A demonstration held at Austurvöllur last Saturday drew some 4,000 people under a three-fold banner of some critical issues to a significant portion of Icelanders: a new constitution, the resignation of the Fishing Minister, and the collectivisation of profits generated from natural resources.
The demonstration ran under the banner of Democracy Not Plutocracy – Resources In Our Hands. Led by human rights lawyer Katrín Oddsdóttir, the event featured numerous speakers, including Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the director of the labour union Efling; Auður Anna Magnúsdóttir, the managing director of the Icelandic Environment Association; lawyer Þórður Már Jónsson and journalist Atli Þór Fanndal. This was followed by a brief set from Hatari, decked out in business suits instead of their usual BDSM gear.
The partial focus on Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson and demands for his resignation come directly from the Fishrot Files, a Wikileaks exposé which showed that Samherji, Iceland’s largest fishing company, has for years been paying bribes to Namibian officials for fishing quotas and then squirrelling away the proceeds in a shell company in a tax haven. Kristján was once on the board of Samherji, and is in fact life-long friends with its CEO Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, who has temporarily stepped down as investigations continue.
This naturally also raises long-standing criticisms of Iceland’s fishing quota system. These quotas are awarded by the government, who also decided how much to tax fishing companies. These taxes have been lowered under the current government, while the upper echelons of management find ways to move their profits out of the country. As such, these demonstrators echo the sentiments of many Icelanders; that the proceeds from selling our natural resources should go into a common fund for the benefit of all.
Fundamental to both of these issues and more is the ratification of a new constitution. Iceland’s democratic process for crafting, drafting, and then voting overwhelmingly in favour of the constitutional draft attracted global headlines when the referendum vote was cast in 2012. Since then, the draft has yet to be ratified, despite significant support for its passage.
Below you can watch a short video of the crowd near the beginning of the demonstration:
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