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Reflections on Iceland and the financial crisis – Part 11
By Peter Ewart & Dawn Hemingway
Friday, November 11, 2011 03:44 AM
Part 11- Conclusion
By Peter Ewart & Dawn Hemingway
(Links to all the previous articles in this series are listed at the end of this article)
It is a true rift valley. Spectacular. Strange. Beautiful. Thingvellir national park in south-west Iceland is where the two great tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia are pulling apart at a rate of a about two centimetres a year (see above photo). Black cliffs jut high in the air, and long fissures and cracks extend up the valley, cradling deep pools of crystal clear glacial water. It is as if a giant from some ancient saga had raked his fingernails across the land.
Thingvellir is also the site of Iceland’s first parliament, the Althingi, founded a thousand years ago by Vikings who had fled tyranny in Norway. The Logberg, a large rock at the site, was the focal point for the Althingi proceedings, and, every year, Icelanders flocked there from all parts of the Island for the two weeks of the assembly. Over the centuries, the Althingi has become a symbol for the Icelandic nation and its long democratic traditions, and, today, it is recognized and prized as a world heritage site by the United Nations.
Thus, perhaps it is fitting that we end this series of articles here at this site of the first Althingi, where Icelandic politics began, and where we had a chance to visit during our trip in August of 2011.
We were only visitors to the island for a brief time, although we have been observing it from afar for a while, especially since the financial crisis pummelled the country several years ago. We have had an abiding interest in Iceland, because, like many people everywhere, we are interested in alternatives to the existing status quo, a status quo in which, whether the “experts” or media pundits admit or not, a financial oligarchy dominates and sets the agenda.
In that regard, it is important to keep in mind the adage from the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus that “truth lies at the bottom of a deep well,” and its pure water is not so easily drawn up – at least in just one visit. It is also a fact that experience or “truths” from other jurisdictions should not be simply copied or adopted willy-nilly – as each place in this wide world has its own particularity as to what works. However, with those caveats in mind, we would like to present some final observations regarding these recent Iceland struggles.
(1) Iceland stands out in this current financial crisis because its population got into action right away and did not lay down or cave in to the foreign and domestic financial oligarchy. The fact remains that if Icelanders had not stood up in the Pots & Pans rebellion and in the referenda struggles to oppose the Icesave bailout deal, they, and future generations would have been saddled with a horrendous debt to foreign creditors that would have reduced the country to the level of a vassal state. In addition, if they had not stood up, there is little doubt that the government would have cut public services much deeper in its IMF-instigated austerity program.
That being said, it is clear that the road out of this crisis will be a difficult one, and Iceland, like other countries, still has a long way to go and many obstacles ahead – there can be no sugar coating in that regard. But the important thing is – the people got into action.
(2) The organizers, in both the Pots & Pans rebellion and the referendum struggles against the Icesave bailout, set clear, achievable aims and objectives from the beginning, whether it was demanding that the Prime Minister and head of the Central bank resign, requesting that the president veto the Icesave legislation, mobilizing the population to vote “no” to the Icesave agreement, or calling for a new constitution to be drafted with the participation of the citizenry. In all of these demands, Icelanders were successful and, indeed, exceeded them in that, by the time the smoke cleared, the old government, which played a big role in precipitating the financial crisis, was thrown out of office.
(3) An important positive feature of both the Pots & Pans rebellion and the referendum struggles was that attention was paid to combining “action” with education and analysis on the issues in question. Numerous meetings were held, either within the organizing groups or with the public at large to educate participants about the political and economic issues at stake. As a result, the people’s movement was able to defeat the financial oligarchs and their political representatives on these issues not only by numbers of people, but also by force of argument.
(4) In the course of these struggles, the organizers went beyond party labels and called upon all Icelanders, irrespective of their political affiliations, to come together in taking stands on the issues facing the nation. This broad appeal was very important in mobilizing the population.
One shortcoming in these struggles, however, appears to be the lack of participation by the trade union leadership. Although many individual workers were involved, the fact that the trade union leadership tended towards passivity (or even disagreement on some issues), meant that the full weight of the labour movement, of a workers’ opposition, and all the resources that go along with that, were not exerted to the extent that they could have been. With the full strength of the Icelandic workers’ movement, it might well have been possible to elect a completely new government with a majority of representatives who took a clear stand against the neo-liberal agenda of the financial oligarchy. It would also have gone a long way to establishing a permanent extra-parliamentary worker / people’s opposition that could serve as a balance to and check upon whichever government is elected.
(5) An extremely important component of all of the recent struggles in Iceland was the issue of “Who makes the decisions on issues of national importance?” In the world today, the financial oligarchy and the supra-national agencies in its service (IMF, EU, free trade mechanisms, etc.) are insisting that they must make the decisions, thus imposing their dictate and their “solutions” on entire countries and sectors of the population, whether it be through IMF-instigated austerity programs, handouts to multinationals, or bank bailouts of various kinds.
But the Icelandic people were saying something much different. They clearly wanted to be a force that made the decisions about the IMF austerity program and the Icesave bailout, as well as the drafting and approval of a new constitution for the country. And they were looking for effective democratic mechanisms, such as referenda and other forms of direct democracy, to accomplish this.
It is becoming clearer every day that the globalist financial oligarchy is deathly afraid of the population of each country becoming the decision makers on important issues. That was shown just a few days ago, when the oligarchs and their political representatives in Europe, became outraged at the very possibility of the Greek people voting on the bank bailout and austerity program in that country. The message was clear – the financial oligarchy must decide these matters, not the people.
All of this is very important when we look now and in the future to developing an alternative to the neo-liberal agenda that is currently dominating the world. An important part of this alternative, as can be seen in the experience of Iceland and other jurisdictions, is developing new mechanisms that empower people, that renew the democratic process, that make people the decision-makers.
Like the vast tectonic plates under Iceland, two great forces are in opposition in the world today. One – the globalist financial oligarchy and its political minions – is dominant and dictatorially imposing its will everywhere. The other – which includes the vast majority of the population – is still emerging and in the process of developing clear political and economic alternatives to the neo-liberal status quo.
Icelanders have made a contribution in the current financial crisis toward developing such an alternative, and no doubt will, given their democratic traditions, make even more contributions in the future. For the rest of us in the world, that, too, is our task.
This is the final article in this series. For previous articles in series see below.
Aerial photo of Thingvellir courtesy of Visit Iceland. For further information and images of Iceland go to Visit Iceland at: www.icetourist.is and Visit Reykjavik at: www.visitreykjavik.is
Peter Ewart (•••@••.••• ) and Dawn Hemingway (•••@••.••• ) are columnists and writers based in Prince George, British Columbia.
Links to all the previous articles in this series
“Reflections on Iceland and the financial crisis”
Part 11 – Conclusion – (see above)