Have just returned from an incendiary citizen’s meeting in Háskólabíó.
It’s hard to convey to people the boiling cauldron of energy and ideas that is Icelandic society at this present time. I will go so far as to say that the force of what is happening now is like the movement that took place in the lead-up to Iceland’s declaration of independence – at these citizen’s meetings, demonstrations, in the media [some aspects of the media, at least], on blogs, between people. It is completely rocking the foundations of this society. [Mind you, those foundations are close to crumbling – which is perhaps why everything is rattling and shaking.]
People – young and old, from all walks of life – are coming out and expressing ideas that are radical and revolutionary and powerful. Like the idea that I’ve heard several times over the past few days – that we need a completely new constitution. In building this “New Iceland” that everybody is talking about, we need to start over. The details are intricate and too complex and numerous to do justice to in this space – but those details, the very fabric of a new society – are what people here are talking about these days. I’d say our biggest challenge is how to harness all this energy and all these ideas.
But back to the citizen’s meeting. There were four keynote speakers, each very different, each very good.
The first, Raffaella Tencon, an economist with Straumur Investment Bank in London [an Icelandic bank], gave an excellent and concise talk on where Icelandic society is at this moment in time – what our situation is, what the forecast is for the coming months, and what our options are, particularly in terms of currency [keep the krona / join the EU and adopt the euro / unilaterally adopt another currency]. Very clear and to the point.
The second, Robert Wade, an economics professor with London School of Economics, also gave an excellent talk. In July of last year, he wrote an article in the Financial Times in which he expressed his view that Iceland was heading for a fall – he had studied the economic meltdown in Asia in-depth and saw a very similar pattern here. The same day as the article was published, he was at a conference with a member of the International Monetary Fund, who praised him for speaking out about this matter – finally, someone had. In Iceland, meanwhile, he was denounced for his writings. Our current Prime Minister dismissed his article with the words that it was like a readers’ letter in DV [Iceland’s only tabloid][!!]. Wade touched on many things in his speech, but the one that evoked the greatest response was when he said that it was absolutely necessary, if Iceland wanted to re-establish any sort of credibility on a global scale, for us to “invite” our Central Bank director to look for another job. At this the crowd went wild and gave him a standing ovation.
The third speaker was an Icelander, an activist and documentary filmmaker, who delivered a rousing speech, in which – among other things – he traced the origins of democracy. He declared that the agreement between himself and those who are entrusted with his safety and welfare, and that of his family [i.e. the government] was broken. They had not held up their share of the bargain, and so the agreement was null and void.
The last speech, by a woman named Sigurbjörg Sigurgeirsdóttir, a public administrator, was definitely the most chilling. She began by saying that, earlier today, one of the cabinet ministers in the present government had said to her [aka issued a veiled threat] over the phone, when he found out she would be speaking: “be careful of what you say tonight”. [At this there were loud shouts from the crowd, demanding to know who it was.] She went on to expose an incident in which she had been involved, that so clearly demonstrated the corruption taking place behind the scenes in this country that it was staggering. In this case within the health care sector – surely the most vulnerable of all sectors in a depression.
Hearing such stories [which I absolutely believe to be true – mindful of the creepy exchange I had with an official from the Central Bank last month, I shudder to think of the pressure put on people who have something at stake] evokes such anger and such a feeling of utter powerlessness that it makes me want to scream and weep at the same time. The establishment in this country who have so comfortably placed themselves in seats of power, who continue to engage in nepotism and croneyism and what the speaker called “hands-off privatization” [i.e. when social services are privatized by a minister who makes sure his fingerprints are nowhere on the deal] and who REFUSE to step down or call elections or do anything to shoulder any sort of responsibility … who just don’t respond to the calls of the public for fairness and justice … what is to be done? What can be done with them? – I don’t condone violence in any shape or form, but I’m starting to think that nothing less than large-scale civil unrest will do in order to oust them from their lairs.
That last speaker also said that she knew of many people, professionals, academics, specialists in this country, who are appealing to their colleagues abroad to SPEAK OUT about Iceland, about what is happening here, because they, themselves, don’t have the courage to do so. Because they are afraid, for themselves and for their families.
Well I, for one, will not be intimidated. Let the scum rise to the surface, and let it all be revealed.
I’m so fired up right now that something so commonplace as the weather seems like an indulgence. Let’s just say that it was a perfect winter’s day. Utterly and totally beautiful. I started the day with a long walk at dawn [around 10 am], out by the lighthouse, with the full moon hovering overhead and a row of rose and gold in the eastern sky. So beautiful. Currently -4 [25F] but no wind. Sunrise was at 11.01, sunset at 4.12 pm.