Saturday, February 07, 2009

Since the fall of the conservative government protests in Iceland have diminished, but they are still continuing, demanding full accountability from those responsible for the country's financial failure. Here is an article from the Sydney Morning Herald on protests that occurred in Reykjavik earlier today and the present state of the Icelandic political crisis.
Iceland protesters demand accountability:
About 200 to 300 people gathered in Reykjavik on Saturday to demand that the financial tycoons held partly responsible for the country's financial crisis pay back their debts to help Iceland recover.

After months of weekly protests involving pot-banging, egg-throwing and occasional violence, protesters huddled calmly in the cold outside the parliament building on Saturday shouting: "Pay the money back!" and "Do we want the rich to pay their debts? Yes!"

Rumours have circulated in Iceland that some of the financial tycoons who led the Icelandic banking sector's aggressive expansion abroad managed to stash away millions of dollars in foreign accounts before the country's economy collapsed.

Iceland's financial crisis erupted in October amid the global credit crunch, when the financial sector froze up and the government was forced to take over the country's three main banks as the currency lost half its value.

Thousands of Icelanders have lost their savings and their jobs, prompting them to descend into the streets for weekly protests to demand the resignation of the government and the central bank governors.

Faced with mounting public pressure, Prime Minister Geir Haarde announced the immediate resignation of his government on January 26.

A new left-wing government headed by Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir took over on February 1, and one of her first actions was to demand the resignation of the three central bank governors.

Central bank chief David Oddsson, 61, is seen as being particularly responsible for the crisis since he liberalised Iceland's financial markets in the 1990s when he served as prime minister.

Sigurdardottir had demanded that Oddsson and his two colleagues, Ingimundur Fridriksson and Eirikur Gudnason, reply to her request by February 5.

Oddsson has yet to comment on it.

Fridriksson has informed the prime minister he will resign, while Gudnason has said he intends to turn up for work as usual on Monday.

The prime minister appoints the central bank governors but has no power to fire them.
Sigurdardottir has presented a bill to parliament on structural changes to the central bank, proposing there be only one governor instead of three and stipulating that the governor must hold a master's degree in economics, which is not the case with Oddsson.
Meanwhile the Icelandic police have suffered considerably in their public image because of their actions during the protests. They are now trying to polish that image via propaganda outreach in various youth centres, and their "demons" are, you guessed it, the anarchists. Here's the story of their campaign and the opposition to it from the English language section of the Icelandic anarchist site Aftaka. The following has been slightly edited for reasons of English grammar.
The Police “Educates” Children and Warns against Anarchists :
The police are now traveling between teen social centers and are stuffing children with propaganda. The issue is protests, pepper spray, police brutality and the “extremely dangerous” anarchists.

After the protests which led to the collapse of the Icelandic government in January, the police have received harsh criticism for violence. Those voices come from all directions of Icelandic society. A lot of media people were sprayed with pepper spray for just being present and taking photographs of the events. At this moment the press association is working on these cases. Many pictures have been released proving the critics' case and people who received the brunt of the police violence have been interviewed.

The police force´s image has of course suffered greatly because of the case; wounds which Stefán Eiríksson (Reykjavík chief of police) has tried to bandage with stoic calm and great “understanding” for the cause of those that want to protest in the traditional (i.e. useless) way. But Stefán’s smiles are not enough and therefore the police are on the move, to protect their image, going between social centers for the purpose of “educating” the youth. A short time ago Aftaka received a letter from the ALMA organization which tells of these police visits and says (the bold is ours):
Kópavogur, February 2. 2009
To the ministers and members of parliament
it may concern.

On behalf of Alma, which is an organization
interested in human rights founded in 1995, I protest in the name of democracy
and freedom of speech that police officers are going between teen social
centers, especially to defame protesters in general and specific groups of
protesters, f.ex anarchists.

Unfortunately we have conclusive proof that
the police have lied, knowingly or unknowingly, but without correcting
themselves later, about the protests and protesters in the media.

The final straw is now when the police force
goes between teen social centers to spread lies about certain groups of
protesters and protesters in general, lies that are both outrageous and highly

With this we are not making light of certain
incidents in the past weeks but the police can not discredit the protester’s
experiences and wounds.”

News like this is probably upsetting for many democratically minded people because nobody suspected the police of such blatant propaganda, or what? The announcement continues:

“It cannot be accepted that the police scares the young people into
forgoing their right to free speech, by telling them they will be as “guilty” as
certain groups of protesters if they attend protests. That is along the same
lines as has been heard from the police lately that those who protest can just
blame themselves for being pushed, beaten with batons, gassed or sprayed. ALMA
demands that the police always tell the truth about everything that they express
themselves about that regards other people, individuals or groups. And that if
those who express themselves on behalf of the police force are caught lying
about certain groups of people or individuals, they will immediately be held

ALMA demands that this police campaign of
propaganda and lies be stopped immediately, especially parts of it targeted at

Many teenagers that have sat and listened to
these police lies have parents, siblings, family members or friends who
participated in these protests as a form of expression in a free democratic
society. The police can not allow itself to claim criminal intent about
protesters and certain factions within their ranks. That is a breach of basic
human rights and will be pursued as such if this does not cease.

ALMA will maintain its rights, as a
non-partial humanitarian organization, to enlist representatives for protesters
and to meet the teenagers as well so the people that the police has slandered
about can themselves tell the teenagers at the social center´s about their
experiences and points of view.
Sincerely on behalf of ALMA,

Helgi Jóhann Hauksson, president.”

We at Aftaka contacted Helgi, to ask him more question´s about the case and he responded right away:

“We know that the police have been going between social centers in
Kópavogur (town close to Reykjavík) and that at one of them, a 19 year old
employee tried to ask critical questions that contained doubts on what the
police was saying, but her boss and coworker chastised her. She is not sure if
she is welcome back at work.

The police told the teenagers amongst other
things that police officers had been seriously injured but that no protesters
had been injured because the police ,,"do not hurt people”.They brought pepper
spray and batons to show the kids and claimed that pepper spray was completely
harmless; it was just like you had cried for a little while and could just be
rinsed away with water. The 19 year old employee then asked if the pepper spray
was not oil based and therefore not so easily rinsed away with just water,
but both the police officers claimed that this was not the case; it was
just rinsed out with water. Then they added that the police never sprayed anyone
in the face, only on the chest… unless they are criminals. Accordingly the
batons were also completely harmless because they where only used on large
muscles and the police officers utterly denied them being used in any other way”

Of course they lie to the children. And it goes on (bold is from us):

Then they told the teenagers that anarchists are very dangerous and
they had to be careful around them. Anarchists are people who do nothing, do not pay taxes but try to fool teenagers like them to throw rocks at the police – they had to watch out for the anarchists.

The police asked the kids and pointed to some of them. “Were you there, at the protests?” the police asked. Some of the kids said yes and then the police replied: “You can be found equally guilty if you stand there or take part in the protests”

We wonder under what division of the police this image and propaganda campaign falls. Has the preventative division of the police force been expanded for the purpose of rescuing the children from forming radical political views, independence, critical thought, hatred of abuse of power and the will to fight injustice?

This should however not surprise anyone because this is exactly what the corrupt society we live in is like. The authorities’ power is so great that if something goes wrong on their behalf – in this case the use of their thoroughly conditioned power abusing people – they just set forth on a a good propaganda campaign in the schools and shove lies into the heads of the children, which already sit under the oppressive education regime of the authorities for the greater part of the day. This police conduct is distasteful, immoral, un-democratic and so forth, but is also without a doubt legal and justifiable on behalf of the authorities.

But anyway, it is good that the police are acknowledging the power of the anarchists and other radical revolutionaries. Anarchists are dangerous! But not to little children and old ladies. They are dangerous to the authorities; corruption and abuse of power. We rip off their costumes and let them show their violent and oppressive nature and actions themselves. Anarchists have had a creative effect on Icelandic society, pushed forth annihilation of the disgusting slave mentality that has colored Icelandic society these last decades, and urged people to take matters into their own hands and fight authority. The fruits of those seeds are very visible these days.
At Aftaka, we will monitor this case and publish more news of it as soon as it arrives.
Finally, from the blog of Naomi Klein, the following has appeared under several titles in several different places, including The Nation where it was first published. I prefer the one on her blog, 'They All Must Go'. Not that I agree with Klein's general politics. She can charitably be described as a "left social democrat", and laying behind her writings is the assumption that things would be better with a caring, social-democratic government with due (ie limited) popular input. Still, what she says here shows how the popular responses to the present crisis are interconnected and similar.

Naomi Klein: They All Must Go
By Naomi Klein
Watching the crowds in Iceland banging pots and pans until their government fell reminded me of a chant popular in anti-capitalist circles back in 2002: “You are Enron. We are Argentina.”

Its message was simple enough. You—politicians and CEOs huddled at some trade summit—are like the reckless scamming execs at Enron (of course, we didn’t know the half of it). We—the rabble outside—are like the people of Argentina, who, in the midst of an economic crisis eerily similar to our own, took to the street banging pots and pans. They shouted, “¡Que se vayan todos!” (“All of them must go!”) and forced out a procession of four presidents in less than three weeks.

What made Argentina’s 2001–02 uprising unique was that it wasn’t directed at a particular political party or even at corruption in the abstract. The target was the dominant economic model—this was the first national revolt against contemporary deregulated capitalism.

It’s taken a while, but from Iceland to Latvia, South Korea to Greece, the rest of the world is finally having its ¡Que se vayan todos! moment.

The stoic Icelandic matriarchs beating their pots flat even as their kids ransack the fridge for projectiles (eggs, sure, but yogurt?) echo the tactics made famous in Buenos Aires. So does the collective rage at elites who trashed a once thriving country and thought they could get away with it. As Gudrun Jonsdottir, a 36-year-old Icelandic office worker, put it: “I’ve just had enough of this whole thing. I don’t trust the government, I don’t trust the banks, I don’t trust the political parties and I don’t trust the IMF. We had a good country, and they ruined it.”

Another echo: in Reykjavik, the protesters clearly won’t be bought off by a mere change of face at the top (even if the new PM is a lesbian). They want aid for people, not just banks; criminal investigations into the debacle; and deep electoral reform.

Similar demands can be heard these days in Latvia, whose economy has contracted more sharply than any country in the EU, and where the government is teetering on the brink. For weeks the capital has been rocked by protests, including a full-blown, cobblestone-hurling riot on January 13. As in Iceland, Latvians are appalled by their leaders’ refusal to take any responsibility for the mess. Asked by Bloomberg TV what caused the crisis, Latvia’s finance minister shrugged: “Nothing special.”

But Latvia’s troubles are indeed special: the very policies that allowed the “Baltic Tiger” to grow at a rate of 12 percent in 2006 are also causing it to contract violently by a projected 10 percent this year: money, freed of all barriers, flows out as quickly as it flows in, with plenty being diverted to political pockets. (It is no coincidence that many of today’s basket cases are yesterday’s “miracles”: Ireland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia.)

Something else Argentina-esque is in the air. In 2001 Argentina’s leaders responded to the crisis with a brutal International Monetary Fund–prescribed austerity package: $9 billion in spending cuts, much of it hitting health and education. This proved to be a fatal mistake. Unions staged a general strike, teachers moved their classes to the streets and the protests never stopped.

This same bottom-up refusal to bear the brunt of the crisis unites many of today’s protests. In Latvia, much of the popular rage has focused on government austerity measures—mass layoffs, reduced social services and slashed public sector salaries—all to qualify for an IMF emergency loan (no, nothing has changed).

In Greece, December’s riots followed a police shooting of a 15-year-old. But what’s kept them going, with farmers taking the lead from students, is widespread rage at the government’s crisis response: banks got a $36 billion bailout while workers got their pensions cut and farmers received next to nothing. Despite the inconvenience caused by tractors blocking roads, 78 percent of Greeks say the farmers’ demands are reasonable.

Similarly, in France the recent general strike—triggered in part by President Sarkozy’s plans to reduce the number of teachers dramatically—inspired the support of 70 percent of the population.

Perhaps the sturdiest thread connecting this global backlash is a rejection of the logic of “extraordinary politics”—the phrase coined by Polish politician Leszek Balcerowicz to describe how, in a crisis, politicians can ignore legislative rules and rush through unpopular “reforms.” That trick is getting tired, as South Korea’s government recently discovered. In December, the ruling party tried to use the crisis to ram through a highly controversial free trade agreement with the United States. Taking closed-door politics to new extremes, legislators locked them-selves in the chamber so they could vote in private, barricading the door with desks, chairs and couches.

Opposition politicians were having none of it: with sledgehammers and an electric saw, they broke in and staged a twelve-day sit-in of Parliament. The vote was delayed, allowing for more debate—a victory for a new kind of “extraordinary politics.”

Here in Canada, politics is markedly less YouTube-friendly—but it has still been surprisingly eventful. In October the Conservative Party won national elections on an unambitious platform. Six weeks later, our Tory prime minister found his inner ideologue, presenting a budget bill that stripped public sector workers of the right to strike, canceled public funding for political parties, and contained no economic stimulus. Opposition parties responded by forming a historic coalition that was only prevented from taking power by an abrupt suspension of Parliament. The Tories have just come back with a revised budget: the pet right-wing policies have disappeared, and it is packed with economic stimulus.

The pattern is clear: governments that respond to a crisis created by free-market ideology with an acceleration of that same discredited agenda will not survive to tell the tale. As Italy’s students have taken to shouting in the streets: “We won’t pay for your crisis!”
This column was first published in The Nation.
Read more by Naomi Klein at

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