president of the country, who had been one of the cheerleaders of neoliberalism, suddenly turned into an invaluable ally of the protest movement against the financial system, enabling two national referendums on the Icesave issue. Under the leadership of Eva Joly a criminal investigation into the whole neoliberal financial scam of the nineties and noughties was organised, and a very thorough investigation on the causes of the collapse was initiated by the Icelandic parliament. There was even a Constitutional Assembly, which was meant to write a new constitution for the country.
Right wing, left wing: both neoliberals
To be sure, instead of the rightwing neoliberal government a leftwing neoliberal government ascended to power after parliamentary elections in April 2009. That was surely not the intention of the saucepan revolutionary movement, and the situation in Iceland has been tense since. An important part of the original protest movement has been paralysed, as it has seen it as its duty to defend the “left” government against what it sees as attacks organised by the right. So the most radical part of the original saucepan protesters, those who are of the opinion that the “left” government is just another neoliberal government, has found tactical allies among the right wing parties, and this alliance has had some victories, like the rejection of the Icesave treaties.
But the Icelandic protest movement against neoliberalism has been powerful enough to inspire people outside Iceland. Yes, indeed, people abroad have really been inspired by Iceland! This was first evident around the Icesave referendum on March 6, 2010. The international anti-globalisation movement followed it closely, for example the Jubilee movement, the international Attac movement and the Tax Justice Network.
Congratulations rained on Icelandic activists after the Icesave treaty was rejected, the so-called Icesave II treaty, wherein Icelandic taxpayers were supposed to pay large sums of money to the citizens of the Netherlands and the UK because of the collapse of the Icelandic bank Landsbankinn. Icelandic taxpayers refused to take responsibility for the wheelings and dealings of the international financial oligarchs, and this was widely admired by anti-neoliberal activists everywhere.
Rumours
But there was more to come. In 2010, rumours started to circulate on the Internet among activists, especially in those former provinces of the Roman Empire comprising the present day lands of Spain, Portugal and France, that there had been some sort of a quiet revolution in Iceland. This revolution was supposed to have been almost systematically shut out of the world media, in order not to present a possible model for revolution in other countries. These rumours appeared on French and Spanish websites, and at last they acquired some sort of critical mass. In December 2010 and January 2011, Attac Iceland started to receive a lot of questions about the quiet revolution in Iceland from members of Attac France and Attac Spain. Activists even started to visit Iceland to find out about the quiet revolution.
When Attac Iceland was slow to respond—and when it did it would not be ready to agree that there had been any sort of revolution in Iceland—it was pointed out by the international activists that the Icelandic banks had been nationalised, that the government had been forced from power, that the governors of the Central Bank of Iceland had been replaced, that Iceland had shown true grit by the rejection of the Icesave treaty. All of which was true, but Attac Iceland has not interpreted this as a revolution, even if it certainly can be viewed as a very powerful and successful protest movement, one of the most powerful popular responses to the collapse of the neoliberal order, and up until 2011 certainly the most powerful. And quiet it was not, as those activists who have come from Spain, Portugal and France to Iceland to investigate have found out.
Iceland as a model of revolt
Then in December 2010, Tunisia erupted in revolt. Egypt followed, and the world watched in amazement as country after country in the Arab world arose in revolution against the established order of American imperialist rule and the rule of US supported despots. There were certainly some references to the Icelandic revolt in these movements. And in May 2011 Spain erupted, with the M-15 movement and the Indignados movement forming as a powerful protest wave against the neoliberal order. Here the references to the Icelandic movement were numerous and quite visible, with public squares in Palma, Mallorca, renamed after Iceland in honour of the quiet revolution, the Icelandic flag being waved on numerous occasions and Facebook groups organised in honour of the Icelandic movement.
This was certainly a rather dramatic turnaround in the position of Iceland in relation to the neoliberal world order. Suddenly Iceland had turned from a model of the quiet, obedient neoliberal outpost, to become a model of protest movements around the world against this same neoliberalism.
The revolution that nobody wants to talk about
Then in the summer of 2011 the indignados started coming to Iceland themselves, organising TV-crews in order to document the Icelandic revolution. And, indeed, they did not find a quiet revolution: In the words of Portuguese document film maker Miguel Marques, who was here in August and extensively documented the activities of the Icelandic movement, the Icelandic revolution was anything but quiet. Another crew came from Spain and interviewed the Icelandic activists, and in October there will be a Venezuelan crew documenting Icelandic activism for the big South American TV network teleSUR.
So, for the Icelandic activists and anti-neoliberalist, the situation is a bit awkward. When finally Iceland produces something worthy of admiration of the international activist community, the activist groups in Iceland have been reluctant to admit to it being what the foreigners perceive it to be. Why is this? Why is the powerful protest movement in Iceland not lauded or presented in a positive light by the Icelandic activists? This is mostly because of the political situation in Iceland.
On one hand, the media, mostly right wing, the academics, mostly right wing or centre left neoliberals, and others of the talking and writing classes have very limited interest in promoting the Icelandic saucepan revolution. On the other hand many in the protest movement now support a neoliberal “left” government in the vain hope that it will eventually, in the distant future, maybe deliver on something of value, and this supports hinders any positive evaluation of the protest movement after the ascend of the “left” government. The radical parts of the protest movement do not have a positive evaluation of the results of the movement, exactly because the results of the parliamentary elections in April 2009 were that the neoliberal dominance in politics continued. So nobody seems interested in taking credit for the very real and positive results of the Icelandic protest movement 2008–2011.



Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Best Way To Hit 12 Bars In 12 Hours!

by

We at the Grapevine do not encourage people to drink to excess, but if you ever wanted to have 12 drinks at 12 bars in 12 hours, we’ve mapped out the best way to do that! Most bars in Reykjavík have a happy hour, and if you align them in the correct order on a Friday, you can get a dozen in a row. If you give yourself 15–20 minutes to get from place to place, we reckon you should be able to make it. You’ll need to have a friend with you though, as a few places on the

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Við Erum Best!

by

At last count, there were 326,340 people living in Iceland. That’s .0045% of the world’s population and while it isn’t really a competition, this has created a bit of an inferiority complex among some Icelanders who, as Grapevine writer Oddur Sturluson put it, “find it nothing short of scandalous that their small, unarmed country doesn’t have as much political pull as some of their larger, more powerful neighbours.” To compensate, Oddur argued, Icelanders “invented something brilliant in its simplicity and devastating in its effectiveness…The Per Capita Record.” This, he explained, is “quite simply when Iceland does something noticeable, compared to

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Ghosts Of Best-Ofs Past

by

Compiling the BEST OF REYKJAVÍK has always been, at best, a half-absurd proposition. As much as we love our city, it is a tiny one, a miniscule one. It is a city that hosts exactly two competitors for the category of ‘best Indian food’, in a country where the Prime Minister ceremoniously and reverently chomped down the first Big Mac served at the island’s first McDonald’s franchise back in ’93 (miss u, cheap cardboard hamburgers and delicious fries). Yet, compiling the BEST OF REYKJAVÍK, half-absurd as the act may be, is always a deeply satisfying endeavour. The best part is:

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Best Of The News

by

In reviewing the past year in news, you will see certain patterns emerge: certain public figures, events and topics that seem to ignite social media and office break room conversations for days, weeks or even months. Arguments are had, alliances are formed, and people are unfriended over these very stories. These are news trends that never really go away; they just change form and come back to pay repeated visits, for better or for worse. Let Grapevine take you back over the past year to savour the delectable banquet that is the very best the news has had to offer.

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Completely Unthinkable

by

As you read this, the State Prosecutor is reviewing the latest findings of a months-long police investigation of the Ministry of the Interior, over a memo on Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos that found itself in the hands of select members of the media last November. This memo impugned Tony’s reputation, with accusations— which later proved false and misleading—at a time when he was facing impending deportation, and the Ministry was facing a protest. So far, those investigations have seemingly confirmed what has long been suspected: the memo originated in the Ministry, that Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Searching For Ido

by

In the summer of 2004, exactly 10 years ago, a tragic accident happened on Laugavegur, Iceland’s most popular hiking trail. Ido Keinan, a young man from Israel, passed away after getting trapped in a vicious storm. Only one kilometre away from the hut in Hrafntinnusker, he died of exposure to the fierce elements. To this day a memorial on the Laugavegur trail reminds hikers of the highlands’ hidden dangers. Friday, June 25, 2004, Ben-Gurion airport, Tel-Aviv—Dressed in a black t-shirt and baggy jeans, Ido Keinan, 25 years of age, says goodbye to his family. He is about to take a

Show Me More!