Alternatives to the crisis: Iceland existsJesus González Pazo
The crisis in Iceland four years ago is similar, as far the first steps taken by the Government at that time and the public reaction is concerned, to the crisis in much of the capitalist world. But the subsequent assignment of legal responsibilities and the process of citizen participation for the drawing up of a new Constitution have made a difference. This example shows that it is indeed possible to get over the crisis. It is evident that there are many countries that have almost zero impact on the international scene: they are mostly all those lacking in economic strength beyond being mere producers of raw materials at the service of markets. We immediately think of practically all of the African countries, the majority of the Asian and American ones and some European ones. Almost all of them are what we commonly refer to as impoverished countries.
However, then there is also some countries that the prevailing system wants to forget about due to the bad example it creates and the threat that this can pose to its own model. We can think in terms of this last group, a minority, unfortunately, as countries with a certain exoticism such as Bhutan, which would trouble many people to locate on a map. It is considered the happiest country in the world based on a metric that aims to measure happiness. We can also think of some country in the so-called southern seas, those that we imagine almost as paradises.
But there are others that are closer, more visible, and that in recent times have emerged as a real threat to the dominant model. Hence the interest and efforts to hide them, through its invisibility or continued defamation in the media and by the majority of the traditional political class. Obviously, in this group there would be several American countries that, after decades subjected to the dictates of neoliberalism, have been breaking, to a greater or lesser extent, with these postulates, and these days both economically and politically define new alternative models. But still closer to home, we also have some examples of this type, and that is what we are interested in now. We refer to Iceland.
From the year 2008, Iceland suffered the strongest impact of the crisis that was declared in Europe and North America.
A crisis that some wanted to understand as circumstantial, and therefore, temporary, requiring a few slight adjustments and rebalances that were made. Precisely the passage of time and other factors demonstrated that it had a structural character in the capitalist system.
Iceland woke up one sunny day having gone from being one of the countries with one of the highest rates of human development to one being in the deepest crisis.
The dream of the Nordic welfare state was shattered and they are forced into the living nightmare of the toughest neoliberalism. Their currency collapses, stock market activity is suspended, banks go bankrupt and the country to all extents and purposes has to declare bankruptcy. In response to this situation, during that year and the following one, the protests of the population follow each other and grow until forcing the resignation of the entire Government and the calling of the ensuing elections. So far everything is more or less normal and within the succession of events that occurs in other countries: brutal crisis, bankruptcy of the State, citizen protests and controlled changes of governments that occur without questioning the model, in such a way that the so-called markets continue to dominate the economic and political scene.
However, from that point on, Iceland would break with this dominant trend and take a path of demanding responsibility from the financial and political elites of the country and getting over the crisis without conforming to the neoliberal postulates that, after a few moments of weakness (2008-2009), begin again to dominate the European scene and dictate the toughest structural adjustment measures. Measures that especially make the people suffer in countries such as Portugal, Ireland, Greece and, nowadays, already the Italian State and, particularly, the Spanish.
By then, Britain and the Netherlands, protecting their economic interests, would demand the payment of the debt that the Icelandic Government had contracted by the financial elites, which would aggravate the indebtedness of all the Icelandic people, since the people would have to pay. Faced with this, the protests increased and demanded that a referendum be held, in which 93% of the people would vote not to take the debt payment on themselves; the people does not feel responsible for it. In parallel, the new Government was forced to initiate an in-depth investigation into the causes and those responsible for the crisis, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of some bankers and senior executives; others, faced with the threat of having to respond to their actions, fled the country.
The final step in this process was the sovereign decision to elect an assembly for the drawing up of a new political Constitution for the country, which would include, among others, the lessons learned from the crisis and, therefore establish a better control of the speculative activities and banking and of political elites. This wording of the new Constitution was drafted through the work of 25 citizens elected and charged with the task, and through what was discussed and approved in different meetings that were held throughout the country since 2011.
The new political Constitution of the State would need to be approved by the then-current legislative and that resulting from the subsequent elections.
As a quick summary, we can note that in Iceland, confronted be a crisis not caused by their own people, took over the reins of the situation and forced the resignation in full of the Government, considering it responsible politically for the excesses of the banking and financial elites. Some of this elite would be arrested and imprisoned in prosecution of their responsibilities, and another parties would flee the country so as to avoid those same responsibilities; banks are nationalized and they turn to referendums on crucial economic decisions as a real exercise of participatory democracy; finally, and also in line with the aforementioned, a new political Constitution of the State would be drawn up under citizen control.
All the foregoing began to bear fruit and Iceland is considered today already on the way out of the current economic and political crisis.
The concealment of this process by the traditional political and economic class of the Spanish State, as well as by most of the media, finds its raison d'être in the fact that Icelandic citizenship poses that, not just theoretically, but also demonstrates in practice, that there are possible alternatives to the model of social, labour and political cuts that are being used by the dominant economic classes and their political administrators. And these alternatives, among many others, incorporate demanding accountability from those who have responsibility, by transforming the dominant model, not through the total submission of the State to the economic powers-that-be, but rather through just the opposite process. Also through the greater presence of the State, but not by recentralizing processes, but through nationalizations of strategic sectors so that the profits are at the service of the majorities, so that it is not a minority that is increasingly enriched. And through a real participatory democracy of the people, with the true exercise of the maxim of the same rights for all, and where they, the people, do in fact control the political and economic class. There are some real alternatives because the other, the dominant one today, the one we already know and do not like, because it is unfair to the majority.