After a few minutes watching the speech of US political activist and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig at the Nordic House earlier this month, I felt disappointed again. It is really surprising for me. I come from a country, Catalonia and Spain, where there are protests every day against this aberrant global economic system called capitalism. It is disappointing to hear once again that Icelanders are supposed to lead a global democratic revolution, which will show the rest of the world the way, as if everyone was was lost, waiting for Icelanders to guide us, contrary to all evidence.
In the final part of Lessig’s speech, members of all the opposition parties present, and the audience in turn, felt flattered with these sugary compliments:
If the next chapter of the story would be that the opposition parties here agree to make this change fundamental [passing the constitutional draft of 2011], then that too would be an extraordinary surprising next step in the story about how democracy in Iceland had worked.
I think you need a constitution, but I don’t really argue for this because of what you need. I think we citizens of the world need an example of democracy working. And the reason we need you to do this is—and I’m sure it would make your democracy to work better—that it would make the possibility of democracy around the World seem hopeful again.
And we can take this story all around the world and say “we can learn and follow the lead that happens here.”
I’m sure these kind of messages cheer up many Icelandic activists who are working hard to convince the population of this island to support the new constitution and finally replace the old one of 1944 (inspired by a Danish constitution written at the end of 19th century). But let’s be realistic. We, the citizens of the world, don’t need any example of democracy; we know exactly what democracy is. What we need is to fight against this economic system that interferes with our public institutions and social rights. We need to fight in our countries and to join international social and political movements; not to follow the lead of a country that, even if it passes the new constitution written in the summer of 2011, will still be an outstanding example of fierce capitalism.
By listening to the words of Lessig, I get the impression that he (and by extension, we) need Iceland as a part of his (our) marketing strategy to spread around the globe this beautiful modern saga about how great democracy is in Iceland. Taking into account the absolute ignorance of world citizens about Icelandic society, culture and history, nobody will suspect anything suspicious about this fancy and lovely story that tells how common people in Iceland wrote a new constitution, crowdsourced over the internet, and changed the world. Trust me, we already have thousands of deluded Icelandophiles within social movements in the south of Europe and all around the planet; we don’t need more.
A globally known political activist comes to Iceland with a message close to “I don’t really care what your new constitution says or if it will provide a real chance to reform the current economic system. What I want is that you pass this law, and then I will make sure that this story is told all around the world by pointing out that you are extraordinary people and that we should all follow you.” My main concern is that local activists agree and feel comfortable with this idea.
I don’t want to be the one that ruins the party, but I think as independent journalists we have the important role in society of bothering everyone, with no exceptions. So, here are some facts that can really bother those who believe that Iceland is a unique place that leads a global revolution:
1. The constitutional draft of 2011 was written through a really interesting participation process that doesn’t include any article that provides Iceland with an alternative to capitalism. Participation processes guaranteed by the constitution are the most revolutionary aspect we can find in the constitutional draft of 2011, especially if we compare it with the constitution of 1944. But this aspect is not unique in the world. Countries like Switzerland, Estonia, Ireland, Greece or Ecuador, just to mention few, have been working lately on giving power of decision to citizens, more or less successfully.
2. To complete the aforementioned changes, we must admit that the Icelandic constitutional draft is not a revolutionary one. At this point it is interesting to remember articles like Article 35 of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1793: “When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people and for each portion of the people the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.” That’s a truly revolutionary article. I just wanted to share it to put the Icelandic constitutional draft in historic context.
3. Many local municipalities all around the world, with a population smaller, equal to or larger than the population of Iceland, are already experimenting with direct democracy.
4. The main pro-constitutional change party in the polls nowadays is the Pirate Party (second position after the traditional right-wing Independence Party), a political organization that admits that it is not anti-capitalist and that has members of both left and right ideological inclinations.
5. Icelanders are held up as an example, supposedly the only country in the world where bankers have been jailed and political leaders judged. Well, I can talk about Spain. The former director of the IMF, banker, Financial Minister and Vice President of the central government in Spain, Rodrigo Rato, is now facing a trial and possible sentence of four years in prison. Luis Bárcenas, treasurer of the main political party in Spain, Partido Popular, has been in jail for 19 months and is now awaiting a final verdict. I could follow with dozens of politicians and some bankers that are under judiciary investigation in Spain. But what’s clear, dear Icelanders, is that you are not the only country in the world prosecuting politicians and bankers. We must keep in mind that members of the elite spending a few months or years in a minimum security jail is not going to change any of the rules of our economic and political system.
That being said—and I really hope that nobody took what I wrote too personally—I encourage all Icelanders to believe in a better world and to stop thinking (just in case you did) that you are the leaders of any global movement; to work closely together and learn from social movements worldwide that are fighting for the same goals as you: a fully democratic system where the needs and rights of its people are, by law, more important than the demands of capital and international free markets.
Èric Lluent is a journalist based in Catalonia and the author of ‘Iceland 2013: A Story Of Deception’.