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A rundown of the Assembly results

I’ve been going through the results from yesterday’s National Assembly and am well and truly inspired by what I see. Granted, all the work needed to implement these things still remains, and there are not many concrete suggestions — but the vision is there, and there are many of us who consider that vitally important. It puts things into words that perhaps many of us have vague ideas about, but may not take the time to sit down and define in the hustle-and-bustle of our daily lives. Gives us some sort of perspective of what we would like our society to look like in the future – which of course was precisely the point. Roadmaps are all good and fine, but if you don’t know what your final destination is, they’re not really all that useful.

I have to say that I’m proud of my fellow citizens for the civil action that has been undertaken since the meltdown last year. First we had the Saturday afternoon demonstrations [which initially were met with precisely the same disdain in some circles that you see towards yesterday’s National Assembly – but in the end, of course, almost everyone wanted to own a part of them], we had the civic action meetings on Monday nights, we had the Kitchenware Revolution, and now we have the National Assembly. Which incidentally differs from the rest in that people are attempting to lift themselves above the endless bickering, anger and negativity and to approach the reconstruction of this society in a proactive, unified manner. I will go so far as to say that, even if nothing else comes out of this, it has given this society a sense of momentum and hope, and a chance to think about what we DO want, as opposed to always focusing on what we DON’T want.

Here are some of the main results from each of the categories discussed:

EDUCATION
Equal access to education, irrespective of income or social circumstances | Emphasis on financial literacy and how society functions | Emphasis on ethics in education | added regard for practical and vocational training | an educational system where individuals can thrive

FAMILY
Guaranteed housing for families | flexible and balanced working hours | a community that recognizes that the family is the cornerstone of society | access to extracurricular activities to be guaranteed in the same way that basic education is | respect for senior citizens | targeted measures against bullying and other abuse | a community that supports the bridging of the age gap | 12-month maternity leave

WELFARE
Strong welfare system utilizing proactive preventative measures | equal access to health care, irrespective of income or social circumstances | strong social safety net for young and old | personal home-care for seniors | support for minorities | improved support for youngsters with drug-related issues | free dental care

ECONOMY
Sustainable use of our own resources and green energy | more support for innovation | diversity in the economy | protection of fishing grounds| fair distribution of fishing rights and fisheries management | improved business ethics | use of resources for the good of the Icelandic nation | strong knowledge-based society instead of reliance on heavy industry | research and innovation to create strong alternative industries | support for small businesses and agriculture | processing of raw materials domestically | adjustment of public policy to support hothouse farming and changes to quota system

ENVIRONMENT
Formulate non-partisan comprehensive policy with emphasis on sustainable utilization, nature conservation and education | transparent utilization of natural resources | Iceland to be leading in sustainable utilization of energy | eco-friendly public transport | nature and resources owned by the Icelandic nation! | be the first country to power all cars and ships with green, domestic energy

SUSTAINABILITY
Sustainable use of all resources | independent in energy needs | increase education & training to reduce reliance on imported energy | sensible use of resources to benefit all Icelandic residents | formulate realistic plan for efficient and sustainable use of resources | temporary tax breaks to boost use of green energy | sustainability and consumer ethics taught in schools | long-term benefits for subsequent generations

OPPORTUNITIES
For Iceland to become a model of peace and tolerance | optimistic, powerful, independent nation and well-run society | participation in international community while retaining ownership of resources | Iceland’s wealth lies in culture and arts | Iceland as part of the EU | more transparency and new constitution | take responsibility and learn from experiences | stand unified guided by optimism, integrity and hope | independent democracy, outside the EU | non-biased discussion about EU membership | a stable currency and free media | emphasis on innovation and creativity

EQUALITY
Communal responsibility | honest welfare society with equal rights irrespective of gender or location | respect for human rights and rights of children | equal opportunity and wages for all | community free of prejudice and bias | equal treatment of individual debtors and professional investors | Iceland should be one constituency where votes have equal weight | freedom of expression and gender equality | everyone equal before the law

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
Transparency [this word was in just about every suggestion handed in] | democratic administration that is free of corruption resulting from strong monitoring and judicial system | public referendum on the EU | responsibility of public servants | no selling of public resources or taxing of future generations | real democracy and more election forms | constitution created by the people | strong judicial system and monitoring of public bodies | ethical public servants who protect the nation’s natural resources!! | simplification and greater efficiency | stricter penalties for sex offenders | genuine division of power between executive, judicial and legislative branches

So there we have it!

And just to conclude, a few pics taken at the Assembly yesterday:

The hall in Laugardalshöll

Looking down the rows of tables. Each table had a white balloon marked with a number.

Ants at work

At the two far tables were the industrious ants who processed all the results. At the front, the press people.

The first results

The first results, up on a screen.

Eygló

Eygló, one of the chosen 1,500.

Looking across the hall

Looking across the assembly.

Delivering the results

Delivering the results to the boxes. Finance Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon looking rather grim.

Dishing out the Icelandic lamb soup

Dishing out the Icelandic lamb soup at the end.

AND FINALLY, SOME WEATHER
It’s been miserable today, sad to say. It was freezing, and the wind picked up as the day went on, with some pretty malicious gusts. The worst kind of Icelandic weather IMHO. It’s currently 3°C [37F], sunrise was at 9.54 am, sunset at 4.27 pm.

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  • idunn November 15, 2009, 10:48 pm

    Absolutely fantastic!

    All the suggestions you mentioned, particularly transparency, sound good to me. Really, if realized, the type of country I would love to live within.

    I noticed some of the comments on this affair were somewhat cynical, perhaps realistic, or at least a due caution. What they do surely suggest is that little will come of this wonderful idea and meeting unless diligently followed up on. Many of the powers that be are probably counting on that. But as you also suggested, pots and pans sometimes nevertheless do materialize.

    All in all, quite positive. This event should provide many with something to reflect upon, to hope for, and works towards.

  • Tom Harper November 15, 2009, 10:50 pm

    I’ve said it over and over again, but this has really been an amazing democratic experiment. Looking at the results, it seems like there are some clearly well-support ideals and even some specific goals and suggestions. It think it’s nice to see all of this articulated so clearly instead of, as you said, just a vague feeling that Icelanders have. The more self-aware you are as a society, the more empowered you will be.

    Interestingly, though, it seems that the one thing people on is that no one agrees on one decision about EU membership, yet. I will be VERY interested to see how Iceland moves forward in that respect.

    Also, I tried going to thjodfundur.is, but it seems to be down now. Have the results been posted elsewhere (it’s no problem if they’re in Icelandic).

  • Allan November 15, 2009, 10:53 pm

    I think I want to move to Iceland. Love the vision. Could even get used to the weather, I think. But what I really want to know more about is lamb soup! It sounds delicious.

  • James November 16, 2009, 3:14 am

    Good to read the summary. Interesting to see so many topics covered in one day!

    However, one topic that doesn’t seem to have been covered is citizens’ preferences for the government borrowing and revenue collection aspects of fiscal policy. This would contain important points: preferences for progressive vs regressive taxation, sales taxes, local taxes, property taxes, inheritance taxes, etc; ie the preferences for how to pay for the costly items on the wish list…

  • jim November 16, 2009, 5:12 am

    Agree, all good . All very good.
    would also like to know more about the lamb soup

  • John Hopkins November 16, 2009, 5:31 am

    Definitely not interested in casting dispersions on this event. Any face-to-face engagement of a community, especially in this way (where there could easily be conflicts arising around each table — the basic risk of facing an unknown Other — rather than clustering with people who share your same views) — this is the starting point for a civil society.

    Probably the biggest obstacle has not been mentioned here, and that is the increasing irrelevance of the nation-state as an autonomous social unit. The independence that Iceland thinks of as being a national characteristic is as much the historical fact of physical isolation as the present disinterest of The Global Market towards the country now-a-days. That contemporary disinterest is not however complete. Iceland is merely one small segment of that market, with demographic differences that are completely passed over by that Market. As long as that small segment consumes of The Market, everything will be okay. If the Market senses trouble, Iceland is toast, in no time. There is no such thing as independence in the Global Market. Especially for developed-world consumers.

    I think the meeting missed exploring the ramifications of the contemporary world and the market forces that Iceland is completely subject to. Positioning the nation-state in regard to these forces is far more important than positioning it from a moral, social, or even political point-of-view. The cost of ignoring those trans-national economic/power forces is a defacto and complete lack of autonomy. (Sometimes occurring within a bizarre illusion where people think they are free when they are chattel slaves to the Market…) (Michael Moore’s film on Capitalism makes a cursory look at some of these powers)

  • Carl Mosconi November 16, 2009, 9:42 am

    I assume that nepotism is covered by the word “transparency” in the Public Administration category.

  • James November 16, 2009, 10:41 am

    Carl – From what I’ve read/heard, the nepotism was already transparent before the crash. Strong and explicit anti-nepotism rules (such as those in American investment banks) are required to prevent nepotism, rather than merely monitor it. But I doubt that such strong rules could be practical in a small relatively-isolated country such as Iceland; some nepotism is inevitable.

    Note that the UK is currently introducing rules to prevent MPs from employing their partners and children at tax-payers expense. The recent expenses scandal made most if that ridiculous nepotism transparent to voters, but only new explicit rules will stop it in future.

  • Paul H November 16, 2009, 11:43 am

    Wow.
    Thanks for the rundown on the results, Alda.
    Bold and ambitious.
    If any country had a chance of achieving these goals it would have to be Iceland.

  • Peter - London November 16, 2009, 12:46 pm

    “no selling of public resources or taxing of future generations ”

    Hmm, interesting.

    So, in effect, no Governmental borrowing or management of national assets for the good of the nation? Anything unused has to stay that way for eternity?
    Where will the resources for the ‘SUSTAINABILITY’ want list come from?

    Its all very well having a wish list but I suspect that there is little chance Iceland will be able to afford such lofty goals in the next 20years as your dear politicians have already blown it.

  • alda November 16, 2009, 12:48 pm

    Thanks, all!

    Tom – thjodfundur.is is something different – the official page is http://www.thjodfundur2009.is and the future vision results are here: http://www.thjodfundur2009.is/nidurstodur/framtidarsyn-themu.

    As for the lamb soup, you can’t get much more traditional Icelandic than that. There’s a recipe here: http://icecook.blogspot.com/2006/01/kjtspa-traditional-icelandic-lamb.html.

  • Joerg November 16, 2009, 3:24 pm

    This sounds very good. I wonder, who is going to pay for the more expensive things on the wish list. But anyway, there seems to be a broad consensus on the importance of ethics and transparency in many fields, which is a prerequisit for a real new beginning.

    As Iceland can’t be part of the EU and outside of it at the same time, my interpretation of the results, listed in the Opportunities category, is, that some people are for, others against EU membership but there should be an open discussion – without fear mongering – and, finally, a public referendum. Let’s see, how this is going to be in reality.

  • Stan Hirson November 16, 2009, 4:22 pm

    I notice that there was no self-examination. Lots of values and goals to strive for, but no discussion of what it is like now. For example, transparency was recognized as very important. But, from my experience in trying to collaborate with Icelanders as a foreigner, the klíka was the biggest barrier. Yet the klíka is usually transparent and membership is known. It produces a cronyism and nepotism that everyone knows about and goes along with. It has been like that for centuries as part of the clan culture.

  • Silvia Planchett November 16, 2009, 5:40 pm

    Absolutely spot-on Stan. I think this is what Carl was trying to get across. Cronyism and nepotism are definitely not in short supply in Iceland but neither of these words are variations of same appear in the categories. Hard to deal with in a country with a limited population but has to be duly addressed if progress is to be made.

  • alda November 16, 2009, 5:46 pm

    Personally I think cronyism and nepotism are covered by ‘transparency’ – that was mentioned in virtually every sentence in the Public Administration category. Make no mistake: most Icelanders would like nothing more than to see cronyism uprooted.

  • Alexander E. November 16, 2009, 6:29 pm

    Re: weather
    Very strange – but at least first half of the day the weather was near perfect
    http://forums.icelandweatherreport.com/viewtopic.php?p=1116#p1116
    At least I didn´t notice anything wrong in 1.5 hour riding bike.

    Re: Assembly
    I noticed that “national” was skipped in the headline. Why so, Alda?
    For the rest – I’m just speechless. Don’t get me wrong, folk, cause the only thing I can wright at the moment – LOL.
    If anyone interested why – I could explain … but not at the moment 🙁

  • Silvia Planchett November 16, 2009, 7:26 pm

    You can be transparent by claiming that your brother-in-law was hired to assist you in the administration of your country due because he is educated but if his education and expertise is in a totally different discipline then that which is required for the job then that is nepotism not transparency!

  • Alexander E. November 17, 2009, 3:48 am

    But what I really want to know more about is lamb soup!

    2 Allan and jim – try lambalundir instead! 😉

    UPD to my “LOL” comment…
    I’m really disappointed. Although I believe that those behind the Assembly had the best intentions – I also recall “Hell is paved with good intentions” proverb. And it’s not just a feeling – it’s a personal experience.

  • torsten November 17, 2009, 11:03 am

    Congratulation to this experiment in direct democracy.

    There are two points I’d like to make: The small one is, that most of the pictures taken and most of the information gathered at the þjóðfundar are classically copyrighted. I wanted to show some of the pics in my blog, I wanted to cite some passages from blogs that write about the event, but just can’t for copyright reasons and this is paradox. If events like this one are aimed to produce ideas what good is it if those ideas can’t spread? So please: If you have taken pics, could you publish them under one of the CC-licences?

    (Background of my sorrow is a fealt increase of sending costly cease and desist letters among fellow bloggers and journalists)

    The other point that just came to my mind: I remember such events as þjóðfundar from school. It was called “Demokratie in der Schule” (Democracy in school) and it worked like this: The first day in school after summer holidays the teacher in our class asked us what we would like to learn and discuss about in school this year and we put our ideas with big letters on coloured papers that were later on clustered by topic and sticked on to a flipchart, so that everybody could see it. From next day on most of the topics what were taught and discussed were from the curriculum and not from our pool of ideas.

    So I wonder if and how icelanders will manage to find spaces to realize their ideas.

  • alda November 17, 2009, 11:17 am

    torsten – I’m sure you’re free to use the material, just link back to the original source. At least you’re free to use my pics and other materials, please just link back to the original.

  • Sara Björnsdóttir November 17, 2009, 11:49 am

    A random pick of a whole nation like this is rare. What happened that day was that all the people who attended gave their time and thought for what they would like the future to be in Iceland. The future not the now. But the future is build on the past and the now and that shone through, no one wants to make the same mistakes again. Every voice had a strong meaning that day and the creative energy there was enormous. Even if the outcome is something that we have all heard before, we heard it even better, it is a fact that this is what most people want, not a dream. I thank all the generous people who attended the meeting and the people who let their crazy idea of organising it letting it come true.

  • torsten November 17, 2009, 12:01 pm

    Alda, Thanks a lot.

  • Júlíka November 19, 2009, 7:32 pm

    I had been wondering why I couldn’t find anything about the assembly in German media, but now, finally: http://www.zeit.de/2009/48/WOS-Island?page=all

  • Deidre November 25, 2009, 4:13 am

    Wow how forward thinking, I love the welfare and environment stuff. That is awesome.