Delivered by Birgitta Jonsdottir of The Movement in the Icelandic Parliament, October 5, 2009
Madam President. Dear countrymen. We have a choice to make. We are never faced with just one way, one solution. To assert so is a testimony to incredible tunnel vision on the reality that we live in. We are far from being the first and only nation that has had to deal with crisis and economic collapse. Perhaps what makes our position unique is that we are in an economic war – a war with nations that are using their positions of power to get what they want. Does that mean that all other avenues are closed? Are there perhaps other possibilities than chaining us with the burdens of foreign debt far into the future?
It certainly makes sense to lower our interest payments as soon as possible but is there perhaps another way? Why can’t we look at, or at least discuss, the possible solution of declaring a debt moratorium? The numbers I hear on the national debt are so huge and such a high percentage of our GDP, that according to all the standards we use, we are technically bankrupt. Is it maybe better to face reality before it is too late? Is it maybe better for our nation to take the crunch immediately instead of continuously adding to our foreign debt? Do we want to offer our children the hopeless conditions that many underdeveloped countries have had to offer their future generations? Do we want to be just another country that does not do anything other than pay off interest on foreign debts? What is the worst thing that could happen if we declare debt moratorium? Will the sky fall? Will we starve? Will we never again be able to get loans from the international community? Of course not.
We have heard from many experts that horrendous tales of the International Monetary Fund. They warn us against continuing on the road we are on. Do these fine individuals know what they are talking about? One of them is a Nobel Prize winner in economics and worked for the IMF a long time, the other was an economic hit man and yet another one is a world renowned economist. Some experts have proposed that we join other nations that have defied the IMF, or at least seek advice from nations that have fared badly under IMF conditions. Will we be able to preserve economic independence, if we continue to believe that the only possible solution to the debt problem is to create more debt? People who are dealing with excessive consumption of some sort should probably not use this cure since the solution seems to be to consume more to cure the over consumption. I simply don’t understand this methodology.
Unfortunately, the reality is that if we continue on the way the government is going our nation will be crushed under the interest burdens of foreign debt. Payment of foreign debt will take a big chunk of our economic growth and our GDP. The government proposes two ways out of this problem, slashing our welfare state and increasing taxes. Furthermore, we have not seen any reasonable proposal to correct the injustice that the public has suffered. How can you expect the nation to shoulder such burdens as the proposed cuts and tax increase suggests if you can not trust that the hardship will have positive results in the end? It simply can not be expected.
We now need to make decisions based on hope, justice, and the resurrection of pride which comes from living in a country which many people believe is almost uninhabitable. We can and should seek all possible ways to find common solutions. Britain declared war on our nation when they labeled us as terrorists – the British authorities have used economic terrorism against us by misusing the IMF, and using our EU membership application as leverage in order to extort from us what they want in the Icesave debate. It is morally wrong to lay debts on the shoulders of the public which it had nothing to do with in the first place.
Our government doesn’t seem to realize that we are indeed in an economic war and that the nation has been attacked in such a way which makes a courteous response impossible, and it being impossible as well to state without blinking that we should pay the debts of financiers that mortgaged the work of the nation undisturbed while the administration slept.
The demands of Britain and Holland regarding Icesave have to be rejected on the basis of national well being and security. If the government tries to honor the Icesave agreement and follow the IMF program it could lead to mass emigration, damage our healthcare and education system, diminish the workforce, inhibit productive investments and usher in a period of permanent national decline.
I object when our leaders claim that we the people are obliged to pay debts we never incurred. On what basis should every man, woman and child be forced to pay €20,000 each? I have heard that we have to pay the British and the Dutch because they are using their strong position to stop our loan from the IMF. I have heard that their MPs were ruthless and rude to our visiting MPs last week in the European Parliament, and had said more than once that if we didn’t pay we could not join the European Union. I don’t know about you, respected government and prime minister, but I think the time has come to get out of this bind and seek alternative solutions.
The Movement supports the following ideas for action to bring us out of the economic calamity we are in:
First, we should rid ourselves of the IMF presence in our country using all available means. The European Union has also been hostile to Iceland in the Icesave debate and hence it would be inadvisable to continue with our membership application at this time.
Secondly, we should initiate measures to control speculative trading, first by placing a 1% “Tobin-tax” on all financial transactions and profits, including derivatives, stocks, currency transactions and commodity speculation. Additionally we should halt the repossession of homes and businesses and update our regulatory framework for banks and financial markets.
We are now heading into familiar territory where left and right are positioning themselves in the usual opposing trenches. Lament is now heard from a familiar corner about how the cutbacks aren’t large enough or that its unfair to tax those more who can afford to pay more.
We have often heard that we need to get around this left-right paradigm which places people in opposing camps. It has never been more important than right now to lift the discussion on a higher plane than the trench warfare of obsolete values.
When I see the task of this government I see a number of important issues on the agenda and I pledge our support to much of the legislation being proposed. Much has been discussed about a broad based national coalition government and a non-parliamentary government . Such arrangements have not fared well in the past, but the total collapse of our financial system may justify that all elected representatives shoulder collective responsibility of resuscitating our economy. Unfortunately our president has lost his symbol of unity and any such government appointed by him would leave much to be desired.
This year I and my friends in The Movement have have thought about what could unite us to seek a way out of our troubles. What could make us believe that it was sensible to try working our way out of these trying times and injustice. Is it realistic to expect that the public take on the difficult times ahead if they can not unite on something to work through this? It is often said that we parliamentarians are a disparate group of people reflecting the different views of society. Maybe our next big task should be to find a common way which we all can go. Maybe we need to think beyond the next four years. Maybe we need to really discuss what kind of nation we want to be. Many people walk wounded from the boom time in which they took part, they got swept by the current and now feel guilty. Others never took part in any of this and feel its unfair that now they are called on to pay for this whole mess when they never were rich in the first place. The pulse of the nation is rapid and raging.
The new Iceland isn’t the Iceland that the people called for. They wanted democratic reforms, but legislation now being proposed in this area is weak and not in tune with the people’s demands. The nation needs a constitutional convention in which citizens take part but the expensive advisory convention for a chosen few which the government proposes is a distortion of the unity such a convention could bring if a different metheod were used. In November a few energetic individuals will call together a national convention and it is my hope this endeavor will guide us on this path.
We parliamentarians are here to represent the will of the people. But the people have to make up their minds as to what it is that they want. It is clear that no matter which government will be in charge, they will always be unpopular in the trying times ahead If we are not to have a persistent government crisis it is important that Parliament take back the powers it was originally intended to have. At the moment the executive branch holds Parliament hostage. It is healthy for democracy that the executive branch refrain from using its MPs as a rubber stamp for their decisions. The government has set an example for all and called for the parliamentary minority to work according to their conviction, cf. European Union application – it must apply to the majority as well. Heard mentality and leader adulation brought us down. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again. The Movement wants to speak for the public; we have no interests to guard but your own.
Halldór Laxness had a unique insight into our nation’s soul. “Maystar,” his poems of hope, sings in my heart when I think to my nation these days, and in particular this verse:
There are difficult times,
there is a labor dispute,
I have nothing to offer,
not a scrap I can give,
but my hope and my life
whether awake or asleep,
this hope that you gave me
it is all that I have.
There are difficult times and a hard winter lies ahead, but let us never forget that the darkest hour is always before dawn and there is hope if we find it together. In order for this to happen we must square up with the past and implement real changes. If we can see a purpose with our sacrifices this nation can continue to perform small miracles and make the impossible possible, then this depression will perhaps not last as long as it seems at the moment. It is unrealistic to argue that next year we will see the end of the crisis. But it is realistic to set goals that we can all agree on. What these goals are is yours to decide and ours to implement.
 [Icesave refers to the branch banks set up by the Iceland-based private banks Landsbanki and Kaupthing in the deregulated banking sectors of Great Britain and the Netherlands. These branches were seized by London and The Hague at the height of the Lehman Brothers panic in September-October 2008. These governments, backed by the IMF, then demanded more than $6 billion from the Icelandic government to bail out the depositors. This is the attempted extortion which Ms. Jonsdottir is speaking against.]
 [Laxness is the most beloved modern Icelandic writer and the author of Independent People; he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955.]