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What went wrong in Iceland

In the wake of yesterday’s election results, a lot of people – especially abroad – are scratching their heads, perplexed about what actually went wrong in Iceland. After all, we had a “people’s revolt” four years ago, a government took over that was supposed to change everything, and reports of Iceland’s miraculous economic recovery have been all over the internet in recent months. No wonder that some people are surprised at the beating the outgoing government took at the polls, and – not least – that the old guard is back in power.

After yesterday’s post, I received a message from a reader who gave me their take on what they consider to be the betrayals of the government over the last four years. Reading through it, I realized that this was something that needed a wider audience. So with permission, here is the message, translated into English. The writer wished to remain anonymous, and the interjections in brackets are mine.

I voted for the Social Democrats [in 2009], consider myself a hard-line centre person who maybe leans a little towards the left (especially in environmental and welfare affairs) and I had tremendous hope that they would bring about effective change. But the truth is that they have been an enormous disappointment. Never mind that the wall of shields [the previous government promised to build a “wall of shields” to protect the households] was never “built”, never mind that the prime minister never appeared on television to boost the morale of the people, or explained what was going on in matters pertaining to the nation. Never mind that a new constitution never became a reality.

Myself and a lot of other people consider the betrayal by the government to be colossal. Not only because they constantly gave preferential treatment to the wealthy, both overtly and covertly, but also because they took billions of Icelandic kronur from the treasury to bail out private companies like Sparisjóður Keflavíkur [bank], VÍS and Sjóvá [insurance companies]. Completely unacceptable – especially from a left-wing government. They promised, and constantly lied, that they were safeguarding the welfare system. But now the medical sector is on the brink of collapse and it will take massive funding just to repair the damage.

Despite this they were planning to plant a huge hospital, costing hundreds of billions of kronur, smack in the middle of one of Reykjavík’s most beautiful neighbourhoods. They did not listen to anything, or anyone who was opposed. When it was pointed out that there were no streets or roads to handle the sort of traffic that inevitably accompanied such a workplace, this was met with total arrogance. The staff were just supposed to ride their bicycles to work – yeah, right!

The educational system is starved. The wages of the lowest income groups are in screaming opposition to their needs. The lowering of debt about which the government has bragged so loudly is as a result of court rulings banning illegal loans [the infamous currency basket loans], not because the government was so generous. The fact that the deficit was lowered is not strange. If you and I stop eating, driving a car, running a home and supporting a family, it goes without saying that we will have more money in our bank accounts.

A government that starves the foundations of society cannot brag about having lowered the national debt. A government that takes loans amounting to billions of ISK at the highest interest rates in the world to lower debt can’t brag about the paying of debts. The first payments of those loans will come due in 2016 and they have maturity dates that our children and grandchildren will have to pay.

The government has not wanted to set a family maintenance benchmark, which Jóhanna howled was needed back in the day, but which the Independence Party refused to adopt. Jóhanna has taken to the podium in parliament for the past 35 years and whined and complained about the actions of the right. When her chance finally came [to effect change] she constantly favored the wealthy. She NEVER spoke to the peope. Refused over and over to appear on current affairs programmes, or to talk to a single soul.

Good riddance is what I say. I won’t miss her. The government got exactly what they deserved, and that is what democracy is all about – that people can show their dissatisfaction in practice. Even though the Progressives and the Independence Party got the majority of the votes I believe it was mostly because so few other alternatives that people were familiar with were offered. Nor do I think we are going back to 2007. Voters are a lot more active and aware now. The general public is also a lot worse off than they were then, and they will demand that the government takes action. Besides which we now know about many issues that no one thought about before. Various things like the “snjóhengja” [the foreign funds locked inside the country due to capital controls which could easily sink the krona if released all at once], capital controls, vulture funds [i.e. hedge funds] … these are all “household names” today. If we voters stay vigilant and can be bothered to keep the government in check we can effect positive change. And it’s about time.

At this point I got in touch with the reader, asking if I could publish the comment. They then added this:

You can also add that the agreement that Steingrímur J. [Sigfússon, former head of the Left-Greens] concerning heavy industry at Bakki [in the north] is certainly not in the spirit of the green policies with which the Left-Greens have identified themselves. The government makes an agreement i.a. with a foreign company (German in part – named PCC) that is just not acceptable in 2013. Apart from [Iceland] putting billions into the project, the electricity will be sold at a scandalously low price, and they will receive tax breaks for many years that have never been offered to Icelandic companies. Also, Icelandic hothouse farmers have to pay full residential rates for electricity, and they have persistently been refused the opportunity to buy e.g. the electricity that is not used, or at night, at a lower price. And of course we do not get to see the full agreement. “Naturally” it is confidential.

The environmental assessment there is ten years old, and judging by what we now know about the effects of water-intensive industry (most recently Lagarfljót) the residents around Mývatn [one of Iceland’s most stunning areas] are terrified because it is already clear that the intention is to harness power in Bjarnarflag, which can have devastating effects on Mývatn. Bakki is in Steingrímur’s constituency and the residents of that district are delighted, but Landvernd [environmental protection group] – not so much. In this instance Steingrímur, who pretends to be Left-Green par excellance, throws nature conservation under the bus in return for financial gain. The examples of how this [past] government have f*cked up are endless. […] The bullshit about the miracles performed by the government and the jailing of the banksters are all over the Internet and it’s about time that someone tries to set things straight.

Also, I just wanted to add that it is surprising that a coalition of parties that identify themselves with human rights and equality should sign a free-trade agreement with China right at the end of the election term. A nation that tramples on human rights. Was it so that people like Nubo could have an easier time of getting their plans actualized here? I wonder. That is another agreement of which we have only seen bits and pieces. Why? The government promised before they were elected that they would have “everything up on the table and transparency at all levels” which now is one of the big betrayals. […] Many supporters of the Social Democrats and Left-Greens want absolutely nothing to do with them – just like the IP won’t admit that their mistakes led to the economic collapse. We should not hang ourselves onto individual parties, we need to vote in line with our conscience each time and punish the parties that betray promises.

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