From Iceland — Two Days That Shall Live in Infamy

Two Days That Shall Live in Infamy

Published August 6, 2004

Icelandic Peace Activists Honour the Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Two Days That Shall Live in Infamy

Icelandic Peace Activists Honour the Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

“The Cold War had a real effect on the mentalities of Icelanders about the dangers of the nuclear arms race and even with the Cold War over, the threat continues. The US was testing nuclear weapons as recently as last May and tensions between them and North Korea have brought us close to the brink. Just because the Cold War is over doesn’t mean any of those missiles have gone away.”

When asked what floating candles on Tjörnin does to counter this, she replied: “It’s a gesture which encourages people to wake up, to think more about this. We need to start shifting our idea of importance from jobs which are based on making money, to jobs which are based on creating stronger educational and social systems. Such a shift requires a change in our sense of values. The importance is in believing that this can be done – any act, no matter how small, can make a change for the better.”

I mentioned that it seemed like a lot more young people in Iceland were getting involved politically than there were even just a few years ago. “It’s become kind of a trend to be politically aware,” she says. “There are people asking questions, criticizing the government, and there was no one thing that created this change. It was more of an accumulation. But it’s a small country and change spreads fast. Plus, we have it pretty good here. I don’t want to sound superior to anyone else of course, but with the quality of life we have here, you should have time to know what’s going on in the world and try to do something about it. That’s why so many of these groups have been created. We help each other out, too; participate in each other’s events, lend a hand with fundraising. There’s a lot of solidarity.”

At the same time, she indicated that there’s still a long way to go: “Voters end up voting for the very people who are against their wishes because they’re confused a lot of the time – they have to choose between lower taxes and more social benefits and usually choose the former. The protest aspect needs to be stronger, too. There are so many laws that people are furious about, that they get very angry talking about with their friends over coffee, yet so few actually do something about it. Of course I don’t want people to get hurt, but I do wish they would express publicly the anger which they express privately. I think a lot of them could be afraid of hurting their employment prospects. So much of your carreer in this country is based on knowing someone and culturally, people here are generally afraid of those who express themselves too loudly.”

Still, her faith in Icelanders becoming more politically active persists. “When I first got involved politically, many of my friends agreed with me and encouraged me. They got involved, too. It’s this combination of informing and encouraging others which gets the momentum going. Even people who say they have no opinions are taking a political position. There is no such thing as a non-political person.”

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