Thursday, January 22, 2009

Protests against the Icelandic government have continued to build in the new year, and yesterday riot police had to use tear gas on demonstrators for the first time since anti-NATO protests in 1949. Pundits expect that the present government will be forced to call new elections long before they are required to in 2011. Here is a report from the UK Press on the latest events.
Poll likely after Iceland protests:
A senior figure in Iceland's main governing party has said she expects early elections this year after protesters demanded the government step down over the country's severe economic crisis.

In a series of increasingly violent protests, demonstrators have accused the government of leading their once-prosperous island nation of 320,000 people into economic ruin. Prime Minister Geir Haarde has insisted he will not resign.

Iceland's banks collapsed in the autumn under the weight of huge debts amassed during years of rapid economic growth. The country's currency has plummeted, while inflation and unemployment are soaring.

Thorgerdur Gunnarsdottir, deputy leader of the centre-right Independence Party, told parliament she expected elections this year. Under Icelandic law, a national election does not have to be called until 2011.

During an angry overnight protest outside the tiny parliament building in Reykjavik, police used tear gas for the first time since 1949, when Icelanders protested against the country's decision to join Nato. Two officers were hospitalised after being hit by rocks.

Demonstrators also surrounded the prime minister's car and pelted it with eggs and soda cans. Mr Haarde's spokesman, Kristjan Kristjansson, said the PM was shaken but unhurt.

Demonstrators banging pots and honking horns have stood outside parliament since lawmakers returned from their winter break on Tuesday.

Reykjavik police chief Stefan Eiriksson said about 2,000 protesters surrounded the building late on Wednesday and some hurled fireworks, shoes, toilet paper, rocks and paving stones at the building and its police guard.

He said police tried to disperse a hard core of a few hundred protesters with pepper spray before using tear gas early on Thursday.

"We had to take action to split up the people and try to avoid further damage and injuries to the police," he said.
As the following article from the British newspaper The Telegraph says the Icelandic government has indeed bowed to pressure in the last few hours and called new elections. As the following also makes clear Iceland is hardly the only country that is facing rising discontent, and European governments are hatching "contingency plans" to deal with an expected rise in protests in several countries.
Crisis meeting called on violent protest across Europe:
European leaders have called emergency talks to discuss a groundswell of social unrest and violent street protests that have spread across Europe amid the economic downturn.

Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Greece and Iceland have all faced social unrest and rioting as unemployment soars and as many European countries have been forced to impose severe cuts to government spending.

A senior EU source has told The Daily Telegraph that a March summit of European leaders will examine the increasing unrest as unemployment rises across Europe and cuts to social programmes bite.

"There are concerns. The EU shares them. It is one of the major challenges for the Spring Council," said the senior European source.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy first raised the spectre of "May 1968" protests spreading across Europe at a Brussels Council in December and "intensive sharing of information" is now under way among a key group of EU governments, including France and Germany.

In the latest development, following days of violent street demonstrations, Iceland's, ruling coalition government, which is not an EU member, on Thursday bowed to protesters and called early national elections to be held this year.

"Regular updates" on the situation in various European countries, such as Bulgaria and Latvia, have been discussed at weekly meetings of EU ambassadors in Brussels, an EU official said.

Diplomats have confirmed that Lithuania, which has faced violent protests at government austerity plans, is actively sharing information on the protests with other countries.

Lithuanian police fired tear gas last week to disperse demonstrators who pelted the country's parliament with stones in protest at government cuts in social spending to offset the economic slump.

"Lithuanian officials are collecting and analysing all available information about similar events in the member states," said the diplomat.

"The government of Lithuania is providing relevant information for the concerned member states, Germany, France, Latvia, Estonia."

Other member states, including Poland, have also expressed a "vital interest in these events", the Lithuanian diplomat said.

Latvian diplomats have expressed concern over a rising groundswell of anger after protests against austerity cuts in Riga last week, demanded as the precondition for EU and IMF loans, descended into unprecedented violence.

"Latvians are normally very quiet," a Latvian diplomat told the EU observer website.

"People obviously are seeing what is happening in other countries in the rest of Europe, such as Greece, and they thought 'Why are we so calm?'."

EU officials are particularly worried about developments in Bulgaria.

Hundreds of Bulgarian protesters clashed with police, smashed windows and damaged cars in Sofia when a rally against corruption and the economic crisis turned into a riot last week.

On Wednesday, students, teachers, doctors and public servants have continued rallies outside Bulgaria's parliament calling on the Socialist-led government to take action against graft after the EU cancelled aid worth hundreds of millions because of corruption.

High youth unemployment was seen as the main underlying cause of a wave of unrest across Greece last month, initially sparked by the police shooting of a youth in an Athens suburb.

Greek unemployment currently stands at 7.4 per cent and is forecast to rise to 9.4 per cent in 2010.

Unemployment in Spain is expected to hit 18.7 per cent over the year.
Finally, here's another article, this time from the Irish Times on both the economic meltdown in Iceland, its protests and the potential for further unrest in the rest of Europe.
Meltdown in Iceland:
ICELAND HAS become the first European country in which a government has decided to have fresh elections after the international economic crisis provoked continuing street demonstrations and violent incidents over police retaliation.

Other countries too are feeling the strain of social protests as the recession bites and governments respond with public spending cuts and tax increases. In the last two weeks Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria have seen this happen, while in Greece the violent demonstrations that broke out last month over the shooting dead of a young protester by a policemen have continued sporadically and have now been taken up by farmers. They were sufficiently serious to convince French president Nicolas Sarkozy not to introduce a school reform for fear of provoking a similar student protest in France.

The economic meltdown in Iceland has seen its major banks collapse, its currency in free fall, many savings and pensions destroyed and intervention by the International Monetary Fund with an austerity rescue package. A persistent protest movement outside the parliament has drawn a variety of people outraged over these events and this week police fired tear gas to disperse them. If elections are held in May, as expected, it will be difficult indeed to put together a new coalition government, since established parties are also in free fall and newer ones are still in formation. Also looming are decisions on whether to apply for membership of the European Union and the euro, which many believe would have protected the country in this convulsion.

Events have not gone that far elsewhere, but there are similar pressures on governments most exposed to the same economic gale. Thousands of people have demonstrated in Lithuania and Latvia against budgetary retrenchments and tax hikes, shocked by the speed and severity of their impact. In Bulgaria and Greece the economic protests overlap with wider concerns about corruption and incompetence. So far Spanish, Portuguese, Italian – and Irish – streets have been quieter, despite similar complaints.

These social protests are being carefully monitored by neighbouring governments and information about them is being pooled through the EU institutions in Brussels. They will certainly be a prominent part of the discussion on the economic situation throughout the EU at the March summit of its leaders. By then, given the pace of change and events, other governments may be going to the polls and other protests will have been organised.
What all of the above indicates is that Iceland is unlikely to be an isolated case in the year to come. In at least one way the Icelandic protests have been more significant than those of Greece late last year (though the Greek protests have hardly ended). In Iceland, unlike in Greece, the protests hava at least led to the fall of agovernment and the calling of new elections. Present polls indicate that the likely beneficiaries of the Icelandic elections will be the Left Greens and the Progressives. There is little doubt that events in Iceland, tiny isolated country that it is, will have any major international repercussions. The fall of the Greek government would have been much more significant. YET the example of Iceland may have a symbolic importance all out of proportion to the size and importance of the country itself. In other words it may be inspirational in an even more serious way than the events in Greece have been, and it may give the powers that be whose worries have been mentioned above even more sleepless nights.

One of the outstanding differences between the events in Greece and those in Iceland (besides those of size and of militance-both obviously greater in Greece than in tiny Iceland) is the far greater breadth of the anti-government movement in Iceland. In the latter country social sectors who stood passively by in Greece took up the anti-government protests enthiastically. No doubt some of this is because the present situation is taking place at a time far further into economic crisis and in a country, Iceland, which has been much more greviously affected by it than Greece. What this says to me is quite simple. To achieve even the small measure of success embodied in the overthrow of a government (something light years away from a libertarian transformation of society) much wider sectors of the public have to be involved than has hitherto been the case.

Keeping this in mind is quite important as there is an ever present tendency to what I have called "truimphalism" in the present, admitedly immature, anarchist movement. This tendency is embodied at the level of so-called "theory" (simple emotion actually) in what is called insurrectionism. In the USA this tendency often doesn't even reach the level of crude ideology. It is taken as a given. Vandalism=riot=rebellion=revolution. Well it just isn't so ! Aimless rebellion will sonner or later fall victim to simple exhaustion and boredom if nothing else. The need to reach outside of some activist ghetto (which has actually been done in Greece to a far greater but still insufficient extent than in most other countries) and involve larger segments of the population involves the need for a much clearer vision of the future society and the means to achieve it than is contained in "rebellion". It also involves a commitment to organization and patience, something that far too many modern anarchists are quite short on.

Yet, the present situation, where large segments of the population in many countries are discontented and "on the move" presents unique opportunities for modern anarchism. What has to be cultivated is a realism that recognizes the weaknesses of these popular movements and also a commitment to find ways to broaden them and provide a rational way forward rather than imagining that a few riots and militant demonstrations are the be all and end all of what you want to achieve.

As an interesting side note I have put up a new poll on Molly's sister site Molly's Polls. the question is, "What country will see significant social rebellion in 2009 ?". Drop on over to express your opinion. Also, taken from our Links section, here are a few links to the anarchist movement in Iceland. All have at least a small English content.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We also published last weekend a post about the protests in Eastern Europe on our blog la Commune.
It's in french and you can read it here: