Portugal: Citizens Ask Icelanders About Democracy

This page is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

In the same week in April that former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates announced the need for an international financial bailout to pay for its public debt of 80 billion Euros, Icelanders went to the polls to reject tax payers participation in the “Icesave” bank bailout deal.

Though Iceland’s practice of direct democracy, renunciation of an international bailout and economic recovery in two years has not been properly covered by the Portuguese mainstream media, bloggers are analysing and getting inspired by the story.

Reykjavik Protest, 2008. Photo by Kristine Lowe on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Reykjavik Protest, 2008. Photo by Kristine Lowe on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Clavis Prophetarum [pseudonymn], from the blog Quintus, tells why he thinks Iceland’s “brave resistance to the political-financial complex that ademocratically rules the European Union nowadays” is being ignored [pt]:

A opção islandesa não serviu os interesses dos bancos europeus, logo estes têm todo o interesse em que se não fale dela nem que esta possível via chegue aos ouvidos dos cidadãos.

Quando em 2007, a Islândia foi o primeiro país europeus a soçobrar perante a crise mundial, declarando bancarrota por causa da falência do seu maior banco muitos desconsideraram o impacto de tal crise alegando que se tratava apenas de um pequeno país com pouco mais de meio milhão de habitantes e que seria facilmente “socorrido” por um empréstimo do FMI. O problema foi que na Islândia a “ajuda” do FMI foi levada a referendo e… derrotada.

The Icelandic option did not serve the interests of European banks, so they have vested interests in this option not being mentioned and  that the possibility of such a path never becomes known to citizens.

When in 2007, Iceland was the first European country to sink in face of the global crisis by declaring bankruptcy because of the collapse of its largest bank, many overlooked the impact of this crisis and claimed that it was only a small country with just over half a million people and it would be easily “rescued” by an IMF loan. The problem was that in Iceland the “help” of the IMF was taken to referendum and… it was defeated.

He adds that in Portugal also, “the solution for the current crisis cannot rely on ten years of severe budget restrictions to keep the banks that have greedily and unbridledly lent us money”.

The national ballot is just one of the “lessons” [pt] for Portugal and the rest of the European countries to learn from Iceland, as the online news platform i reports [pt]. The people have also organized sit-ins in front of the Parliament demanding the fall of the conservative government, have taken those responsible for the crisis to justice – including the former prime minister Geir Haarde whose trial started last Monday, September 5 – and a new crowdsourced constitution is in the works.

“Do you think that we in Portugal should do the same that you do?”

In a video by Miguel Marques, a group of Portuguese citizens ask Icelanders about their social mobilization:

How did the unions in Iceland took [sic] position and saw [sic] themselves as players in the movements of the resistance against the debt crisis in Iceland and all over europe? (…)

How are you Icelanders organizing yourselves to make a better future for you?

(…) What’s happening now? What are you still doing? What are you struggling for and what do you think is worth fighting for, like the constitution? Is this constitution really separating the powers – economical, political, religious? How do you think it will help? What things do you want the constitution to help change? (…)

What are you doing now? The popular movements… are you still gathering? Are you organized in small groups? Did people split like the four of them who were elected? Do you have small groups of interests?

(…) Whether you people in Europe, and us here in the south, if we could find a way to get together and get what’s wrong with the whole of the system, capitalist system of course? How can we actually create a network of help in which we could actually propose a whole new system for Europe and beyond? Go Iceland people!

For Miguel Madeira, from the blog Vias de Facto [pt], “the relative Icelandic success is more the result of popular mobilization than of ‘new governments'”. In a comment [pt] to his post, Fernando Ribeiro starts by highlighting the fact that in Iceland there was no need for “violent clashes” and considers that whereas “in Greece, Ireland and Portugal the political class didn’t – and will not – consult the voters it represents when making such important decisions as falling back on the European fund”. It is important to:

requerer abertamente mais democracia na hora das tomadas de decisão fundamentais, e ultrapassar o argumento caduco da democracia liberal em que a democracia representativa funciona assim mesmo.

openly demand more democracy at the time of fundamental decision-making, and to overcome the obsolete argument of liberal democracy which says that representative democracy works just this way.

Icelanders are not only demanding more democracy but also taking part in “the ultimate affirmation of participatory democracy. (…) Democracy 2.0″, through a new crowdsourced constitution to be debated in the Parliament in October. Paula Thomaz from Carta Capital sums up the process [pt]:

a discussão para a nova [constituição] islandesa se dá através de vídeos do Youtube em tempo real, que mostram os debates do Conselho; fotos no Flickr; pequenas frases no Twitter; no site oficial dos temas (em islandês e em inglês); e no Facebook é que as ideias estão abertas para discussão.

the discussion for the new Icelandic [constitution] is taking place through Youtube videos in real time, that show the debates of the Council; photos on Flickr; short sentences on Twitter; on the official website of the themes (in Icelandic and English); and on Facebook is where ideas are open for discussion.

To wrap up a thorough analysis on Iceland’s response to the crisis, in an opinion article [pt] originally published in the website Noticias do Douro and widely shared online, engineer and public servant Fernando Gouveia, writes:

Se isto servir para esclarecer uma única pessoa que seja deste pobre país aqui plantado no fundo da Europa, que por cá anda sem eira nem beira ao sabor dos acordos milionários que os seus governantes acertam com o capital internacional, e onde os seus cidadãos passam fome para que as contas dos corruptos se encham até abarrotar, já posso dar por bem empregue o tempo que levei a escrever este artigo.

If this clears things up for at least one person from this poor country stuck right at the end of Europe, a person that wanders around here without a penny to taste the millionaire agreements that his or her government leaders reach with international capital, and where citizens go hungry so that the accounts of the corrupt are filled to the brim, I can consider the time it has taken me to write this article as well spent.

This page is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.


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