Everyone: I have often thought how great it would be if non-Icelandic speakers could understand some of the speeches that have been delivered at the demonstrations and open citizen’s meetings held here over the last few months. They differ, obviously, depending on who is speaking, but in my view they give great insight into the passion and fervor of the Icelandic nation in these difficult times. To that end, I decided to do a quick translation of the speech given by writer Einar Már Guðmundsson at the Icesave demonstration last Thursday. [The speech is published by permission and the picture was taken by my friend Þorri.]
Self-made bondage is the strongest form of bondage. Thus wrote Sigfús Daðason, and thus is our situation today. The constitution was mortgaged without the nation being asked, and now we are to acknowledge the collateral and confess to the crime. We are confessing to a crime we did not commit. Let me quote Eva Joly: “This small country of 320,000 inhabitants is now reeling under the weight of billions of Euros of debt, which has absolutely nothing to do with the vast majority of its population and which Iceland cannot afford to pay.”
Yes, we are being enslaved. The Icesave agreement is stage one, the conditions of the International Monetary Fund stage two, and so it will continue until sometime in the future, when we receive an apology for the mistake that is being made … but by then it will be too late. They say we will become the Cuba of the North if we do not ratify this agreement. But shouldn’t we add: We will become the Haiti of the North if we do ratify it. They fulfilled all the IMF’s demands – and are now plagued by a famine. On Sunday the Pope prayed for the people of Argentina, for precisely the same reason. The IMF’s austerity program has turned half of all Argentineans into paupers. That is the reason we are here today – and we oppose this. All of us. We are being made to confess to a crime we did not commit. We are to shoulder the burdens of the global financial system, to become their underdogs.
In truth, this problem is not the nation’s problem, but that of the owners of the privatized banks who vacuumed up cash using the Icesave accounts. Our problem is that the government of this country and its politicians want to remove this problem from the bank’s owners and hand it to us and – not least – to our descendants. We cannot let this happen. We oppose this – all of us.
To you inside the parliament building I say: Stop your bullshit. Stop talking about “friendly nations”, “deposit insurance”, “global community”. The “global community” is a community of wealthy nations, “deposit insurance” is the socialization of losses, and “friendly nations” is wishful thinking and does not extend to authorities, or capital. The Swedes are not our enemies, yet the Swedish financial system financed the banking system of the Baltic States when it was placed on the market – and robbed. The Swedish financial sector looks at the similar collapse of our banks and understands Gordon Brown’s arguments as well as he, himself, does – no, do not confuse this with friendship. Gordon Brown is one of the main theorists behind the financial system in London City, and its regulations, or rather its absence of regulations, became the guiding principle behind the Icelandic financial system. In light of this, none of your legal opinions matter, nor do the names of people in the negotiating committees. A financial war is raging throughout the world in which a decrepit system tries to rev its engines, and in that workshop it is our authorities who are madly shoveling the coals. One of the world’s wisest economists states: “The International Monetary Fund is a sort of debt collector for global creditors and collects revenues … for them. Amazingly, nations the world over are losing their financial and economic freedom, without resistance.” Is that not precisely what we are doing by ratifying the Icesave agreement? We are allowing ourselves to taken into debt bondage without the slightest resistance. We are being made responsible for an utterly irresponsible financial system – although we were previously told the opposite. The owners of the banks held positions of such tremendous responsibility. Which is why they needed to be paid exorbitant salaries and bonuses. In other words: the profits are privatized, the losses nationalized. If we ratify this, we can be made to ratify anything. Even in the underworld this would be considered offensive.
It does not matter whether the Icesave agreement is good or bad. It is, by nature, wrong. The government must show us the assets*. This is what we have been saying for a long time, and now an American expert shows up and says precisely the same thing. The American expert knows, as we do, that when a football team buys a player, the owners and managers know the physical condition of the player. They don’t just sign the deal and then wait for the fattest man in the world to show up, who can neither run nor kick the ball. News of the Landsbanki assets is just as misleading. If they weren’t, the British would have just taken them, but they don’t want to. They want to take us. There’s such good collateral in us.
It’s plain and simple fraud. The owners and managers of Landsbanki are running many companies and all sorts of operations. They have caused so much damage with this company of theirs that their other firms and assets should be seized. No one has the right to bankrupt a nation like this. And a nation that allows itself to be bankrupted like this – what will be its eulogy? The money from the Icesave accounts flowed straight to the tycoons and their businesses. The Baugur Group companies owe hundreds of billions. Assets are transferred between companies, but the debts are left behind. And they never lack any legal opinions!
Shall we just let them get away with it? Or shall we teach them to do math, and put the equal sign in the right place? The dividend payments alone from the bubble companies that have now been taken over by the state were as high as the state’s Icesave liabilities. As were the takings of Icelandic tycoons who bet against the Icelandic krona. The government is doing a poor job of promoting our side – unsurprisingly, since it still has the entire administrative system of the previous government in place. And where is the president now with all his connections? Or does he only associate with tycoons and financial speculators?
We have to ask ourselves: At the end of the day, what has been successful in our society? Not the self-satisfied ignorance that has only taken from this society, and not given anything back. The struggles of the common people have been successful. Last century’s struggles gave us a strong welfare system, an educational system, a health care system, telephone lines, swimming pools, pension funds … I could go on. The so-called “góðæri” [years of prosperity] meant that the successes arising from the class struggle, the joint wealth of the public, was privatized and turned into a commodity. What were previously the joint assets of the people: the fish in the sea, the telephone company, the banks, for example, were handed to private individuals on a silver platter and subsequently squandered. The “góðæri” meant that so-called “dead capital”, that is, these joint assets of the people, was set in motion. The motion of this capital created turnover in society, prosperity … but now the motion has stopped. There was a crash. The people’s capital has been spent on useless junk, on glass palaces and parties, and there is hardly anything left to sell. Although a large part of the “góðæri” was an economic bubble, based on illusions, let us not forget that it was founded on the real assets of the people: the fish, the pension funds and the state-owned companies. The pension funds have now been sucked dry with the help of utterly corrupt governments and the privatization of the banks allowed tycoons to leverage companies and institutions and pay themselves dividends without any real value being created. The common assets of the people, the “dead capital” was wasted. It is our task to recover those assets. We must construct a new economic system in which the nation owns the resources and everything it is entitled to according to the constitution: the right to utilize its own natural resources and the fishing quotas in the sea. We must fight the curse of corruption, and thus I say:
You, who live with an island in your heart
and the expanse of the cosmos
pavement under your feet:
Hand me the northern lights!
I shall dance with the youth
holding the stars
Let us skin the darkness
and behead the misery.
* The assets of Landsbanki, which are to go towards settling the Icesave debt, the value of which is unknown.
Einar Már Guðmundsson is one of Iceland’s most celebrated writers. His most recent book is Hvíta bókin [The White Book], based on his speeches over the last few months. It is due to be released in English in the near future.