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A crazy, exhausting week

MONDAY – things are relatively calm.

TUESDAY – major protests begin. People gather in front of the parliament buildings at 1.30 pm and bang pots and pans and drums and generally make as much noise as possible in order to disrupt parliament and get MPs to listen to the people. Rather than dissipating after an hour or two, protester numbers increase as the day wears on. There are clashes with police and people are incensed, particularly as parliament’s agenda has nothing to do with the economic situation but rather includes such relative trivia as selling liquor in supermarkets and what to do about smoking areas in restaurants. By evening there are around 3,000 people in front of the building. Protesters light a fire on the street in front and throw anything they can find to burn onto it. The riot police is out. Some protesters go out of their way to provoke a reaction from the cops, throwing eggs at them, banging wooden spoons on their helmets, spitting, etc. The building, too, is pelted with food and windows are broken.

WEDNESDAY – protesters have stayed the entire night and numbers increase as the day wears on. The parliamentary session that was to begin at 10.30 is cancelled and the PM calls together the leaders of all the political parties. Later that day he announces he has no intention of calling an early election. The same scene as the previous day, only things are intensifying. The police is getting tired and protesters are getting more aggressive. In the afternoon protesters surround the PMs car at his office and pelt it with eggs. The Social Democrats call a meeting in the evening in which they pass a resolution to pull the plug on the government coalition [their leader is away, having an operation abroad]. By evening there are 2-3 fires burning on Austurvöllur square in front of the parliament building. At around midnight clashes with police grow very harsh – protesters throw rocks and heavy curbstones and two police officers are injured. A group of protesters appalled at the violence against the police form a line between the violent protesters and police, shielding police officers. Police use tear gas to disperse the crowd at around 1.30 pm.

THURSDAY – a blog publishes names, photos and addresses of various police officers and their families and urges people to go to their homes and pelt them with eggs etc.; also to post photographs of their wives and children on the web. There is a rising wave of anger at those who are engaging in violent protests, particularly against the police. Hundreds of Icelanders join the “orange movement” to show they support peaceful protests and reject violence. Protests continue outside the parliament buildings despite cold temps and gale-force winds. People bring roses and tulips to give to the police; someone brings hot chocolate and distributes equally to protesters and police officers [the officers are reportedly overwhelmed by this show of support and kindness]. There is a particularly moving interview on Kastljós with the wife of a police officer; she is angry and wants the government to stop using the police as a shield against the protesters, while refusing to talk to the people. A press release is sent out by a number of protest groups urging people to cease protesting on Friday and Saturday nights, as there are fears that drunken revelers will join in with devastating results.

FRIDAY – A meeting of the Independence Party is called at Valhöll, the IP’s headquarters. Demonstrators gather outside. A press conference is called for 12.30 where Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde declares the IP’s wish to hold elections on May 9. He also announces that he has a malignant tumor of the esophagus and that he will not be seeking re-election as head of the IP at the party’s next conference, which was to have been held at the end of this month, but which has now been postponed until March.

~~~

My initial understanding was that he was calling elections for May 9th, but as it turns out the date has not yet been fixed. However, elections will be held this spring. That’s definite. And it’s a huge relief, although the greatest worry is that there won’t be any renewal within the political parties and that all we will have is the same old people, whom nobody trusts any more. I don’t see anybody else organizing themselves to stand for election, but perhaps that will change now that this is on the table. For that reason alone I am relieved that the elections are not being held within the next two weeks, or whatever. Perhaps that will give people a chance to come forth.

As for the PM’s illness, I absolutely do not share the view that it was convenient, affording him a good excuse to step down. What’s convenient about having a life-threatening illness? Nor did I see him presenting himself as some kind of victim – on the contrary. I think he made the announcement in a very matter-of-fact manner. I do agree that his illness and the future of this country are two separate matters. He is ill and on a human level I feel for him and his family; on the other hand I think he has serious shortcomings as a leader and I don’t want him leading this country any more. I don’t know how much of an impact his illness had on his decision to agree to the elections and to me, it is irrelevant. We the people are getting at least one of our demands fulfilled and that’s fantastic.

It doesn’t mean we can just pack it in and go back to our beauty sleep, though – there will be protests tomorrow as there have been every Saturday, and I plan to attend. There is still major housecleaning that needs to be done, particularly at the Central Bank, and we still need to keep the pressure on to demand transparency and justice … did you know that a man has been appointed to conduct the massive and incredibly important investigation into the bank collapse, what happened in the days prior, etc. [so much corrupt stuff] and he was chosen because they couldn’t find anyone else that wasn’t related to someone within the banks? [He is the sheriff of fricking Akranes!] And that HE WILL NOT BE REVEALING ANY OF HIS FINDINGS until the full report is published? – People have been calling for outside investigators, for forensic accountants from abroad to come in and conduct the investigation, people who are objective and not enmeshed in the malignant spider’s web that Icelandic society is turning out to be – but no. The government has found its man. And I’m pretty damn scared that his white book will end up being nothing more than a whiteWASHING book.

IT IS STILL WINDY
Winds of change, perhaps. Hoping – and hoping they are benign. It’s mild, 4°C [39F], sunrise was at 10:34 am and sunset at 4:46 pm.

Comments

comments

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  • Gunnhildur January 24, 2009, 1:50 am

    “I absolutely do not share the view that it was convenient, affording him a good excuse to step down.”

    I haven’t heard anyone express that view. If you are referring to the interview with Hörður Torfason where he talked about a “smokebomb” it is pretty clear that he was talking about the vague promise of spring elections. I think he should have been much more tactful, but his comments have been exaggerated and taken out of context by many.

    But yes, it has been a crazy week.

  • Barry January 24, 2009, 5:02 am

    Gunnhildur – read some of the comments to Alda’s previous post “Breaking news: Elections called, PM seriously ill” – there are several which are less than tasteful …

  • Andrew January 24, 2009, 5:14 am

    Oddsson next? I think the focus of your protests should now move to the Central Bank!

  • Muriel Volestrangler January 24, 2009, 5:26 am

    I see that everyone in Iceland is competing to feel most sorry for Geir Haarde and to condemn cruel Hörður Torfason.
    Haarde and Ingibjorg Solrun looked straight into the eyes of the Icelandic public, at one of the Borgarafundir, and basically said, “I don’t care about you or what you think.” No explanations, just a big middle finger, or two-finger salute, to the Icelandic people. Haarde is a coward and a fool and a liar, and that’s a generous assessment.
    The problem with governments (like Bush and Blair) that constantly spin, plot, conceal and lie is that they turn ordinary people into conspiracy theorists. After all the lies and deceptions that have come out of this government, why shouldn’t folks smell something funny here? Maybe he just has an ulcer or polyp or benign growth. Why did the news come out the morning after it was clear that Sjalfstaedisflokkur would be pushed out, and a day or two after the riots? Isn’t that an incredible coincidence?

  • cactus zonie January 24, 2009, 6:10 am

    The parasitic bankster class has extraced so much for themselves that their “host” (western financial ponzi scheme) has been dealt a mortal blow.

    Not to mention people’s faith in banksters, wallstreet crooks, and the worst of all….THE FED. And in your case , the Althing.

    I would be very surprised (and disappointed) if a few fat white maggots are not plucked out of their fancy offices and killed by raging crowds. People are starving for justice.

    I just hope that the end result(pre-planned or not) is NOT a one world currency (Eartho?).

    If that happens the next step would be one world government. The parasitic upper classes wet dream is CONTROL and CENTRALIZATION of power. We have to try and prevent it…that is the game. It is an “us vs them” situation….and there are MANY more of us. REVOLT !!!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SvxaNQ6d7M

  • Ljósmynd DE January 24, 2009, 8:19 am

    I have read the recent statement of the PM. He reports about his illness in a very matter-of-fact manner and then adds his announcement about the desire of his party to hold national elections in spring. There is no further reason given for this desire thus implying that it is based on his health conditions. No word about the recent escalations. He makes it sound like a purely private matter when he could have mentioned the conditions of the Icelandic nation as a motive for early elections without giving away too much. The future of the country and the illness of the PM are in fact two separate matters, unfortunately they are mixed up in one statement.

    But now you have elections and I hope, you will make the best of it.

    I really welcome the support for the police and their families among the protesters. It is definitely a serious matter to call for revenge on a personal level. We have just had such an incident in Germany when a police officer was stabbed with a knife at his frontdoor by a so far unknown individual after a smear campaign on the internet. Nobody who does something like this should be so naive as not to know about his share of responsibility if something seriously happens.

  • Dave Hambidge January 24, 2009, 11:27 am

    Glad that you have elections coming soonish. Are you standing for election Alda, or EPI for that matter, or maybe AAH?

    I am very cynical about the claimed health problems. Why not disclose long before this? Yes, malignancy of the oesophagus can be a godawful way to die. But it can also be a tiny little lump easily lazered off and of no great longterm relevance.

    BTW, myyhaoo4 is piscking up the feedburn nicely.

    And finally, voting done, away to go!

    dave

  • hildigunnur January 24, 2009, 11:29 am

    I heard that the newly appointed investigator is best buddies with one Haraldur Jóhannesson, it might be just a rumour but if it’s true we’re certain to get fair results – not!

  • alda January 24, 2009, 12:21 pm

    I am surprised that the foreigners in the crowd are so cynical about the PMs health problems. Perhaps that’s just one facet of Icelandic society – this nation is still small enough to hate the sin and not the sinner, so to speak, and to care at a human level.

    I don’t agree with Geir’s policies, or conduct, or most of the ways he has conducted himself of late, but I don’t think he is essentially a bad person. He has flaws like everyone else and I am prepared to cut him some slack. I do not think this is a purely manipulative tactic on his part.

    Dave – apparently the health problems surfaced only about a week ago, and doctors confirmed that the tumor was malignant on Tuesday. It seems that on Wednesday he was already preparing to make the changes.

  • Elín January 24, 2009, 1:28 pm

    Exhausting is the word – and also emotional. I can´t help but feel for Iceland and her people, the police, Geir Haarde´s family – his children, his five children. This is probably a comment better suited for the forum – as soon as I figure out how to navigate my way through that – but after this week I feel a grief for Iceland that is very close to how I felt after 9-11 and Katrina. And also a very hopeless feeling of wanting to help but not knowing how.

  • Ægir January 24, 2009, 2:43 pm

    If interested; there are few threads on the ljosmyndakeppni.is forum with loads of pictures from the protests this week. A lot of amateurs and pro photographers showing off their work.

  • colin buchanan January 24, 2009, 2:56 pm

    This is great reporting Alda – I’ve posted it on our website:

    http://inthesenewtimes.com/2009/01/24/a-crazy-exhausting-week-a-great-report-on-unfolding-icelandic-drama/

    The events in Iceland are of global significance. Here in Britland we are watching our own future in what is happening to you, except when Britain goes it will make Iceland look like a small, remote island nation somewhere out in the Atlantic.

    We’re all in it together now.

    Best of luck to you from Scotland!

  • James January 24, 2009, 3:54 pm

    We don’t hate the sinner – we’re just more sinnical…

  • Dave Hambidge January 24, 2009, 4:57 pm

    Beautifully said James!!

    dave

  • alda January 24, 2009, 5:05 pm

    🙂

  • Ljósmynd DE January 24, 2009, 10:13 pm

    It seems to be a more general perception of the foreign press to consider the health problems of the PM as an alibi. This view is certainly promoted by timing and coincidence with said events. I wouldn’t count it for cynicism. It’s just the way the press has to interpret things by themselves as they are not used to beeing told the truth. And I can’t blame them.