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We need far more radical changes

Our third in a series of interviews featues Icelandic singer/songwriter and activist Hördur Torfason. He is the man behind Raddir fólksins [Voices of the People], a grassroots organization that has planned Saturday demonstrations in downtown Reykjavík since last October. It is largely due to his tireless work and perseverence over the past few weeks that the Icelandic people were able to force, through protests, the recent change in government.

IWR: How are you feeling, now that the protests have produced the desired results?

HT: I feel many things … on the one hand I’m elated that some of our demands have been met, and happy about this major victory that intensive planning and perseverence have brought about. On the other hand I am absolutely exhausted. It’s been a massive comedown in the last few days. I normally sleep six hours a night; I’ve been sleeping 12 a night and I’m still tired.

IWR: When you started, did you imagine that things would turn out this way?

HT: I had nothing specific in mind. The first Saturday of the demonstrations I just stood out on Austurvöllur with an open microphone and invited people to speak. I talked to people, listened to people, wrote things down. I was indignant … I felt that my human rights were being violated, in that a few people could bankrupt my country in this way and put me and my fellow citizens into such massive debt.

hordur_torfason_779031 The following Saturday we had our first organized demonstration. However, I was uncomfortable with it because it focused on only one individual, making one person responsible for the entire debacle.* To me it was important for the demonstrations to reflect as many opinions and viewpoints as possible, that they truly be the Voices of the People, and not a platform for political or religious organizations. It’s been a constant effort to keep away groups that have wanted to infiltrate the movement. It has become a major draw for them when they see how successful the demonstrations are.

At the beginning of the demonstrations there was a lot of unfocused anger around, as people tried to come to grips with what had happened. Our demands really took shape on the third Saturday, as we began to gain a better focus. They were: RÍKISSTJÓRNINA BURT! [away with the government!], STJÓRN SEÐLABANKANS BURT! [away with the Central Bank’s board!], STJÓRN FJÁRMÁLAEFTIRLITSINS BURT! [away with the board of the Financial Supervisory Authority!], and KOSNINGAR EINS FLJÓTT OG AUÐIÐ ER! [elections asap!]. That is also when Raddir fólksins was formally established.

IWR: With the recent changes, what will happen to the protests? Will the Saturday demonstrations continue?

HT: I think protests will continue because I feel that we need far more radical changes than we have seen thus far. The changes have to be made so we do not fall back into the same old pattern. The forces of corruption must be eliminated. Our entire system is decayed and needs to be completely rebuilt. Besides, one of our demands has not been met – we have seen no significant changes at the Central Bank. But we have this new government now and we need to give them a chance, to see what they will do.
As for the Saturday demonstrations, I’m not sure. We’ve reached a major milestone and that always calls for reflection. At the moment I’m taking a breather, considering my next move.

IWR: We have elections coming up in April … will you or Raddir fólksins stand for election?

HT: No. I am not a political person. I have no political or religious affiliations. I am an artist and it is my job to criticize and to fight for human rights. As far as I know, none of the people who have taken part in this work with me intend to run for office. Raddir fólksins is a group of independent, thinking people who want to facilitate change. But it is not a political movement.

The only thing I dream about now is going back to my daily routine, attending to my home, my songwriting, and to be able to travel and explore the world.

* The first organized demonstration focused solely on the removal of Central Bank Director Davíð Oddsson and was widely criticized. Subsequently the organizers split into two factions; however, the other did not operate for long.

[The image of Hördur Torfason was nicked from Lára Hanna and is used by permission.]



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • tj3 February 4, 2009, 7:44 pm

    We here in the USA also have a new administration and are waiting to see what will happen.

    I am glad for us and for Iceland but a change of personalities however welcome is not enough, no?

    Our bankers here and our political system and others caused many problems. So did Iceland’s and so did Russia’s and in China etc. etc cause problems for which innocent people are paying everywhere.

    It is my silly opinion that Iceland and Florida and parts or Russia and so on… are now on our own. The IMF or other international groups can only bail out a situation for the moment but not provide a way forward.

    Change, radical or modest will have to be more than going backward to the good ole days as they were.

    Currently proposed US plans so far are more nostalgia and life support than a proper new path.

    Iceland and we here will have to do better than muddle through. I agree with Hördur Torfason that more positive action by the people is necessary, much more. This is not over and if we do not protect ourselves from stupid risk the worst may yet be to come.

    Good luck to us all.

  • Jon February 4, 2009, 9:44 pm

    As long as you have citizens like Mr. Torfason democracy is safe in Iceland. Would you share him with the rest of the world?

  • Ljósmynd DE February 4, 2009, 10:35 pm

    The power behind the protests is certainly based on the participation of people of all ages and different backgrounds without bowing to some special interest group. The protesters became successful as the government couldn’t label them as isolated would-be politicians or members of other fringe groups.

    But even though it is necessary to give the new government a break, there is certainly a high alertness advisable concerning the actions of this administration.

    It is regrettable that nobody from Raddir fólksins intends to run for election but it is quite understandable. Most of the people, who were active in bringing the communist regime in Germany down, were soon tired by the institutional treadmills thereafter.

  • Kathryn February 5, 2009, 1:00 am

    Hi Alda,
    Great interview.
    The Macquarie Dictionary here in Australia has named ‘toxic debt’
    as its new Word of the Year, given the financial crisis sweeping the
    world. You can read a small article on it at http://www.usyd.edu.au – on
    the front page.

  • Andrew February 5, 2009, 2:04 am

    I find these interviews really interesting!

  • Blank Xavier February 5, 2009, 5:09 am

    > IWR: How are you feeling, now that the protests have produced the
    > desired results?

    The economy imploded and there’s basically nothing the State can do to help. There were protests every weekend for some months. The Government resigned.

    What makes you assume that the protests *caused* the Government to resign?

    Certainly you can say the protests occurred and certainly you can say the Government resigned; but elections are coming up, there is (IMHO) nothing the current Government could have done to help the economy (we will see if the new Government can, and if they too cannot, it will tend to support that view). It may be that the Government resigned because it was the best political move for them at that point and that the protests had no significant effect.

    Consider; it was over four months of protests. You might have expected them to have had an impact sooner, no, if they were going to?

  • Scott February 5, 2009, 7:35 am

    BX: The Government had stated many times, up until days before it collapsed, that they had no intention of resigning. So something caused them to change your mind.

    What was different about the protests in the final week or two that made them change their mind after ignoring months of peaceful demonstrations?

    Thomas Jefferson had something to say about this.

  • Dave Hambidge February 5, 2009, 10:29 am

    Has the bwanker been ousted yet?


  • Blank Xavier February 5, 2009, 11:56 am

    > BX: The Government had stated many times, up until days before it collapsed,
    > that they had no intention of resigning. So something caused them to change
    > your mind.

    Yes. Given that protests had been going on for four months at that point, I’m not instantly inclined to connect the two. There’s a reasonable argument that if protest was going to change things, it would have done so long before then.

    I suspect it’s political. If they were still in power, people who absolutely vote to get them out; they would have nothing, come the elections. By leaving early, they neutralise the widely felt need to get them out. They’ll still do badly, of course, but perhaps not as badly. Also, I suspect the replacement coalition is going to be unstable – I also suspect it’s going to be rather socialist, which is going to screw both the economy and liberty.

  • paddy February 5, 2009, 12:08 pm

    Just let me say how proud I am of your national effort to come to grips with the financial “rip off” of our time. I wish so much people would get involved much more than they are right now.
    Time to change the craziness of business, banks, and politicians putting profit before people.

    Businesses have depended on (debt) banks for finance far too long without turning a profit. They depend on borrowing, cheap labor, and most you’ll find have no long term/permanent workers, opting to employ long-term unemployed who (in some/most cases) come with a government subsidy. These businesses are really – useless contributors to society – operating to make a comfortable living for themselves, like investors with no social conscience.
    A good example of this can be seen in a district in Washington DC (only five miles from the political hub) Ward 8 where 90% of the poor have jobs. They just don’t earn enough to pay their bills.

    Hey has anyone heard: what’s the difference between Ireland, and Iceland?
    One letter, and any day now. Ha, now that’s a good one”

    I’ll be back again if I may?
    Paddy in exile.

  • colin buchanan February 5, 2009, 12:12 pm

    Great work Alda!!!
    This interview fills the gaps in my grasp of the situation unfolding in Iceland.
    Firstly, we learn that they were not just spontaneous events but we’re prepared by the forsight and hard work of Hordur and others.
    Secondly, we see that an astute political intelligence, the same Hordur, was able to weigh and to pose a series of demands which drew in a wide range of support.
    Thirdly, the movement was able to deal with and marginalise sectarian and potentially disruptive forces.

    We can see now that without this leadership this movement would not have happened, at least, not so soon, and there wouldn’t have been such a coherent and focused expression of popular feeling.
    It goes without saying that the results achieved are not the end but the beginning and I’m afraid, Hordur, you’re going to have to reconsider your decision not to stand at the election- it is absolutely necessary the you, or someone else from the protest movement stand. Yes, I know you’re not an apparatchik and that you are an artist and a human being- I know you want a world of love, beauty and happiness, but you can’t have it if you leave power to the apparatchiks. I know there is something tragic in this dilemma- you weren’t born for politics as you understand it. but perhaps you can humanize politics. By all means rest now as much as you can but then reconsider; perhaps someone else can do it, bouyed up by the support of all of you. But, it may have to be you. At all events, someone must stand, someone must bridge the gap between the street and the institutions.

    My best wishes to you all.


  • James February 5, 2009, 12:44 pm

    Interesting humble interview – no doubt his role will be recorded in the modern sagas…

  • colin buchanan February 5, 2009, 9:35 pm

    My latest article on revolution in Iceland and Europe:


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