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Why is nobody talking about Iceland (the country)?

After enduring a torrid few years of financial meltdown and volcanic eruption, an Icelandic revolution has put the country back on an even keel and into the hands of the people. This is big news, so why is it being largely ignored?

For the last couple of years the corporate media of the West have been howling about the world changing importance of two key sets of events: The ongoing financial crisis and the related austerity drives across Europe, and the revolutionary upheavals taking place in the Middle East and Africa under the moniker of the Arab Spring.

The message that is being distilled from these two stories seems to be clear. Firstly, that we all are in some way collectively responsible for the current economic maelstrom and therefore all have to stand in front of the man waving the fish and take one for the team. Secondly, there is nothing we can do about this because (as our friends in the Middle East have demonstrated) change only comes through violence and the kind of sacrifice that we are frankly unwilling to get off the sofa for.

You could be forgiven, then, for expecting the media to take a direct interest in a process that has been bubbling away quietly for the last couple of years that directly challenges the above narrative. You could be forgiven, my friend, but you would also be wrong. The events taking in place in Iceland (the country, not the shop) have barely registered in the worlds newspapers.

So what exactly has been going on over there in the home of Bjork?

A recent history of Iceland

The good times of the mid-2000s were very good for Iceland. With a population of 320,000 there was really no way that the country should have been one most well off countries on the planet. But as with everywhere, this growth was largely fuelled by an equal growth in debt, which had reached a staggering peak of 900% of the country’s GNP by 2007!

So when the great financial crisis of 2008 erupted and the liquidity of the global credit markets evaporated in the sun, Iceland was left in a particularly precarious position. Pretty soon the three main Icelandic banks (landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir) had gone under and had to be nationalised by the government in order to survive, a move which saw the Kroner lose 85% of its value against the Euro in a few months.

By the end of the year Iceland had declared itself bankrupt and its position looked pretty desolate.

But out of the ashes… and all that jazz. It is from this lowest of points that the people of Iceland came together to apply a good dollop of people power to their wounds and to emerge much healthier than ever. But the process would not be an easy one.

Back in 2009, the country was dazed and confused. The prime minister, Geir Haarde, began by negotiating a further multi-million dollar loan in order to finance the country’s huge debts, but the international community had other plans. The European Union wanted to take over the country’s debt while the IMF called for drastic austerity.

At this point regular country-wide protests began, building in number and ferocity until the government was forced to resign and elections were brought forward. The government that was elected immediately gave in to the international financiers, promising that each Icelandic citizen would pay the equivalent of $130 a month for 15 years (at 5.5% interest).

The Althing in Iceland

The Althing, where Iceland’s parliament meet. Image by sillygwailo

A few moments of brilliance

As the international pressure on Iceland grew (including a British threat to freeze all Icelander savings and checking accounts), the population continued to make their discontent known in the loudest possible fashion; an Icelandic revolution erupted.

This discontent eventually lead to a referendum on whether the country should repay its debts, a proposition which 93% of the population didn’t support. The IMF immediately froze all loans to the country, but at this point that was way down on the population’s agenda.  With the help of Interpol, the former heads of the banks that were responsible were arrested and imprisoned and then Iceland decided it needed a new constitution to safeguard it against the power of international finance.

This new constitution was drafted by 522 adult members of the population. There were no selection criteria other the fact that you had to be recommended by at least 30 people. As a true embodiment of the digital age, the constitution was written on the internet, with the meetings streamed and other citizens free to leave comments and suggestions. This new constitution will form the centrepiece of the next round of elections.

A bit of good news for once?

So in the end the people of Iceland seemed to have come together and rescued themselves from the grim fate that has befallen Greece and Spain, and in the process have given the rest of the world a powerful and positive lesson on how to react to crisis.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear about this kind of thing on the news for once?

Featured article image by aromano

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