From Iceland — The Trouble With Sustainable Outrage

The Trouble With Sustainable Outrage

Published March 18, 2015

The Trouble With Sustainable Outrage
Nanna Árnadóttir
Photo by
Jón Benediktsson/NÁ

The trouble with staying angry enough to drive change is that it’s exhausting and you bore everyone. If you don’t believe me, just ask a social worker.

Last week, when Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson informed the EU via a letter that Iceland was withdrawing its application an outcry was inevitable, but what about sustaining momentum?

Sure, when the economy tanked in 2008 and the extent of the fraud and corruption in Iceland was revealed, people protested in front of parliament for months before the government relented. But that revolution was fuelled by a previously unseen amount of rage – something far easier to come by when you have nothing left to lose.

Following the pots and pans revolution in 2008-2009, Iceland’s post-meltdown government lead by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir took over. After securing majority approval in parliament, Iceland applied for EU membership.

Last year, the Progressive Party and Independence Party who now make up the ruling coalition attempted to secure majority approval for a bill withdrawing said EU application. They failed.

So last week, they bypassed parliament and dropped the EU bid without securing majority approval or delivering their promised national referendum on the issue.

See what they did there? They promised they wouldn’t do something, tried to do it by following the rules, then when that failed they just did it anyway and said – too late no takesies backesies.

A lot of readers from abroad look at the 7.000 people strong protest from this weekend and think it’s about whether or not Iceland wants to join the EU. But it’s not – those in favour of EU membership are growing but still a minority in Iceland.

Nothing is ever given to anyone where politics is concerned. Icelanders weren’t given independence, they had to claim it, Icelandic women weren’t given the right to vote, they had to fight for it.

The ruling coalition was entrusted with hard-won Icelandic democracy, made promises to safeguard it, swore to put accession talks up for national referendum and then… they didn’t.

That’s why Icelanders were mad last weekend, not strictly because of the EU, but what the government’s actions represented.

The thing is, we sell ourselves as a persevering people on a hostile and barely hospitable rock in the middle of fucking nowhere. We don’t take shortcuts, we are frank, and we keep our word to each other because without that everything falls apart like in 2008.

These are the values Icelanders are raised with and that’s why people protested the government dropping the EU bid. Because the way they went about it felt dishonourable and because it’s not what was agreed upon.

As with people all over the world, Icelanders have to push for every inch in politics and once we’ve gained ground we’re forced into constant vigilance because it is much easier to dismantle progress and freedom than make it.

But it’s a grind, this paying attention all the time. There are kids to feed, YouTube videos to laugh at, dogs to be walked, regular lives to be lived.

And this is, I suspect, what the Icelandic government is relying on.

The grind, our tiredness, apathy’s overwhelming sex appeal, hell even the weather. Who wants to stand outside parliament and protest for months in a country that has had a snow storm on average every three days this winter?

If the government stick to their guns for just long enough, maybe people will run out of steaming get bored and go home. It’s cold out anyway.

The current ruling coalition won’t give the Icelandic people a referendum, they won’t give the parliament the vote that it wants, these are stakes that need to be claimed and they require that perseverance we were talking about earlier.

Only time will tell if Icelanders still have the momentum and anger we used to.

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Enough. Stop. Now.

Enough. Stop. Now.


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