Siannon O’Neill on a revolution that Ireland can learn from.
You may have heard a bit of commotion coming from Iceland in recent years. Then again, you may have not heard much at all, and that is perfectly probable. It turns out this bit of commotion should be a lot of commotion, but the world media has failed to give it appropriate credit. Why is this the case? Is it because it illustrates giving power back to the people? Or because Iceland revolted against foreign markets?
First off, there was a resignation of Iceland’s ruling government ministers three months after the official financial collapse. In 2008, at the height of the global economic mess, the people managed to overthrow their government. These people were the protesters, the campaigners, the people who believed that the undeserved taxes being forced on them were a shambles and that their government was to blame for letting this happen. A successive amount of rocks and food were fired at Parliament buildings, but protests remained peaceful. Some riots broke out, causing tear gas to be used by police, but nothing grew too violent. Members of Parliament were forced out of office and later that year a new female Prime Minister was elected, the popular Jóhanna Sigur.ardóttir.
In 2008 there was also a re-nationalization of the banks. The Icelandic banks that were privatized in 2003 had attracted foreign investment, mainly from Britain and The Netherlands. They had offered an online banking service called ‘Icesave’, which had high rates of return for investors. As unregulated investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt. The Króna then lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro, and Iceland’s main banks Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir went belly up. After the banks’ bankruptcy there was no option but to be nationalized. Now Iceland has a new state-controlled banking system, formed from the remnants of banks that failed.
In the March 2010 referendum it was put to the people whether paying for this enormous 5.3 billion euro debt incurred by private parties should be the responsibility of the citizens, (€100 a month per citizen at 5.5% interest over 15 years) or left to those responsible for creating the mess. 93% voted for the latter. It was admitted by the Prime Minister that economic and political chaos could follow – he was right. Threats from Britain came which stated that they could be isolated, becoming ‘the Cuba of the north’, or if they succumbed to European demands to be reimbursed, they would become ‘the Haiti of the north.’ There was uproar against the UK’s use of anti-terrorist legislation against Iceland. Holding strong against other hostile nations, it stuck to putting its people before the markets.
With a new government in place it was time to make a few changes to ensure that these mistakes wouldn’t happen again. The Icelandic constitution hadn’t been changed since 1944 when Iceland won its independence from Denmark – and at that point the only word replaced was President instead of King. The element that was truly a revolutionary tool of the 21st century was the re-writing of the constitution – not by a gathering of politicians hidden away in office, but by its citizens on the internet. The meetings held by newly elected parliament constituents, all of which were non-party regular citizens, were streamed on the internet. Citizens were able to make comments and suggestions, overseeing the decisions that shaped their new constitution.
And finally, justice for all was determined by the furious demands made by the people. The government finally made civil and penal investigations into those who were actually responsible for this financial crisis. Norwegian-French investigator Eva Joly and a team of 20 were hired to take on the monumental task of finding and incarcerating guilty parties. So far, the ex-President of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, has been arrested whilst other guilty bankers have fled the country. More than 200 people, including CEOs of banks, face criminal charges. 90 people have been prosecuted and criminal investigations still continue.
Why haven’t you heard more about this in the news? Well it just looks like a perfect case study of what other nations in crisis should follow. Iceland has proved that endless bailouts are not what would have saved their economy on the brink of collapse – something we could clearly learn from. It has made the swiftest economic recovery in history and has revolted in a peaceful way. The Króna has now overtaken the euro and regains economic security, whilst Ireland still shows no sign of economic recovery. All considered, the main aspect that has led to their phenomenal success is that they’ve put people before the market, not the market before the people. It’s time we take a leaf out of their book, stop bowing to the EU, and take charge of our own nation, legislation, and constitution.