Icelanders are soon to be offered an opportunity to express themselves actively on political questions and exert influence on the political system under which they live. On he 12th of May national elections are to be held and the voter will be presented with a chance to mark the ballot in favour of one of Iceland’s six political parties. For many, this is the time of absurdity and nonsense. For others, it is the time of hope and a great promise – the promise of change.
Officially, all Icelandic political parties share a common vision of a pluralistic and liberal democracy, and thus, one might assume that their differences are of emphasis rather than fundamentals. This naïve assumption, however, fall short of explaining why most official political debates are in a constant state of chaotic uproar, and why all that can be heard from most candidates are hysterical outbursts of impotent rage – outbursts from men who take themselves too seriously.
There is not much that can be written of the man who takes himself too seriously, except maybe this: He takes himself too seriously. Through all his slogan-chanting, he forgets that a large group of voters is long tired of the Independenceand Progressive-Party government, which has reigned over this island for the past twelve years. Seldom has difference of political opinion been as evident as the nation stands divided in two large blocs; some see the dream of capitalism par excellence realised under the current government, while others perceive a madhouse in which every political-cupboard is bursting with skeletons.
War and honesty
In March 2003 Icelandic authorities declared Iceland’s support for the US-led invasion of Iraq. The decision was made unilaterally by Davíð Oddsson (then prime minister and leader of the Independence Party) and Halldór Ágrímsson (then foreign minister and leader of the Progressive Party). It was met by strong protest from all opposition parties and various humanitarian organisations; the decision was made without the mandatory prior discussion with Iceland’s Parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and crucial evidence was withheld from the public.
Politicians and policy-makers who pander to the prejudices of their allies at the expense of analytical honesty are described by political scientists as ‘hired guns’ or ‘beltway bandits’ – but when they deliberately alter facts to justify warfare they are, quite simply, called ‘war-mongers’; Today, when Iraq has officially been declared a failed state – when over half a million innocent lives have been lost – when it is as clear as daylight that the invasion was founded on a pack of lies, former and current leaders of the Progressive- and Independence-Party, for some reason, still refuse to admit they were wrong by granting this catastrophe an Icelandic blessing.
As the philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, points out, this can lead to serious political miscalculations: Not only does the war-monger have a dubious past (he has supported and promoted human slaughtering), he is also not prepared to confront his past and evades crucial questions concerning it. His argument is spoken in the political tongue ‘designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’. In short, his basic feature is a refusal to self-recognition. Is a man who is unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions morally mature enough to be trusted with executive or legislative power? – At least Oedipus had the decency to rip out his eyes after realising the horrors of his deeds.
The paradox of heavy industry
Democracy is a word many politicians use but few seem to understand. Thus far, the Icelandic government has not hesitated to use a methodology of personal threats and professional harassment against individuals who oppose its heavy industry policies. A new-born reserve-force of 250 policemen – which is at the disposal of the Minister of Justice, Björn Bjarnason – will undoubtedly make these tactics even more frequently employed.
The heavy industry policy is epitomised by the Kárahnjúkar dam project, which is designed to provide hydro-electric power for an enormous aluminium smelter owned by the US multinational corporation Alcoa. But this project is only the commencement of a much greater devastation. Despite fierce local and international opposition, plans to build even more aluminium smelters, for example in Helguvík, Þorlákshöfn and Húsavík, are on the agenda for the coming year. The smelters are to be powered by constructing new mega-dams which would, yet again, flood large areas of unique wilderness. In short, the plan is to obliterate Europe’s largest enduring wilderness for the benefits of heavy industry.
Even though a monumental number of Icelanders has marched in protest of these plans the government is unwilling to change its policy. Only two political parties have publicly stated that they want to halt further heavy industry projects until the year 2012; the Left-Green Movement and The Iceland Movement want to pass legislation which will protect nature before further projects to harness energy for industry are undertaken.
In the past, man looked on heavy industry as a sign of technical progress and economic prosperity, and exploited the areas of land he thought necessary to exploit with a clear conscience; but in the age of global climate change, environmental destruction is considered an abomination and we engage in this abomination more than ever. Is this not paradoxical behaviour?
Farewell to welfare?
This government stands accused of seeking to cut back womb-totomb security for workers and the jobless, for pensioners, the sick and the disabled. The once gradually expanding social-safety net which was one of Iceland’s proudest achievements has started to shrink while corporate power expands relentlessly in a seed-bed of privatisation. As the gap between rich and poor steadily widens we are led further away from the Scandinavian welfare-model and more emphasis than ever is put on corporate interest.
The Independence Party’s policy (Sjálfstæðisstefnan) states, in the strongest terms possible, that maintaining a strong welfare system in a social-democratic fashion is not on the agenda: ‘The way of the social-democratic parties (as they like to call themselves) crosses one hidden path after another. When one looks closely, these paths lead away from the democratic road of freedom. Surely, these paths are not all as steep and winding, but the result of following them will always be the same. Freedom, initiative and vigour drift away and when the end is reached the straitjacket will be the genuine national dress.’ Obviously, there is no room for compromise.
On May 12 Icelandic voters have the power to decide Iceland’s national characteristic: Should Iceland be a dark aluminiumsmelting workshop of warmongers, or a peaceful haven of sublime environmental splendour? You’d better decide for yourselves.