By Mark Wachtler
December 13, 2013. Iceland. (ONN) The UK’s Guardian recently asked why news of the five-year Icelandic revolution has been banned in the United States. Americans receive hourly media reports of revolt from the Middle East and the rest of Europe. But Iceland’s popular uprising instituted something that is apparently too despised and dangerous for Americans to learn of – the corporate overthrow of democracy.
Icelanders voted to disolve their Constitution and create a new one. But their two ruling parties simply refused to disolve themselves. Image courtesy of IndyMedia.ie.
Editor's Note: This article was revised slightly 2/4/14 to include corrections to a few of the details compliments of Prof. Thor Gylfason of the University of Iceland. Prof. Gylfason, who is intimately involved in this issue, was gracious enough to describe this article saying, "the hard-hitting article below is essentially correct as far as I can see." For even more information, visit Prof. Gylfason's website which includes a section titled, 'From Collapse to Constitution - the Case of Iceland.'
The Icelandic revolution
When Wall Street’s largest global banks destroyed the world’s economy by gambling trillions of dollars they didn’t have and then demanding that taxpayers cover those lost bets, no one entity was defrauded or robbed more than the country of Iceland.
When the people of Iceland were told in 2008 that the tens of billions of dollars they had just invested with these very same banks only a year or a few months earlier was gone, the people rose up. They took to the streets with the only possessions they had left – their pots and pans. Banging and clanking their metal cookware, the people of Iceland took to the streets en masse and caused a peaceful revolution in the frozen island nation long before anyone ever heard of Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring.
As described in great detail by OpenDemocracy.net, for the first time since World War 2, the people of Iceland elected a Parliament that did not include a majority of either the conservative Independence Party (Republican equivalent) or the liberal Progressive Party (Democratic equivalent). The incoming 2009 Parliament included a majority of independent reformers who promised to abide by the protesters’ demands and rewrite the nation’s Constitution to do two things – restore one-person one-vote elections and take ownership of the nation’s natural resources back from the multi-national corporations that were exploiting it for their own profit.
The first Random Republic
The newly elected Icelandic Parliament did something unprecedented. They designed a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the country’s Constitution that didn’t include any politicians, scholars, industrialists or corporations. Instead, the body would be made up of 950 citizens drawn at random from the whole of the population.
In 2010, the list of average citizens who would be tasked with rewriting Iceland’s Constitution was narrowed down to 522. After popular elections to narrow that number down even further, 25 individuals with no connections to the country’s corporations or establishment parties were chosen to recreate the government of Iceland. On their first day, the assembly announced that it had two main responsibilities. They included election reform and the preservation of national ownership of the country’s vast natural resources.
Overthrowing the government, legally
Observers don’t hesitate to point out the irony that overnight, the corrupt, elite establishment had suddenly become the powerless ‘opposition’. While the previously powerless populace suddenly became the all-powerful ‘establishment’. But Iceland’s corporations and the country’s two main parties refused to accept defeat and set forth to undermine the democratic reforms set in motion.
First, three backers of the conservative Independence Party sued to undo the entire mandate to rewrite the Constitution. Lawyers challenged what was described as a bizarre technicality in the just-completed popular election that chose the assembly tasked with rewriting the Constitution. Even though the technicality was the equivalent of not dotting an ‘i’ or crossing a ‘t’, the Iceland Supreme Court threw out the results of the election and declared it null and void. The country’s reformers complained that of the six Supreme Court Justices that ruled against them, five had been appointed by the Independence Party, the same party that was suing to overturn the election.
Global media outlets, except in the United States where the story is banned, published repeated stories and editorials decrying the ruling of Iceland’s Supreme Court. The decision completely reversed all the progress of the entire ‘pots and pans revolution’ since 2008. The world’s press warned that it was the first time in modern history that the results of a democratic election in a democratic country were thrown out over an inconsequential technicality.
Two corrupt establishment parties take back control
The new national assembly elected in 2010 promised to abide by the people’s mandate to take the power and national resources away from the two parties and their corporate backers and to write a Constitution that guaranteed it to the people. But the Supreme Court destroyed the credibility of this new citizen-government in the eyes of the Icelandic people. And with the country’s news industry owned by the very same corporations, it wasn’t difficult to turn the people against themselves and their own independent assembly.
As the old saying proves true time and again, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ The conservative, corporate-backed Independence Party had always been against a new populist Icelandic Constitution. But suddenly, the newly elected liberal Progressives had mysteriously switched sides and now supported the corporations and the establishment wing of their own party too. Even the staunchly reform far left Greens and Social Democrats found many of their elected members quietly opposing a new Constitution and supporting the corporations.
A new Constitution
Like a riveting suspense novel, the supporters of a new Iceland Constitution and their 25-member committee to draft the document, had somehow crawled their way to the finish line while constantly being discredited by the country’s business sector, national media, two main parties, and even some of their own leaders. In mid-2011, the Constitutional Convention unanimously passed their draft 25-0 and turned it over to Parliament for ratification.
View the draft Constitution (English translation) here.
This was the moment the country had worked so hard for over the past three years. The pots and pans revolution of regular citizens had apparently won their fight and a new Constitution had been written that incorporated all their demands for protections from the predatory corporations and establishment parties. Immediately upon delivering their proposal to Parliament, the Constitutional council disbanded itself. Its job was done.
With only one step remaining before Iceland had a new, fair Constitution that protected democracy and the nation’s valuable natural resources, a handful of Independence Party conservatives and Progressive Party liberals took a page from their American counterparts and filibustered the new Constitution for weeks to postpone the national referendum to approve the new government.
The reformers had hoped to put the new Constitution on the ballot at the same time as Iceland’s national election in June 2012 to take advantage of the always-high voter turnout. But the corporate-backed conservatives and progressives had filibustered the new referendum long enough to miss that election.
Victory at the polls
Even though the corporations and their two parties had gained more time to buy opposition to the new Constitution and even move it to a low-turnout polling day, the people of Iceland stood strong and reaffirmed their mandate to take back their democracy and natural resources from the multi-national corporations and banks that had seemingly stole them. The voters had overwhelmingly voted for the new Constitution and its two main provisions.
The referendum was divided up on the ballot and first asked voters if they supported the new Constitution in general. A full two-thirds of Icelanders voted yes. The following two questions asked about the specific details. When asked if the people should retain ownership of the country’s natural resources rather than deed them to corporations, 83% said yes. And 67% voted yes when asked if Iceland’s elections should reflect one-person one-vote.
The people have no power
Americans can identify with the next scene in Iceland’s struggle for democracy. The voters approved the new Constitution. But the voters don’t actually make that happen, Parliament does. And Iceland’s Parliament, now once again controlled by the country’s two establishment parties and the world’s wealthy corporations and billionaires, had no intention of taking the power from their patrons and benefactors and giving it back to the people. Parliament announced that the voters had only mandated minor revisions to the existing Constitution which allowed the corruption in the first place.
It didn’t help that the original 25-person Constitutional assembly had been discharged after completing their assignment of drafting a new Constitution. Even one of the drafting Assemblymen authored a critical essay and a handful of the country’s influencial universities ramped-up their public opposition to the new Constitution, insisting that the job of rewriting something so important should never have been left to ordinary citizens and should instead have been entrusted to Iceland’s university scholars. And the corporate-owned media was only too happy to flood the airwaves with alleged experts and their damaging commentary.
The final battle
Many observers suggested that Iceland’s new reform-Parliament, made up of independents and opposition leaders, was publicly supporting the new Constitution because that’s what they were elected to do. But they warned that the pro-corporate interests, including the two major parties, had bought or influenced enough of the reformers to switch sides that if the vote for a new Constitution were held in secret, it would fail.
Prior to the vote to ratify the country’s new Constitutional provisions, which ignored the mandate for a new Constitution but included most of the required reforms, supporters were able to get 32 of Parliament’s 63 members to pledge in writing that they would vote in favor of the new national reform measures. The populist changes seemed assured to finally be enacted after five years of effort.
With a small minority still in power, the two establishment parties – the Independence Party and the Progressive Party – managed to filibuster the new Constitution once again. Grassroots activists and members of the media pointed out that the reformers in Parliament, who still had a majority, had the numbers to bypass the filibuster. But whispers and rumors from the nation’s capitol let everyone know that the corporate powerbrokers had infiltrated enough reform members of Parliament to ensure that would not happen.
The strategy of the globalists and two major parties was simple. Reformers had a small majority in Parliament, but 2013 elections were coming up fast and the nation’s media outlets and universities had destroyed the reform movement’s credibility so much, the two ruling elite parties were sure to take back Parliament in this year’s elections. They only needed to delay the ratification vote until elections could give Parliament back to the corporations.
With the filibuster stopping a vote on the Constitutional reforms, one opposition member of Parliament outsmarted the corporations and their two parties. As Chair of the Committee in charge of finalizing the new Constitution, Margrét Tryggvadóttir bypassed the filibuster by attaching the new reforms to another Bill as a simple Amendment. But the leaders of the two establishment parties had no intention of playing by Parliamentary rules and were determined to take back the government any way they could.
Their response to MP Tryggvadottir’s shrewd political move to save her country’s independence and the Constitutional reforms that guaranteed it was as blatantly unethical as it was successful. The President of Parliament put the Bill up for vote at 2:00am during the final hours of the last day of the session. And in violation of the Parliament’s own rules, she brought it up for a vote without the Amendment containing the hard-fought Constitutional reforms.
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A lesson for Americans, and the democratic world
When the April 2013 Icelandic elections were held, one would think the economic collapse and the effort to enact a new Constitution had never happened. Politicians from the two establishment conservative and progressive parties refused to talk about the issue while on the campaign trail and the nation’s corporate-owned media gladly played along and refused to ask.
Knowing that the just-elected, first-term reformers had seen their reputations and credibility unjustly destroyed by a never-ending media campaign and they were going to be swept from office, the corporate-backed Independence and Progressive Parties went back to the same old insincere debates over social welfare versus fiscal responsibility. When the April elections were over, the two establishment parties both took back control of Iceland’s Parliament as anticipated.
Mirroring President Obama and his Democrats in America in 2008 and 2012, Iceland’s liberal Progressive Party outpolled the conservative Independence Party by campaigning on the promise to bring financial relief to the economically destroyed citizens of Iceland. And just as in America, the first thing the progressives did upon taking control of the government was to thumb their nose at the country’s citizens and pass a massive welfare package for Iceland’s wealthy corporations, paid for by the people of Iceland.
The moral of the story, and a warning to democracies everywhere, is that when 67% of the country votes to dissolve its federal government, and the laws of the land require it to happen, but the corruption and power of the world’s corporations stop it from happening – your democracy was overthrown long ago and it’s too late to get it back now. The scariest part of Iceland’s story is that it seems like the same series of events could play out in America as well. And it would unfortunately have the same conclusion.
For more information and to read a detailed account of Iceland’s revolution that wasn’t, visit OpenDemocracy.net.
Or read the report published by The Guardian.
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