Iceland: Chilling the Capitalist Agenda
What the Mainstream Media is Leaving Out
It began early in 2008, culminating, and then in early 2009 and from there, steamrolled its way into the capitalist agenda for the world, doing damage along the way. In Iceland, the capitalist media in turn built a wall of silence around the Island country, blocking information from reaching the captive clientele of the international capitalist controlled world. Nevertheless, information did get out via the underground and this revelation showed that the entire population of the island were involved in a revolutionary post capitalist (for them) reconstruction of their economy and infrastructure from the bottom up general assembly.
In the anti-heyday of the economic crash of the US and the world, Iceland took the crisis by the horns and turned a negative into a positive. During May of 2008, the Scandinavian central banks give a 1.5 billion euros bailout package to the Icelandic Glitnir bank as it fell into difficulty due to the unfolding sub-prime mortgage crisis based in America. The housing bubble was set to burst and insiders were aware that something big was in the offing and this later unfolded with a vengeance in September of 2008. They were heavily involved with US levered derivatives, debt package swaps, toxic assets, non secured debt packages and insurance bonds, based on risky sub-prime mortgages that were beginning to go into mass defaults. As a result of the bailouts in Iceland and the failures increasing in the US, the summer months of 2008 saw an inflation level reaching 14.5%. In August, the krona fell by 39% over its July 2007 value. This had a dramatic impact on living standards in Iceland. As the sub-prime house of cards began to collapse in the US, the Iceland government nationalized the Glitnir bank on September 29th, 2008, right on the heels of US bankruptcy and collapses of big financial institutions such as AIG, the Lehman Bros., Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, JP Morgan et al.
It was on the September 29th date that the housing bubble collapsed in the US and it reverberated with disastrous consequences during October and ignited domino like collapses all over Europe. Industry fled the US and set up in China, India and Asia, leaving tens of millions in the US suddenly without jobs by the end of the month. Millions lost their homes in the sub-prime collapse during the summer and fall of the same year. Big banks and insurance companies went into bankruptcy, such as AIG, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, JP Morgan, Chase and many others. They later received bailouts in the trillions of dollars for “banks too big to fail” that came from the Federal Reserve early in the first Obama presidential term even though this all began to unravel in the Bush presidency. Obama was blamed by some who had nothing to do with the crisis. Nor did president Bush have anything to do with the financial crisis as this had its roots in bank and investment deregulation under Reagan due to lobbying by powerful financial institutions.
During October in Iceland, a rapid series of daily events unfolded. On the 6th October 2008 Iceland’s prime minister, Geir Haarde stated "Iceland is on the brink of bankruptcy". He further argued that emergency laws had to be enacted, thus enabling the government to take control of the banks if they wound up in trouble. The day after, the government took control of Landsbankinn, the 2nd largest bank of the country. Some 300,000 Icesave accounts, both domestic and foreign were blocked. This act caused an interesting response on October 8th, when the UK government used anti-terrorism legislation against Iceland in a bid to get them to heel to the Eurozone economy, to which the Icelandic government did not respond in the desired manner.
In response to the foregoing, Iceland's largest bank, Kaupthing was taken under government control, essentially nationalized, on October 9th, and the Icelandic stock exchange stopped trading altogether and closed. In quick response on the next day, 2,000 people protested in front of Iceland's central bank to demand the resignation of David Oddsson, the CEO in charge. On the 11th, Hördur Torfason, an Icelandic singer and songwriter, organized an artist's "One man's protest" on the Austurvöllur, the square in front of the Icelandic parliament. People who joined him in the demonstration, demanded that the government resign.
By October 14th, the stock exchange reopened, but without the three banks that represented fully 75% of exchanges activity. Norway jumped in with an emergency loan of 400 millions euros. A few days later, on the 17th, the Iceland government found itself excluded from the UN when it was refused its non-permanent seat at the security council. This was to be in a line of pressure tactics in an attempt to gain compliance from the Iceland government. An unfolding economic crisis triggered from Wall St. and the diplomatic crisis with the UK appeared to be the cause of this failure. By the 20th, the beginning of mass protests with 2,000 attending, formed in front of the parliament of Iceland. In desperation, the government asked for the support of the IMF within the week on the 24th. A day later, an increasingly angry populace of 2,.000 marched from Austurvöllur to the house of the government. The Landsbanki's flag was burnt in public in a rapidly growing organization of the populace. On the 29th, the Faeroe Islands lent 40 million euros to Iceland and on November 3rd, a further 500 million bailout Euros were lent by Norway.
By now, the growing protest was starting to become creative. On the 8th, people gathered in Austurvöllur, and in front of a crowd of 4,000 protesters, a pink pig flag of the supermarket chain Bonus, was hoisted on the parliament's flagstaff. The IMF delayed signing authorization of bailout funds on the 10th, and some think that it was the UK and Netherlands that wanted to solve the problem with Iceland before the IMF sent any money. This was another pressure tactic. By the 15th, protests in front of parliament increased to 8,000 demanding the resignation of the government. This was followed a day later with an agreement that was signed between Iceland, the UK and the Netherlands. This did little to quell unrest as most people still had no access to their own bank accounts.
In a bid to keep the lid on events on November 18th, 2008, the IMF signed an agreement formerly presented and reached on October 24th, and then sent money to Iceland. $2.1 billion was loaned for a 2 year loan payback period and thus the Icelandic government received $800 million immediately at the signing. The full loan was to be refunded between 2012 and 2015. The agreement opened the way to more loan agreements from other nations such as Sweden, Denmark, Russia and Japan. In total $3 billion was accrued from the IMF and the loaning countries.
Thereafter, things began to heat up among the populace who realized that the high amount on the loans would mean extreme austerity in the immediate future and they were already in desperation with no access to their own funds. On November 22nd, a placard was displayed on the parliament's balcony with the words “IMF - SOLD”. The statue of Jón Sigurdsson, the Icelandic independence hero, located in the middle of Austurvöllur, was dressed in woman's clothing in order to show the woman's role in Icelandic society. This was one way of saying that women were leading the protest as often happens in history, such as in both the French and Russian revolutions. The very next day, after another gathering of 5,000 protesting people, Hördur Torfason restated the three main demands of the people of the growing general assembly, that is; the resignation of the top executives of the central bank, the setting up of a financial supervisory authority and a call to organize parliamentary elections.
By December the 6th, protests were springing up in other cities all over Iceland. 1,500 protesters were in Austurvöllur. Hundreds of people were simultaneously protesting in Akureyri, the 2nd largest Icelandic city. Two days later, 30 activist showed up in the parliament chambers to disrupt the proceedings. Nine of them who became known as "The Reykjavik Nine" were arrested and prosecuted. The next day, forty more protesters blocked ministers from entering the parliament chambers in response to the arrests of their comrades. Then on December 11th, the "People's voice", Hördur Torfason laid charges against Glitnir's bailout in the name of his movement.
The 13th, of December saw a large petition delivered that asked for the Constitution to be revised and for fresh parliamentary elections. Over the next week as Christmas approached, protests swelled with thousands of people showing up at the parliament. Thereafter, over the holidays, there is little news until January 26th, 2009 when more protests happened at the parliament and continued day by day. By the 1st, February 2009, the Social Democratic Alliance formed a new coalition government with a minority of the Left-Green Movement, the support of the Progressive Party and the Liberal Party. The government continued in this fashion until the 25th of April when parliamentary elections were finally held.
As the rest of the world was coming to terms with the building economic crisis and the potential of austerity, bailouts, TARPS and the like, the Icelandic people began to organize into local councils to debate where they would go with economics, business, the constitution and governance. By November 4th, 2009, the new governing parties decided that Iceland's citizens should become involved in creating a new constitution and started to debate a bill in that regard. Already developing local councils happening at the same time as the protests and parliament deliverance inspired more citizens to unite in grassroots-based local councils across the country. This culminated on the 14th of November 2009 with National Forum (Þjóðfundur 2009) was organized in the form of an assembly of Icelandic citizens at the Laugardalshöll in Reykjavík, by a group of citizen council movements such as Anthil. The Forum eventually settled the ground for the 2011 Constitutional Assembly that was streamed by the Internet to the “publics”, a network of cross county grass-roots councils. 1.500 people were invited to participate in the general assembly. Of these, 1.200 were chosen at random from the national registry, while the other 300 were representatives of companies, institutions and other groups. Near the end of the year, Jón Gnarr, a famous Icelandic stand up comic founded the Best Party. This was originally a joke party created on the fact that political corruption had led to the economic collapse in Iceland.
In 2010, the rest of the world was beginning to wrestle with mounting debts and weakening economies while China and the Indian economy exploded in growth. Protests were already beginning to erupt in Europe, especially in Greece, Spain and France. On the 5th of January 2010, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson refused to countersign the corresponding Act of Parliament, known as the 2nd Icesave bill, into law. On the 15th, The Icelandic Modern Media Institute (IMMI) led by Birgitta Jónsdóttir, introduced and entered a parliamentary resolution proposal known as the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, into Alþing, proposing that Iceland "strongly position itself legally with regard to the protection of freedoms of expression and information".
Things took a decidedly sharp turn on the 5th of March during the Icesave referendum. The referendum was resoundingly defeated, with 93% voting against and less than 2% in favour. The referendum was held to approve the terms of a state guarantee on the debts of Depositors' and Investors' Guarantee Fund (Tryggingarsjóður innstæðueigenda og fjárfesta). In particular the guarantee focused on a 3.8 billion Euro loan from the governments of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands to cover deposit insurance obligations in those lending countries. The referendum was held under article 26 of the Icelandic Constitution. With the economy already in shreds, most people could not see a way to honour these huge debts for a population of 311,000 people, many of whom were not working due to the earlier economic collapse. Based on the population, this guarantee meant that there was 12,280 Euros of debt for every man, woman and child in the population. This kind of repayment on such short terms would force deep austerity on the entire population, threatening homelessness and starvation for a substantial portion of the population.
By June 15th, Jón Gnarr from the Best Party was elected mayor of Reykjavik. His electoral promises included the following;
Do away with all debt by forgiving it, particularly on mortgages and small business
Sustainable transparency in the government and financial sectors
Free towels in all swimming pools
All kinds of things for what he called “weaklings”
A polar bear for the Reykjavík zoo
Disneyland in the Vatnsmýriarea
A "drug-free" Althing by 2020
Tollbooths on the border with Seltjarnarnes
Free access to Hljómskálagarðurinn (orchestra rotunda park)
This "Just In" After a Substantial ,Media Delay!
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Soon after the election he publicly announced that he wouldn't honour his promises. This was to prove to be a spark, at least as far as the question of the debt and government transparency were concerned. These should have been seen as promises too good to be fulfilled under the economic conditions. The day after the Constitutional law voted by Althing, authorized the creation of the constitutional assembly. On the very same day, the IMMI (Icelandic Modern Media Initiative) was adopted unanimously by Althing, the Constitutional Committee. Seven members of the Constitutional Committee were put in charge of supervising the process. For the remainder of 2010, the National Forum of 2010 was initiated by the government with 950 random participants that debated a future Constitutional Assembly on the 6th, of November. The 2010 Forum came into being due to the efforts of both governing parties and the Anthil group. On the 2nd, an election was held to appoint 25 members of the Constitutional Assembly. Elsewhere, the economic conditions triggered the beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia on December 18th that was to spread throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East. France had been through a tough summer where the people had virtually shut down the country for almost two months in a contest of dual power.
In 2011, there was third attempt to ratify an agreement to pay down the Euro debt. It began on the 16th of February when the Icelandic parliament agreed to a repayment deal to pay back the full amount of the Euro debt beginning in 2016 and finalizing it before 2046 with a fixed interest rate of 3%. President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson refused to sign this third Icesave law locking the process into a continuing stalemate. By the 24th of March the Althing validated the Constitutional Assembly with the same members that were elected in November of 2010. On the 6th of April the appointed Constitutional Assembly began its work. A few days later there was a second referendum on the Icesave dispute. The people decided with a no vote of 60% to 40%. After this, tensions started to increase and pressure to begin to pay down the huge debt mounted from Europe.
May 2nd saw the Icelandic Ministry of Economic Affairs publish a response to the EFTA Surveillance Authority's letter of May 20th, 2010, maintaining that Iceland "do not fail to comply with its obligations under Directive 94/19/EC." This was regardless of the fact that much of the debt was created outside of the country on speculative economic ventures. By June 10th the EFTA Surveillance Authority ruled that Iceland should take steps towards paying the full amount to the UK and Netherlands within 3 months after the ruling. The Icelandic Minister of Economic Affairs Árni Páll Árnason made a statement to the Icelandic Parliament on the same day rejecting the ruling. The country had defaulted long enough in the eyes of the big European and UK banks and secretly at the behest of the US involvement and now the collectors were responsible to collect the entire 3.8 billion Euro loan debt with all accrued interest in 90 days. The rejection of the terms upped the ante in difficult relations between Iceland, the UK, Europe and the US. During most of the time, there was an almost total media black out, except what sneaked out via the internet underground and sympathetic political organizations internationally. Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe, austerity measures were being implemented and mass protests erupted in Greece and Spain as these were hit the hardest with austerity and unemployment. Few European countries were left unscathed, hence the urgency to collect on Iceland's debt.
Hördur Torfason arrived in Spain on June 17thto support the "Indignados" movement launched after the big protests that started on May 15th in la Puerta del Sol, Madrid's main square. The Indignados started in response to several conditions including, bank bailouts, high unemployment, austerity, inflation, bank and government corruption. The Iceland general assembly controlled parliament released the new constitutional draft and published it on the Internet on July 18th, 2011. On the 29th, the same draft was presented to the Parliament. By September 2nd, Landsbanki declared that it could refund by itself the British and the Dutch governments after it sold its assets that were reappraised. Two days later, President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson publicly asked for explanations to the EU after Landbanski confirmed it could refund the debt. The measures taken by the British and the Dutch governments, as well as the threats from the EFTA seemed to be disproportionate. The 90 day limit for the collection on the entire debt plus interest had already been well exceeded by then. Nevertheless, no force showed up to collect on the debt or seize any collateral. Perhaps it was due to the tsunami of economic problems everywhere else at the same time. In addition, the birth of the Occupy Wall Street was to complicate politics further as others around the world demanded that the people should also get help and bailouts; not just the big banks and corporations. The state was to respond with brutality such as in the bitter feuds in Oakland.
On September 17th, 2011, Occupy Wall Street began its actions and this was to spread to Iceland in short order. Occupation movements erupted in more than a thousand cities world wide and showed up in Iceland on October 31st, The Occupy Reykjavik movement began camping in front of the Althing.
By November 7th, the Occupy Reykjavik peacefully occupied a Landsbanki branch in Reykjavik. Out of occupations, were to come greater events for 2012 which were to lead to arrests, imprisonment and a world wide search for those head bankers indicted for fraud and economic crimes.
Like other countries, Iceland had to come to grips with the occupy movement and did so on much more friendly terms than almost any other region. The Former Prime Minister Geir H. Haardewas of Iceland was acquitted on the major counts in a trial probing his responsibility for the country’s economic collapse in 2008 on April 23rd, 2012. By May 22nd, more than three years after Iceland's banks collapsed, Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander (KFS) said it had repaid nearly all of the 4.6 billion Euros ($7.2 billion USD) owed to non-preferential creditors. This included debt forgiveness packages for almost the entire population such as mortgage debts, small business loans and the like. Unlike all other countries, no one ultimately wound up destitute and homeless even if unemployed due to and despite the massive international debt. Two days later, with 35 in favor and 15 against, Althing agreed to organize an advisory national referendum on the Constitutional Council’s proposal for a new constitution that was to come into effect no later than October 20th. After this, on June 7th, Byr Savings Bank's former Chairman Jon Thorsteinn Jonsson and the lender’s ex-Chief Executive Officer Ragnar Zophonias Gudjonsson were found guilty of fraud, were arrested and sentenced to four and half years in prison by Iceland’s Supreme Court. Out of this grew a body of one hundred investigators charged with the task of hunting down other former fraudulent bankers who made their escape into the international scene shortly after the collapse of 2008. Some have already been found, arrested and brought back to Iceland to face justice there. The task of dealing with the massive debt still remained.
The incumbent president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who twice refused to countersign parliamentary bills concerning the Icesave dispute and leading to two referendums, both rejected, was reelected as president for a 5th consecutive term on June 30th. Still, all was not well as there were still dissenters. By July 18th, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, along with other people, planed on establishing Iceland's version of the Pirate Party. On September 3rd, Iceland's central bank announced the “prudential rules” with the Financial Supervisory Authority in an effort to reduce the risks when it retracted economic blockades on some $8 billion USD (6.4 billion Euros) in currency now in Icelandic banks. The new rules are seen as a probable limit on foreign exchange risk in the financial system, as well as limiting foreign currency liquidity risk. Furthermore, they will, in combination, limit the banks’ potential for excessive growth based on fractional reserve lending, leveraged accounting, derivatives and the like.
On October 20th, the answers to the 6 questions asked by the advisory referendum about the new constitutional draft were all yes. A low turnout of 49% was due to the fact that this referendum is non-binding. As it stands now, Iceland's revolution is still unfolding.
It was recently announced that Iceland had achieved 100% energy independence. This was achieved over the last couple of years by converting the entire electrical grid to geothermal power, eliminating the need and dependency on foreign oil. Iceland no longer requires oil, coal or nuclear energy to power its electrical grid and central heating. It is only a matter of time before reliance on vehicle fuel is also eliminated except for aircraft and ships coming in from outside. Thus, one of the outcomes of the revolution unfolding in Iceland has to become much more environmentally friendly. Iceland's revolution is apparently still in process. At this stage, it is apparently neither capitalist, nor totally socialist. It is a country in transition in the midst of a sea of capitalism and economic madness. From bankruptcy that led to a total shutdown of the country, Iceland is back on its feet and the local economy is booming. But the outside pressure and blocking of outgoing news is placing enormous pressure to get the Icelanders to cave in and toe the line of austerity being rammed down everyone else's throat around the world. People are increasingly waking up to the fact that huge bank bailouts and tax breaks for the wealthy mean austerity for the working people, the unemployed, seniors and handicapped As information comes out of Iceland, this is being distributed to the people who are struggling to emerge from the financial vice imposed upon them by an international casino economy designed to bleed the workers white while the elite profit ever more.
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