You may have heard the story of Iceland and the financial collapse the country endured back in 2008. You may also have heard stories about how the country did not resort to austerity measures, how we let the banks fail and jailed bankers. This is a story I hear again and again whenever I talk to people outside of Iceland and clearly detect the envy that that they feel towards my country. The envy however has been misplaced to a large degree. You see this so called “economic miracle” is just like any other miracle, it’s a big lie. It is perhaps the most successful PR con-job our nation has pulled and what makes it worse is that the international community has fallen for it.
Nobody has been as helpful in perpetuating this lie as our president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who regularly appears in international media and tells the world how Europe should follow Iceland by example. The truth of the matter is however that the Icelandic government took on a huge amount of extra debt after the collapse to keep privately owned banks afloat as well as the Icelandic Central Bank. The Icelandic government now pays an astronomically high amount in interest every year, enough to run some of the country’s largest institutions for a whole year.
While austerity measures may not have been quite as backbreaking as in some EU countries, the devaluation of our currency combined with cuts in the public sector has made recovery from the collapse for the average citizen, a long and burdensome road. If you are a minimum wage worker, a student or unemployed then you most certainly have felt the burden of the financial collapse. The most insidious lie is probably the jailed bankers story. While there the office of the special prosecutor was created to bring the people responsible for the collapse to justice, an enormous sum of money has been spent on this office and very few bankers have been sentenced to serve actual jail time. There is however one clear example of this. Now you would think that a person who shares responsibility for the collapse of an entire county’s economy would deserve a pretty heavy punishment. The sentence was 9 months in prison…and of those 9 months, 6 months where on probation.
Now you might wonder why it is important for people and governments in other countries to understand what truly happened in Iceland. Because many people want to do exactly what Iceland did. And then you can have populist parties promising you free money as well. Free money that as it turns out, just comes from your own pocket. We may have kicked out the politicians who got us into this mess, but the same people are back now, with the same backward policies that dragged our country to the cusp of financial ruin. The people who are paying for the mistakes of bad politicians and bad businessmen are normal, everyday people. There will be a next time, and it may very well come sooner than people think. Will we truly change things then? Or will we keep doing what we’ve always been doing and hope everything will be fine? Þetta reddast.
Governments are inherently weird. They often operate in ways that seam completely devoid of any logic or reason and are sometimes even draped in tradition and even in superstition. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in my own country’s parliament called Alþingi. In parliament there are currently 6 different parties, The Independence Party, The Progressive Party, The Social Democratic Party, The Left-Green Party, The Bright Future and The Pirate Party. The conservative Independence Party and the populist Progressive Party form a majority coalition. Now the parliament has just reconvened after a summer vacation lasting approximately 3,5 months. During this time there is no way to start ask the ruling parties proper questions about how they are handling things while everybody goes on vacation.
Now for the really weird part. According to tradition all members of parliament are supposed to march into church and attend mass before parliament reconvenes. Despite Iceland’s international reputation for being a liberal and tolerant country we have this very obvious form of injustice called a state church. Inevitably the politics of the church corrupt national politics and national politics corrupt the church. For the past few years this day has usually coincided with protests against the government but this year was relatively quiet. This may result in the ruling parties patting themselves on the back as they usually do. But how do you protest when you have no specific list of demands? That list would be too long to put down on a piece of paper.
Now, in all this mess, some politicians claim that parliament should command respect from the public. No matter how disrespectful they might be behaving towards the public, they should still command compulsory respect. Now it may very well be that a governmental institution should be well respected, if it had earned said respect. Another weird tradition in parliament says that everybody shall wear suits, in fact you can be sent home of you show up wearing blue jeans. What is so disrespectful about blue jeans? Jeans in a certain way represent some of the greatest things about western democracy. They were a very expensive yet popular item on the black market in Soviet Russia. But more importantly Icelanders tend to preach “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” but at least as far as our parliament is concerned, the cover is certainly being judged.
Compulsory respect has always struck me as a bit shady. Respect is and should be earned and should not be taken lightly. So how does a government regain the respect of it’s people? First and foremost the government needs to listen to it’s people. The problem is today that it has no proper means to listen in the way it needs to listen. While people may have learned plenty of lessons from the 2008 financial collapse in this country, very few politicians truly have. Now I recently became a quasi politician as I was offered to be The Pirate Party’s representative in Reykavík’s Council of Education and Youth. The mountain I have to climb to truly change things for the better is enormous. The fundamentals of politics in Iceland really have not changed one bit. The Pirate Party here may have gotten further than any Pirate Party in Europe but we none the less have a long road ahead of us. It would be nice to see politicians who act more like normal people. Wear clothes that don’t cost a few monthly wages for your normal low wage worker. Politicians who are willing to admit when they make mistakes, instead of repeating the same ones over and over again. Last but not least that when there is a series of protests outside the parliaments that get the attention of the whole world that they learn something from it.
Seeing that my writing in Icelandic has been moved to another website and this one has been inactive for quite a while I will in the future be using it for my English speaking audience.
Since I was a teenager I have been a big fan of heavy metal and I think I could be safely described as a true metalhead. It has been absolutely fascinating for me to watch the evolution of this music around the world. It’s a type of music that does not get a lot of airplay on the radio and some people simply describe it as noise. I became fascinated with heavy metal around the same time as the debate around illegal downloading and piracy started. I got introduced to Metallica just before they sued Napster for copyright infringement. At the time, Napster was the main place to download music online and it was amazing how easy and quick it was to get music from artists all around the globe. But at the same time I could understand and appreciate the artists point of view. I would have gladly paid for the music I was downloading but at the time there were no such services available. Not to mention that my local record stores had a very limited amount of the music I enjoy and it was way more expensive than the mainstream popular music. I had to order certain CD’s and some where just impossible to get a hold of.
Thankfully, circumstances have changed dramatically from when I first started downloading mp3’s roughly 15 years ago. I have access to Spotify Premium and I can order almost any album I want of Amazon. I can even support bands directly by purchasing mp3’s, t-shirts and special editions of albums directly from certain bands. All this without the typical middleman that used to have a big say in what products where available to me. Thanks to the internet I have been introduced do metal bands from the Faroe Islands, Brazil, Israel, India, Japan and China just to name a few examples. I consider myself very fortunate compared to a lot of heavy metal fans abroad. Fans in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian countries only have access to heavy metal through piracy and the smuggling of albums.
But unlike in countries with authoritarian regimes, the main reason it seams to be fine to violate people’s basic human rights in the western world is copyright infringement. Internet censorship in western countries is mainly limited to websites like thepiratebay.org. Now there is no real debate that copyright infringement does happen through services like The Pirate Bay but there is also plenty of perfectly legal non-copyrighted material being shared there. Why should The Pirate Bay and sites like it be singled out, either all sites that facilitate copyright infringement should be censored or none of them should. By that logic Google and Dropbox are just two examples of billion dollar companies that should be censored for facilitating copyright infringement. You need only type in the word “torrent” along with the title of a movie on Google to find a link to download a movie for free.
So what are the real world consequences of going after The Pirate Bay and not Google? One of them is that net neutrality faces a serious threat from certain companies that would benefit from internet slow lanes. A large proportion of internet traffic today goes through peer to peer networks, which is one of the main ways that people use to share files. Among those files is of course copyrighted material. The traffic through these services is so heavy that some regulators want to allow ISP’s to decide how much bandwidth is allowed to go through for example The Pirate Bay or Youtube. It means that big ISP’s will decide for you weather the speed of your internet is used for VOD or Youtube.
The consequences of changing the rules on net neutrality will be that the internet will start looking and feeling a lot more like radio or television. All the small things we have come to know and love about the internet will slowly disappear. Your favorite Youtube channel will cease to exist and before you know it, companies will start a bidding war for more bandwidth. I haven’t heard much heavy metal in the radio or on television recently and that is why I prefer the current model of the internet, with all the diversity and enjoyment it has to offer.