Some people out in the big world seem to think that the Icelandic government can still be expected be progressive about causes such as freedom of expression, transparency and access to information about governmental affairs. But this is not quite the case. We have a new government now and a Prime Minister who wants to go back to the Viking discourse of the years before 2008 and who thinks that Iceland has become a model for the rest of the world – not (as before) because of its wonderful bankers, but because of Icelanders’ Viking resistance to oppression. Here is a part of the Prime Minister’s National day speech in English translation:
Icelanders, as descendants of the Vikings, are highly individualistic and have difficulty putting up with authorities, let alone oppression. This was clearly demonstrated in the Icesave dispute, in which the people rejected an agreement it considered unfair. …
Similarly the way Icelanders were able to get rid of the debts that our banks incurred while their leaders were treated as national heroes at home, is now a model for the people of the world:
Without hesitation, Iceland took the view that the debts of the insolvent banks should not be imposed on the public, and was undaunted by threats from various quarters. As a result, people across Europe look to Iceland as a model in the struggle with the consequences of the economic recession…
While the rest of the world should learn from Icelanders, according to the Prime Minister, we do not have to take any lessons from other countries:
We Icelanders wish to participate in international cooperation and to work with nations all over the world, sharing our experience, knowledge and strengths but at the same time learning from others and benefiting from their strengths. On the other hand, we will not let an international institution tell us that it is not possible to do more for Icelandic households at the same time as it reminds us of the importance of settling the final account following the economic crash.
And we do not listen to people who argue that Iceland might be better off as a member of the EU – such people either do not understand the spirit of independence or lack the moral principle of 19th Century independence heroes:
It is not possible to say “Of course I support Iceland’s sovereignty, but … the world has become so complicated for a small nation; but international trade has become so great; but supranational federations have become so powerful …” What about adding that maybe we can’t govern ourselves after all? Perhaps the best thing would be to bring in the discipline of a foreign power?
The idea that Icelanders are a focused group of like-minded people who, when given the chance to, are ready to oppose oppression and fight foreign powers sounds like a sad cliché. Yet is is apparently an easy message to convey today – historically naïve as it may seem to be. So don’t expect any radical message from Iceland right now. Expect nationalism.