Èric Lluent explains the Iceland Illusion
Èric Lluent is a journalist from Barcelona, Spain who recently published a book, ‘Iceland 2013: A Story Of Deception,’ about the illusion and the reality of the Pots and Pans Revolution of late 2008 and early 2009 and its aftermath. Èric, who first came to Iceland in 2008, believed at first in the “Icelandic Miracle” of grassrooots democratic change. However, in talking to Icelanders, he learned that the myth and the reality of Iceland’s “revolution” were two very different things. The Grapevine caught up with Èric to get him to expand upon some of the major points brought up in his book.
We in Iceland are often perplexed by some of the claims made in the international media about what did, or did not, happen in Iceland from late 2008 to early 2009. What sorts of misconceptions have there been in Spain about the post-crash protests and their aftermath?
In Spain, a lot of people think that all of the bankers responsible for the collapse are in jail. They also believe that you have a new constitution and that your economy is doing really well. But the funniest thing is that people in Spain think that Icelandic taxpayers didn’t spend one króna to bail out the banks. I really can’t understand that. You bailed out your Central Bank with $2.7 billion USD as is well explained in the book ‘Bringing Down The Banking System’ by Guðrún Johnsen, and that is equivalent to more than $8,000 USD per Icelander in just one month. That is something like five times what it cost per capita to bail out our banks.
What do you think precipitated these myths? What or who keeps them going?
Almost everybody in Iceland feels okay with these myths. I know there are some individuals who don’t, but there is a group of people that doesn’t care about what the foreign media is reporting about Iceland. There are also people in power (bankers, businessmen, politicians) who feel really comfortable with these myths. This is because, as your Prime Minister has been explaining abroad, Iceland has learnt its lesson and is now the best country to invest in. Finally, there are the people who think that if there are people abroad trusting these myths, that it can be a factor of pressure over the national government. If these myths fit well with the strategies of most of the Icelanders, why would anybody want to explain it better?
In your experiences in this country, do you think there is a willingness amongst Icelanders to rid their country of corruption, or do you think we’ve just sort of chosen to grudgingly accept it as a part of our daily lives?
I think that after the collapse of 2008, some Icelanders started to realise that daily “normal” corruption, which is part of Icelandic culture, is not a good thing when it comes to politics or business. You should realise that it’s actually very dangerous to mix the interests of family or close friends with important national issues like, say, banking. I’ve heard three different opinions about it. The first one is something like, “Here there is no corruption. Corruption is when you try to bribe a police officer to get rid of a traffic fine.” The second one says something like, “OK, we have corruption, but this is normal for a country of just 320,000 people, so everybody gets something.” And the third one thinks that Icelanders shouldn’t justify in any way any dose of corruption, especially in the public administration. I hope this last group of people starts to grow because I believe the main goal for our democracies is transparency and no corruption at all.
In what way did Spanish activists try to emulate the Icelandic model of activism? What successes or failures have their been where that’s concerned?
We have a lot of experience with activism against power in Spain, so actually maybe Icelanders could learn from us, but there are not many things that Iceland can teach social movements in Spain. We both try to change things in the best way we know. Your failed constitutional process is interesting for us, to learn how power can destroy a great project like yours. Also, it is interesting for us to know how your revolution was, but it is a big mistake for Spanish activists to believe that we should follow the Icelandic model. Our countries are so different and we can’t compare how to fight against the system here and there. It is true that during the protests of the spring of 2011 in Spain there were people holding Icelandic flags. For me, that doesn’t make sense. My conclusion is that some activists in Spain took Iceland as the perfect land and created a fictional place on which to project all their dreams. It’s the only explanation I find when I think about how capitalist your country is and how incredibly revolutionary it is supposed to be for these Spaniards that blindly trust in you.
Where do you see Iceland being in ten years, where the political system is concerned?
I see a country with lots of problems with tourism (believe me, I’m from Barcelona and I know what I’m talking about), with huge economic crises again and again if you let the political parties now in power and the old bankers repeat the privatization process of the banks in the same dark way they did at the end of the ’90s and the beginning of this century. Be aware of this process. The future of your country depends on it and it is going to happen in the next two or three years. You should also understand that you live in a unique land. Please take care of it and don’t let the “progress” destroy your treasure. Without your land, Iceland is not going to be Iceland anymore.