“This so-called social media has transformed our democratic institutions in such a way that what takes place in more traditional institutions of power—congress, minis-tries, even the White House…has become almost a sideshow.”
—Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland in an interview with CNN
If anything’s for sale here in Iceland, you can be sure its president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, is already flogging it. As part of the ‘Inspired by Iceland’ marketing initiative, everyone is invited to visit Ólafur at Bessastaðir to enjoy conversation and traditional Icelandic pancakes with strawberry jam and cream the way his grandma made them.
This invitation is readily available on Vimeo to all who dare to come.
Aside from pancakes, Ólafur waxes lyrical on all manner of subjects. Current favourites include the future of Iceland’s geothermal energy in the scheme of future global economics, how the Chinese government is more of a friend to Iceland than the US and Europe, how Iceland is growing its high-tech industries and setting itself up to be a global leader, and—in the same breath—how the Icelandic nation’s Facebook and Twitter pages have fundamentally changed the face of Icelandic politics; how social media is setting out to become The Voice Of The People rather than the local representatives they elect to their ‘democratic’ government.
At the recent PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, USA, Ólafur took home the gold medal. His lecture won him a standing ovation from his American audience. In fact, TreeHugger.com commented that, “[after Ragnar’s speech] attendees took to Twitter to wonder if Grímsson might have been born on a U.S. Navy base in Iceland—and therefore eligible to run for political office in the United States.”
The World According to Ólafur is—well, coming up. Iceland, he says, has taken account of its mistakes. In fact, as he was recently quoted by CNN as saying, “…former [Icelandic] bankers [have] found new jobs in other industries that are, on the whole, more helpful for the country.”
That is, rather than being called to face the judicial process.
“We are coming out of this crisis earlier and more effectively that I think anyone, including ourselves, could have expected,” Ólafur says. “Iceland is now serving as an example of how you can get out of a very deep financial and economic crisis.”
According to Ólafur, either way you look at it, Iceland has—through ingenuity and the IMF’s careful planning—manoeuvred its way out of the tidal wave. Unlike other countries, Iceland did not bail out the banks. As very recently stated by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman in the New York Times, “Iceland’s very desperation made conven-tional behaviour impossible, freeing the nation to break the rules. When everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. Where everyone else was fixated on trying to placate international investors, Iceland imposed temporary controls on movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.”
Spending cuts are apparently not the answer. In the light of ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ Greece and Portugal, Iceland, no doubt, looks like a serious candidate for an economic poster child, and Ólafur is rightly capitalising on that candidacy. In his CNN interview, he says, “I chose the will of the people over the force of the market.”
I know, it sounds like something out of Lenin’s ‘The State and the Revolution.’
The Financial Times is optimistic, but a trifle more guarded: “Although [in Iceland] there is cause for optimism, a note of caution should be sounded. Recent events in Europe, in Greece in particular, have cast the Icelandic recovery in a certain fashion that is in danger of obscuring the country’s true plight.”
What is that true plight? I’m sure every Icelander would love to know—especially when clutching an egg ready to be hurled at any member of the Alþingi.
And then, with CNN, Ólafur starts to get really interesting. What has fundamentally changed the world, he waxes, what drives peoples’ movements today is social media. Today normal people are starting to make a change in the way governments work.
Tell that to the 13 Chinese citizens who have Facebook or Twitter accounts. (The Chinese Communist Party strictly monitors social [not socialist] networks.)
Meanwhile, do note that even if Ólafur cannot solve Iceland’s—or even the world’s ‘democratic’ problems (economic, environmental, or otherwise)—he’s talking the talk. Either way, feel free to drop by his house to luxuriate at a warm hearth, hear him spouting forth reams of geothermal wisdom, and for Óðin’s sake, try his homema-de pancakes just like grandma made them way back when.