Writers for Fightback
Those following Occupy circuits, and other forums concerned with economic justice, may have heard notions of an “Icelandic revolution.” In this narrative, the Icelandic government refused IMF conditions, nationalised the banks, gave debt relief to its citizens, and ‘crowdsourced’ a constitution. With Icelandic activist Hordur Torfason soon to tour Aotearoa/NZ, this narrative is worth investigating.
There are elements of truth to this story, elements of mystification, and some lies. In reality, the Icelandic government has always accepted the terms of the IMF. However, a dispute over Icesave – a dodgy “savings” scheme that frittered away billions of dollars – caused an internal crisis over the terms of repayment. The British government demanded that the Iceland government pay back the debt in full. When the people of Iceland rebelled, the conservative president refused to sign the agreement, forcing a referendum. As Icelandic blogger Baldur Bjarnson notes:
The Icelandic governments have always accepted the terms of the Dutch and the British… The voters disagree and only get a say because the president is keen on making everybody forget that he is a bankster collaborator (http://tinyurl.com/boqxdk5).
The referendum concerned the terms of repayment, particularly interest, not the fact of repayment. Although Iceland’s internal political crisis has forced negotiation, it is not true that the government has blanket refused IMF conditions; as in Greece, Spain and elsewhere, they are negotiating. Bjarnson also notes that while the government wrote off the banks’ debts, debt relief for the people of Iceland has been more tiered and less accessible.
It’s also said that Iceland ‘crowdsourced’ a new constitution. An article entitled ‘A Deconstruction of “Iceland’s On-going Revolution,”’ on free alternative magazine the Reykyavik Grapevine, notes that the reality is more complex. Iceland held a non-binding referendum to elect a Constituent Assembly of 25 people, to write a new constitution – however when this process collapsed, 25 were ‘appointed’ to draft a new constitution.
Although the government is seeking submissions via social media, the constitution is now being written and amended by politicians and government bureaucrats. It has not been co-written by the masses, as is often implied. The Reykyavik Grapevine notes how this myth inspires those fighting austerity, dictatorship and capitalism worldwide:
As a publication we strive to practice good journalism, though we have to say that a part of us is reluctant to correct these kinds of articles, as it is nice to see citizens of other nations, like Spain and Portugal, being inspired by our story. Hope has to come from somewhere (http://tinyurl.com/3ed9ucz).
Although we certainly need inspiration, simplifying (or lying to ourselves) can be dangerous. No “peaceful revolution” has taken place in Iceland; no benevolent government foregoing debt to relieve its people; rather, the people of Iceland have forced the government to give some concessions, in a contradictory political crisis that could present opportunities for revolutionaries.