Iceland protests 3

The last couple of years has been a turbulent time for many people across the world.

The economic crash which erupted in 2008 has resulted in mass unemployment across the globe, with many businesses imploding under the pressure and people losing their homes, jobs and families. Meanwhile the people in charge of the banks have paid themselves huge bonuses as a reward for their failure.

Like many countries in Europe, Iceland’s parliament responded to this by introducing austerity measures, clamping down on public services and increasing taxes for the general population.

On top of that, there was an online banking scheme that was established in England by Icelandic bankers called Icesave in which they offered a number of investment stocks and bonds to overseas investors in the UK and Netherlands.

But the privately owned Icelandic bank Landsbanki which offered these stocks went bankrupt and the Icelandic Depositors’ and Investors’ Guarantee Fund had no money left to repay deposit guarantees to their customers.

The British and Dutch state, demanded that the Icelandic state should guarantee repayment of the deposits which ran into the billions.

The government in Iceland then tried to pass a law which introduced further austerity measures and tax increases. In short, the ordinary citizens in Iceland were asked to foot the bill. They refused. That was the last straw and protest groups rallied outside the Icelandic parliament to demand change.

Akashic Times caught up with three of the most prominent people involved in the Icelandic protests. Their stories are below.

Katrín Oddsdóttir

Katrín Oddsdóttir

Katrín Oddsdóttir is a human rights lawyer involved in the protests. Born into a radical family, she was asked to deliver a speech at the protests which were weekly. She said that it got the ball rolling on her involvement in Icelandic politics in a way she did not anticipate.

She said: “There started off being 50 of us, but then that gradually grew to more and more. Thanks to being very stubborn and never giving up, there were tens of thousands, which is very large for a population of 320,000.

“After the collapse of the economy in Iceland and other European nations, as well as the US, it is quite outrageous that this system has not been eliminated with a more humane system to replace it. That is the same problem that we’re facing everywhere – the same powers are really just trying to take control once again.”

She was one of 25 ordinary people selected to draw up a new constitution in Iceland, which was one of the demands that the protesters were making.

The constitution was designed to counteract the political corruption that was occurring in the country and aimed to preserve the social and environmental stability of Icelandic citizens.

It barred the government’s ability to deport citizens of Icelandic descent, banished discrimination, and aimed to enshrine the human rights of residents in the country. It also banned intrusive searches of the body, property or electronic communications unless mandated by a court.

Most importantly, it barred the government from prioritising the financial interests of private companies or individuals. Restrictions were also placed on the ability to auction off property belonging to the state.

Citizens were encouraged to participate in the demand for change online and according to Katrín, a number of brilliant ideas emerged. Despite the fact that online forums have a tendency to attract offensive and vulgar commentators, she said that this was not the case on this particular occasion. She said: “I think if you trust people for something very important, they will deliver in accordance to that. If you don’t treat people like they are stupid, they won’t act stupid.

“The participation was beautiful and I think the same model is being copied now in Tunisia, Egypt and other places, because it is the best way for the public to create a new society.”

Guðjón Heiðar Valgarðsson

Guðjón Heiðar Valgarðsson

Another person who took a prominent role in the protests was a man called Guðjón Heiðar Valgarðsson, who has been featured widely in media outlets in the country. He had previously been involved in protests against the war in Iraq and the building of aluminium dams in Iceland. He said that he was often targeted by the police, who once tried to falsely arrest him for trespassing into the parliament building.

“They wanted to charge me with disturbing the peace of the parliament which eventually 9 people were charged for,” he said: “But the only problem was I wasn’t there, because I had been working. They just assumed that I was one of the people there because I had been pretty visible in the protests.”

He added that although the protests achieved significant changes in Iceland, the success of the movement has been romanticised by the alternative media and demonised by the mainstream media.

“The media is still owned by the same people that owned the media before the crash,” Valgarðsson said: “The people that caused the crash have not really been interrogated. There have been some arrests for a few fraudulent cases but mostly the public perception is that these are few and far between and mostly symbolic plus the sentences have been mild. So it is not really true that we are this progressive paradise that people seem to think.”

Valgarðsson is a big believer in direct democracy. He believes that this is the only model that can work in a free and democratic society. The key, he says, is to hand the power back to the people and to ensure that basic human rights are not taken away.

“I’m hoping that people around the world will mobilise to get rid of the monopoly that these people hold because it is the same in every country. It is just a few people that control the economy and it doesn’t really matter who you vote for, because it is going to be those people that the mass media and control most of the financial corporations.

“Even the war on terror and 911 is a farce being used to defend wars and take away basic rights and freedoms.”

However, the picture in Iceland is still better than it was. Because of the public’s refusal to accept cuts, their GDP has improved. The multimedia and entertainment industries for example, have been growing in Iceland. More jobs are available for artists, actors, writers, filmmakers, programmers and designers, as a result. It has also created more independent jobs and is even becoming more profitable for the population in terms of money.

Hákon Júlíusson

Hákon Júlíusson

Hákon Júlíusson is another activist in the country who took part in the protests. He has since become involved with many grassroots community groups and  political movements.

Júlíusson also the adminsitrator of a political news website called gagnauga.is and many others.

Some of the websites which he helped to set up were mysteriously hacked following his critique of the government. He has helped to host several speaking events, discussions and documentary screenings on various subjects, ranging from economics to conspiracy theories.

He said that he got involved not only because of the anger at the government, but also because of what he saw as the systematic erosion of civil liberties.

“If we look around our freedoms are being taken away systematically in little steps,” he said.

“Our prime instrument in our resistance to this, the internet, has been through a lot of attacks by people who claim to be defending artists and multimedia personnel, but are in the process of taking civil liberties away with the introduction of bills like SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and now the newest: CISPA.

“Even in Britain law enforcement is now being given the right to seize material from journalists if it is considered to be dangerous or not for public eyes.”

He added: “I hope the rising movement of activists and resistance to all of this here in Iceland, Europe and America can be an inspiration to the world, so that we can be united at last in our differences stand against the suppression by the few.”

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