We are publishing this article, by Mimir Kristjánsson of the Red Party in Norway about the spectacular referendum victory in Iceland, which rejected the Icelandic government’s proposals to bail out the bankers. Brown and Darling had used the new antiterrorist laws to force the Icelandic government to comply with their demands. The Icelandic people decided instead to join the new ‘arc of resistance’, which now extends from the North Atlantic to Greece in the Mediterranean.
After the referendum victory in Iceland
More than 90% of Icelanders voted ‘No’ to the Icesave Agreement. But the crushing blow for the government is unlikely to cause major changes. There is simply no other political option in Iceland.
62% of Icelanders turned up to vote down the Icesave Agreement, despite the fact that the government encouraged people to stay at home. 93.5% of those voting voted against the agreement. Only 1.78 % voted ‘Yes’.
“I am very pleased. Now we can begin. The referendum means that we have a better starting point to negotiate further with the Dutch and the English. This sends a clear message to the world that the people will not pay the bills of private banks”, said Margret Tryggvadottir, an Icelandic MP for Hreyfingen (movement).
Do not wish new elections
This small party was founded after the crisis struck. Tryggvadottir is one of four representatives who were elected to parliament for the party at the elections in June.
“We are actually a group of punks. We are radical, but neither right- wing nor left-wing. Hreyfingin was founded by ordinary people in their thirties who were made bankrupt by the crisis and wanted change” she says.
The referendum has also triggered a debate about the government’s future. But the opposition, who were in power when the banks behaved at their worst, are not anxious to hold elections now. Neither is Hreyfingin.
What will happen in Icelandic politics now?
“It’s hard to say. There is a strong desire for change, yet at the same time people don’t want new elections now. So really everything is on hold”.
Bjarni Gudbjornson, who represents Attac (the international campaign to introduce the Tobin Tax on global financial transactions) in Iceland, said the poll is a devastating verdict on the government.
“You must remember that both the prime minister and finance minister came out before the vote and said that they would sit at home. Nevertheless more than 60% turned up. It is a blow to the government”, he says.
There is disappointment with the Left Greens who now sit in government and have been one of the driving forces for the Icesave Agreement. There’s particularly disappointed with party leader and finance minister Steingrímur Sigfússon.
“The question everyone in Iceland now asks themselves is: What’s wrong Steingrímur? Just a year ago he was one of the most hard-hitting opposition politicians here, now he has slipped into the role of pushing for the IMF and Icesave, he says. There is now speculation about whether or not the Left Greens will split after one of its ministers in the cabinet resigned as a result of the Icesave referendum. If this happens it will be a big blow to the government. But Gudbjornson does not believe there will be a change of government. He points to the fact that protest party, Hreyfingin, have also split.
“Originally it was the Borgarahreyfingarinnar (Citizen’s Movement) who stood for election in June. But already after a few months the party split and three of four MPs went into the newly established Hreyfingin. It is perhaps the most tragic thing that has happened to the work for change here in Iceland.
Parliament of the streets
That there is a desire for change was demonstrated when more than a thousand people in Reykjavik took to the streets under the slogan Althingi götunna (parliament of the streets). It is clear that it’s not only the traditional left which is crying out for change. Although some of the protesters carried banners against capitalism and for revolution in Iceland, the procession was dominated by more nationalistic slogans, with the Icelandic flag and their singing of the old national songs.
Also at the results meeting there was a mixed crowd who turned up to celebrate the Icelander’s ‘No’ vote. Small businessmen, Sigurdur, who has had his business ruined by the economic crisis, is the leader of the right-leaning Progressive Party. But there are also representatives from the traditional left such as the carpenter, Thorvaldur Thorvaldsson.
“The government is not more popular today than it was yesterday – put it that way. Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdadottir, previously worked as a flight attendant. Maybe she can return to the job”, he says in broken Norwegian.
Thorvaldsson is nevertheless not sure whether the government should resign.
“The question is not whether the government stays or goes, but what it might be replaced by. If it’s the opposition who led us into this crisis then that is nothing to be desired”.
Thorvaldsson is a member of the group Red Forum, which is one of ten organisations behind Saturday’s huge demonstration. They want a change of system.
“We must also take qualitative steps here in Iceland. It is not sufficient just to show dissatisfaction with the government and the agreements they draw up, one must also have the will to change the current system”, he says.