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As the canyon widens between the government and the people

Have just spent the evening in the company of three investigative journalists from Norway, having dinner in a restaurant next to the parliament buildings.

The protests have continued today and this evening. Demonstrators surrounded the car of the Prime Minister and pelted it with eggs and skyr. They were in front of the parliament buildings today and this evening, save for a short break when they all trekked up to the National Theatre where the Social Democratic Party was holding a meeting. By the time we finished dinner, around 11 pm, they were back at the parliament building and had lit a fire. Around the back demonstrators were trying to force their way into the building and the riot police had formed a wall and were forcing them back.

PM Geir H. Haarde announced today that he had no intention of calling an early election. [What are they waiting for? Greece-style rioting? Torched and overturned cars? Burning buildings?] Meanwhile, the word is that the Social Democrats are looking for a good enough reason to pull the plug on the coalition and are hoping that the Independence Party will refuse to agree to enter into talks with the EU, which would give them the reason they need. The IP is holding its party congress this coming weekend where this will be the main issue on the agenda. So we shall see.

I’ve got lots more to say, a handful of salicious details I heard this evening … but alas, it is late and it’s time to turn in for the night. More later!

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  • RK in Los Angeles January 22, 2009, 1:08 am

    They just used tear gas on people at Austurvöllur around 12.30 AM! Jesus! A lot of people are saying that the Police is using way too much force.

    Stay safe Alda. Have a good nights rest and keep up the good work.

  • Jon January 22, 2009, 1:13 am

    It certainly appears as though something is going to have to change or be forced to. Either way progress needs to be made. Maybe the WHOLE government is not asleep at the wheel and something drastic is soon to happen. Let’s hope no one gets seriously hurt.

  • James January 22, 2009, 1:40 am

    Well, if the police escalate with tear gas, the protestors will undoubtedly respond with serious violence – that’s almost inevitable. The Greece-style rioting may not be far away…

  • GB January 22, 2009, 3:07 am

    OK, so what is the point of the demonstrations? Just to trash things and wreck things? Who has what organised to replace what is trashed? Where is what supposed to come from? The demonstrations look like kids doing tantrums because they can’t buy toys anymore. What is whatever they replace with supposed to do to fix things? Britain is melting down, too, so is everywhere else. Is Iceland responsible for those, do the demonstrators think? or is there a bigger pattern and they don’t notice because the don[‘t think?

    Let’s do a what-if: What if the demonstrators break into parliament and kill everybody in there in the present government. Then what? What do they, or you, have to replace them with? Isn’t replacing the whole lot what is being demanded? How are you going to make better, and with who?

    And when you have everything all screwed up, who’s going to come to your rescue?

  • Andrew January 22, 2009, 4:09 am

    The British media is taking note of what is now happening in Iceland:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/iceland/4308669/Protesters-pelt-car-of-Icelandic-prime-minister.html

    Protesters pelt car of Icelandic prime minister
    Violent street protesters tried to attack Iceland’s prime minister, but were shoved away by bodyguards before they could reach his official limousine.
    By Bruno Waterfield
    21 Jan 2009

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/22/iceland-protests-recession

    Iceland’s coalition struggles to survive protests
    • PM’s car pelted with eggs as debt-hit economy sinks
    • Demonstration estimated to be biggest since 1949
    * Valur Gunnarsson in Reykjavik
    * The Guardian, Thursday 22 January 2009

    There is now a worry here that the UK is heading the same way. The “joke” doing the rounds is that London should be renamed Reykjavik-on-Thames!

  • Barry January 22, 2009, 5:24 am

    GB – if asked, the French would probably answer that it worked for them over 200 years ago …

  • Tony Lesen January 22, 2009, 5:27 am

    For goodness sake, the East Germans got rid of a far more despotic regime in 1989 peacefully – you have to wonder, how much more will Icelanders take from these “leaders” before they really go into the streets to get rid of the cabal running the country? Sad, sad, sad…

  • Ljósmynd DE January 22, 2009, 7:02 am

    This government seems to develop some Mugabe-style attitudes when it comes to stubbornly clinging to power without providing any perspective for the country and its people. What are they going to do with the protests, if they decide not to listen? A curfew for under-age persons? Special Forces patrolling the streets? This sounds so ridiculous for Reykjavik. But after having dumped more than one generation into the morass of debt, I assume, that it doesn’t need much for the protests to spark off along with more violence imminent.

    Why do the Social Democrats need a pretence for pulling the plug. Isn’t the current situation already providing enough reason?

  • Dean January 22, 2009, 7:12 am

    They will send in the HJ (Haarde-Jugend) to hang on to power for as long as possible.

  • Muriel Volestrangler January 22, 2009, 7:26 am

    It seems everyone was waiting for someone to do something. Well, finally, somebody — the protesters — did something. This gives the Social Democrats an excuse to drop out of the current coalition and form a new one. (I doubt that the cowards in the Social Democrats would have done anything unless pushed a little.) Once it’s clear that there will be elections in April-May, then it’s game over for Sjalfstaedisflokkur. No one will want to cooperate with them and the Social Democrats will try to put as much distance as possible from them and act as if they never knew them.
    The question I have, maybe someone can answer it, is if the present coalition breaks up now, does that mean that the new coalition takes over right away and if so can they dump Oddson, Arni Mathiesen, Bjorn Bjarnason and the rest of the clowns?
    A new coalition with the Social Democrats in charge is not the best solution, with the troll Ingrid “You Are Not the People” Solrun as Prime Minister or in some other senior position (though maybe the party will use her health problems as an excuse to dump her). But it’s better than the present intolerable situation.

  • Steve January 22, 2009, 8:46 am

    >The Greece-style rioting may not be far away…

    There’s a lot of history of armed struggle/resistance over there (not that I’m saying it’s all been “noble”). There’s little to none in Iceland.

    Iceland is also a smaller and more spread out community. Big cities have much less of a sense of communal responsibility.

    Still, the economic situation is much worse (at least when looked at from the peak to trough movement), so you may be right.

  • Andrew January 22, 2009, 9:20 am

    As a distraction from all the doom and gloom, here’s a nice story involving Iceland. 🙂 Read the whole story, it’s really heartwarming. The Sun is a tabloid paper with xenophobic tendencies, which makes its report more remarkable.

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2156921.ece

    Iceland warms up our OAPs

    “HARD up British pensioners are being helped to keep warm by bankrupt Iceland. Despite the fact that their country has run out of money kind Icelanders didn’t hesitate when asked to aid our old folks. They have donated a container full of jumpers, socks and blankets which is being shipped over to Britain. The Icelanders were shocked when they heard how badly looked after our pensioners are in the winter.”
    “So when Icelandic DJ Heimir Karlsson launched a ‘Icelandic Wool to England’ (Islensk Ull til Englands) campaign the donations flooded in. Their campaign started after Icelander, Njall Hardarson, now living in Manchester, phoned the station to tell them how badly OAPs in Britain suffer in the cold weather.”

  • hildigunnur January 22, 2009, 9:47 am

    GB, the people ‘running’ the government are so incredibly inept that to randomly pick someone from the phone book could hardly be worse than what we’ve got now.

  • Antipholus Papps January 22, 2009, 9:58 am

    Greetings from England – I wish you every success in bringing your government to account. You put us to shame. Britain is now a fascist dictatorship, and yet we do nothing over here but shrug our shoulders and ignore all historical precedents. All power to you.

    Iceland is the most beautiful place I have ever visited.

  • Steve January 22, 2009, 10:09 am

    hildigunnur. Oh, but they could. Take a complex economic and (domestic) political crisis and throw in just anybody? If that’s the plan then the kreppa is going to be a long one.

  • Ljósmynd DE January 22, 2009, 10:32 am

    Are there any plans discussed e.g. among the attendees of the citizen meetings to form a party or political alliance of their own in order to participate in the next elections? As all of the parties currently in parliament seem to have failed more or less, this could certainly mark a new beginning. As I read from your interviews, there are excellent experts available with ideas and opinions. What is needed here seems to be a willingness to engage politically. But it should be a strong incentive that it has proved so disastrous to entrust the power into the hands of a small clique without proper supervision.

  • Guðmundur January 22, 2009, 10:49 am

    GB:

    OK, so what is the point of the demonstrations?
    Make the politicians listen. Peaceful (or, rather, tranquil) demonstrations week after week have yielded nothing. So noisy demonstrations are the next logical step.

    Just to trash things and wreck things?
    No. Actually, there has not been much of trashing and wrecking. Surprisingly little, actually. And no looting, no breaking windows of stores, no bystanders hurt by demonstrators. It’s been as peaceful as it possibly could have.

    The demonstrations look like kids doing tantrums because they can’t buy toys anymore.
    Well, more like people who can’t get a job, are afraid of loosing their jobs, their homes, see an uncertain future, don’t have a clue about what the government is doing, because the government wont tell. It basically looks like the government itself doesn’t have a clue and wont tell to cover up their cluelessness. And people are starting to believe that, even people from the parties in government.

    What is whatever they replace with supposed to do to fix things?
    Democracy is hard. Democracy is messy and takes time. This is not like running some corporation top down in an efficient way. What most people want is for the government to resign, a new temporary government put in place without the participation of the parliament. This new government should have to role to inivestigate what happened (preferrably with foreign forensic accountants. Balthasar Garzón would be my choice to head such an investigation), form what here is called “Stjórnlagaþing” (not sure of the english term. Anyone?) to form a new constitution where the legislative and executive branch is clearly seperated (which it is not now) and call for a referendum in a year or so and then elections on the basis of a new constitution. The reason the parliament shouldn’t participate in the temporary government is the political party system is in upheaval. We need new people with new ideas, but that will take time to form. The next 1-2 years will be f***ed up here, so it’s either shut up and be f***ed by the rich and the powerful or try to give voice to our grievances and f*** ourselves. I myself prefer the latter.

    Britain is melting down, too, so is everywhere else. Is Iceland responsible for those, do the demonstrators think? or is there a bigger pattern and they don’t notice because the don[’t think?
    I haven’t got a clue as to what you are talking about. Care to elaborate?

    Let’s do a what-if: What if the demonstrators break into parliament and kill everybody in there in the present government. Then what?
    Why do a what-if? No one has tried to break into the parliament, not even the most violent.

    And when you have everything all screwed up, who’s going to come to your rescue?
    Why should anyone rescue us? Why should we want to be rescued?

  • alda January 22, 2009, 10:59 am

    Guðmundur for president!

  • Rachael January 22, 2009, 11:38 am

    Yes I noticed the Iceland protests have made the front page of the Guardian’s website today. And they’re reported on the BBC News website too… word is definitely spreading. This is still the place to get the most detailed, up to date information on what’s happening in Iceland, so I will stay tuned!

  • wally January 22, 2009, 11:48 am

    Guðmundur,
    you took the words right out my mouth. This is exactly the reason I am so sleep deprived from protesting. You rock!!!

  • James January 22, 2009, 11:59 am

    It’s been as peaceful as it possibly could have
    …apart from police officers being seriously injured and at least a couple of them being ambulanced to hospital. If the police were just doing their job of protecting state buildings, then hospitalising them will surely alienate many moderate protestors/supporters and only strengthen the government position. It will be so much easier for the government to publicly denigrate the violence than the political message behind the protests…

  • Guðmundur January 22, 2009, 12:12 pm

    James, you’re right, apparently things got out of hand after midnight last night. But don’t forget: this happened after the police shot teargas at the crowd, apparently without warning. And what I think is more important: a large part of the demonstrators formed a human shield between the police and those throwing rocks, stopping any further action on their part. And those throwing rocks were not the “usual” protestors but people that came late to the “party”, had had too much to drink and were looking for some action (according to the people that were there).

  • Vikingisson January 22, 2009, 12:15 pm

    GB, I don’t think you have a clue to what is going on. I’ll say no more about that.

    Ljósmynd, exactly, I keep asking myself what are they saying besides no new elections. Why doesn’t the government talk to the people about what their plans are? Even if they tell us lies (likely) but give the people something. Analysis, reports, blame, and begging for dollars is not a plan.

    Are they waiting for the serious violence or the inevitable accident to use as excuse and diversion? It is very shameful how silent it is behind the brown doors. Don’t fall into their trap so they can make the people appear more shameful than they are. But don’t ease off on the pressure.

  • Michelle in NZ January 22, 2009, 12:30 pm

    Oh Alda, what a, well, shit awful situation is continuing in your once Niceland.

    The best I think you can do, to spread the information world wide, is to keep protesting yet keep yourself safe. That way your words and thoughts can be spread far.

    And folks in far away places (like me in NZ) can spread the information about just what is happening in Iceland. Hmm my anti vilent physical reactions is any way self would really like to apply my actual boot to those “head in the sand – I’m an Ostrich” bods in your political places.

    Here is a laugh for you. English is my first and only language. Since joining the blogger community I find myself checking the spelling of words often. And most especially when I comment on the blogs of those wonderous people where English is their own 2nd, 3rd or 4th+ language. Your English is heaps better than mine.

    Take care, so appreciate the updates you’re sharing with us. 1.30am on the 23rd of January is okay over here. Hope the rest of your January is an okay time too. Huggles, Michelle in NZ

  • alda January 22, 2009, 12:35 pm

    While I welcome the pressure that is being applied, I am appalled at the violence against the police, especially the latest: that a blog has posted pictures and addresses of police officers and is urging people to go to their homes to cause havoc. The police absolutely do not deserve that kind of treatment. Beneath the uniform they are normal citizens of this country who are trying to do their jobs the best they can – although I realize there are exceptions and that excessive force may have been used by individual officers.

    The Norwegians I was with last night spoke with a police officer yesterday – who did not know they were press. He said that he could sympathize with the protesters – that he, too, had friends and family who had lost jobs and had mixed-currency loans, and he could understand their anger.

    I think all things considered the police as a whole have not been excessively brutal. The Norwegians were astonished that they had not reacted more severely – in Norway (they said) the police would have taken much harsher measures against people throwing eggs or skyr at them, or banging on their helmets with wooden spoons.

    Protests are necessary, and I can understand the escalation of anger (we’ve been very well-behaved for several months now and the authorities have turned a blind eye and deaf ear!) but I say leave the cops alone. They’re underpaid, overworked, and have a job to do.

  • Dave Hambidge January 22, 2009, 12:46 pm

    The police will have to obey their legitimate authority, until they have had enough and stand back from the protesters and let them get on with it. This has brought the revolutions about in numerous places, and maintained hardline regimes such as Burma when the police ‘stayed loyal’.

    Many thanks for keeping us uptodate; keep an eye on your own back though, your profile abroad will not be liked by some.

    dave

  • tj January 22, 2009, 1:35 pm

    Amazing turn of events. I think Hildigunnur is correct, a randomly chosen government would be better than what you have there now, or what we have here in Florida, USA.

    Amateurs might at least try to do a good job. The people who are so smart, the experts from the political parties are so compromised.

    The principle qualification of Florida politicians is that they wear clothes and walk around. In some degree Florida real estate issues contributed to the global financial mess that effects Iceland. They stood by here while prices and risk assessments for banks and funds left reality.

    Iceland’s leaders just went along with what appeared normal without thinking carefully. They should just resign and go home and have some soup. They could spare everyone the turmoil and just go home.

    While in the USA we have a new elected President, they vast sea of political characters and business leaders is unchanged. They should also just go play golf or have some soup just resign and let new people try.

    I seriously doubt that names picked out of a hat could have done worse.

  • Steve January 22, 2009, 2:15 pm

    >James, you’re right, apparently things got out of hand after midnight last night. But don’t forget: this happened after the police shot teargas at the crowd, apparently without warning.

    Not the sequence of events given over at Iceland Review. Not saying that you’re wrong, but one of you is 🙂 :

    “You could here some of the officers begging the kids to stop. But the crowd was having far too much fun now. Kids lit firecrackers and threw them at the police, then some homemade bombs. Finally, some people picked up the massive flagstones lining the square and hurled them at the police.

    When the stones crashed down on the police, the crowd would cheer. Some of the protesters tried to stop those throwing the stones, but there were too many of them. Finally, the riot squad shot tear gas in the crowd and they dispersed. I don’t blame them one bit. ”

    http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_life/?cat_id=16568&ew_0_a_id=318747

  • Guðmundur January 22, 2009, 2:21 pm

    I’ll be the first to admit it if I’m wrong, I may well be as I was not there and didn’t see it with my own eyes. This was my understanding after reading several blogs and webpages. So, don’t take my word for it.

  • Stan January 22, 2009, 3:35 pm

    I am really impressed with the quality of the comments IWR has stimulated. Til hamingju all around! However, I am disappointed that this blogging software makes them unnecessarily fleeting. Threads and ideas cannot build on one another because once a new article comes out the comments roll under in chronological “order” and become archives.

    Alda, your role of the blogger has changed since the Kreppa and the IWR is becoming, whether you will it or not, “media”. Is there some way you could add a forum to IWR — without much trouble — so that comments could interact with each other rather than be determined by the topic?

    In other words, web logging software, while useful for daily observations of life, is constraining the current content and, I dare say, the needed mission of IWR.

    It’s great and I want to encourage everyone!

  • eiríkur January 22, 2009, 4:42 pm

    Hi Alda.
    I strongly object to the comment that the Social Democrats are “looking for an excuse” to leave the Goverment. We do not need an excuse. I was at the party meeting of the Reykjavík sectiona yesterday where it was unaimously resolve that the goverment should immediatly resign and call for an election as soon as possible.
    And today support for that resolution has been flowing in from section of the party from all around the country.
    So there may still be Social Democratic Ministers in Goverment, and there may be that thr Social Democratic MPs still will not vote the Goverment down, but the Social Democtic party no longer supports the Goverment. And the sooner our party leaders understand that, the better for everyone

  • alda January 22, 2009, 4:53 pm

    Eiríkur – cool. I’m delighted to hear that. My ‘looking for an excuse’ comment was only in response to what I heard reported in ‘Spegillinn’ yesterday.

  • Stan January 22, 2009, 6:12 pm

    Er… I take my last comment back… I just got the notice that you have added forums through Facebook…

  • Joonas January 22, 2009, 6:24 pm

    Great blog! It’s good to read about developments up there, as there’s seldom any news on Icelandic matters on Finnish media.. either recently because of the ecnomic crisis, or in general.

    What I wonder is whether trade unions have been involved in the developments in any way..?

    Personally I find the telephone book democracy concept much more appealing than the normal 4 year dictatorship that professional policians get after every election.. power to the people!!

  • Karen January 22, 2009, 8:23 pm

    This recent spate of escalating protests got me searching for this quote….

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make
    violent revolution inevitable.”
    John Fitzgerald Kennedy

    Perhaps your leaders need to be reminded?

  • Andrew January 23, 2009, 1:20 am

    Do you think the cancellation of Kompas means that censorship is beginning?

    http://newsfrettir.com/?p=2164

  • Craig January 23, 2009, 9:34 am

    As someone who witnessed the protests and riots in Greece the similarities between the situation here and there in Iceland are remarkable. The gap between those in power who seem to believe they are above the law and those who have to pay for their mistakes has fuelled a lot of anger.

    There are still daily protests and clashes with the police in Greece with schools and universities are still under occupation.

  • rowmyboat January 23, 2009, 11:56 pm

    Wow, I must say, the restraint the police have shown is admirable — and it’s absurd that I’m calling not beating the citizenry admirable.

    (I’m an American who follows Iceland a bit, and just stumbled on this blog just now.)

    Here is the US, the protesters would have been beaten, gassed, and locked up days ago.