From Iceland — Student Politics in Iceland

Student Politics in Iceland

Published September 5, 2011

Student Politics in Iceland

You can never have too much education, and Iceland has seven universities for only 320.000 people. Apparently, you can have too many schools; at least some people think that the seven universities that our great society maintains might be somewhat of a stretch of our “recently limited” financial resources. One of them teaches arts, two of them how to raise horses and sheep, but the other four do the typical stuff schools do.  
There is however only one active student politics scene in Iceland, and that’s in the University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands—HÍ for short). That University hosts around 15.000 students, and quite a lot of teachers and staff. There are 25 faculties and a place called Háma, where you can learn, lounge, or just eat lunch. Elections at HÍ are held February each year, and students vote through the internet, which is really cool, all technical and hip. That means that students can even vote while in Háma, or just while they are listening to their teacher. Or not listening.
There are two big political movements at HÍ, Röskva and Vaka, and they have been around for quite some time and both enjoy considerable support. Smaller parties sometimes pop up, and for the past two years a newcomer named Skrökva has arrived on the scene, with impressive results. Röskva and Vaka are both female names in Iceland, which fits well for HÍ, since women are a large majority of students, but Skrökva is a verb which means being untruthful, alluding to the deceptive nature of politics.
Röskva and Vaka have historically been connected to political parties in Iceland. Maybe not officially, but if you investigate parliament members, members of city and town councils and political youth movements, you can see a tendency of these people having been affiliated at some point with Röskva or Vaka. This does not apply to Skrökva, perhaps since it is a recent movement and they focus on abolishing the parties, they want to vote for people, not parties. Maybe a good idea. Or not.
Röskva is the left leaning movement in the university and is often associated with Samfylkingin, the Social Democratic Alliance and Vinstrihreyfingin—grænt framboð—the Left-Green Movement. Vaka defines themselves as the democratic alliance, and they are most often associated with Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn, the Independence Party, the big right-wing party in Iceland that has dominated Icelandic politics, mostly since its inception. As stated earlier, Röskva and Vaka are not officially affiliated with these political parties, but again, they share members as they share ideals.
Even though these connections are relevant, the differences between the two big movements in the University of Iceland do not mirror those of their supposed counterparts in parliament. This has to do with context and complexity. The debate is more focused; we all fight for all students. Everybody should have good housing options, fair student loans and all students should have good teachers and facilities, whether they are studying medicine or medieval studies. Essentially, everybody should be able to get education. Unequal financial situations that keep some people from attending school; this means less opportunities for individuals in our society, and makes it even less equal. That brings a truly terrible shared fate: A multitude of individuals that are less likely to maximize their potential, resulting in a less productive and happy society.
Even though the times call for a responsible debate on financial compromises (as times usually do), debate in universities by the representatives of students, as all students, should in some way break through the walls of the institution. I think the main difference between the parties is in the minds of these groups. Left/right, radical/conservative ideas that shape the way people think, work and deliver. Ideas like discrimination and yes, ideas on how to get more money for the University, thoughts on whether we should fight for our rights only inside the University or out in the public as well, and on which levels. How far are we willing to go to reach for our rights? Röskva and Vaka have roots like I said, to the left and to the right. Forty years ago, the movements at HÍ were much more radical than they are now. They debated the society that we inhabit. Why shouldn’t students say something about that? Maybe we should. Maybe we should think more about our neighbours. Take stand with students and people around the world, in Norway, China or in Libya. What do you think?
If we go back to the University of Iceland, and look into the Student Council Office, they are not writing articles on Libya, but they are working hard. The Student Council acts in the name of all students in the University, and sometimes in the name of the students in Iceland. Loan deals, housing, preschools for students’ kids, and taking care of us, the students. That’s what we are fighting for.  

Guðfinnur Sveinsson is a member of popular post-rock outfit For a Minor Reflection and he also is an active member of the abovementioned Röskva (so his op should be read with that in mind).

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