Saturday, 31 January 2009

Good news from Iceland

The recently resigned Prime Minister of Iceland, conservative Geir Haarde, is being widely described as the first government victim of the financial crisis. Since the economy collapsed last year, weekly riots have rocked the government until it was no longer viable. Early elections have been called for May, and the interim Prime Minister is to be Johanna Sigurdardottir of the Social Democratic Alliance.

The fact that she will be the first openly gay Prime Minister in the world is one in the eye for global homophobes. But although she's considered slightly to the left of her party, the Social Democrats have been in coalition with with Haarde's Independence Party since 2007, and therefore bear some responsibility for the neoliberal financial-deregulation-and-privatisation which turned out to be a house built on sand.

The Social Democrats' new coalition partner is the Left-Green Movement, which has 9 of the Icelandic Parliament's 63 seats. Although solidly green, they're not aligned with other global Green Parties, but rather with the Nordic Green Left, the alliance of left-wing parties across Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Polls now put them on 28%, which would make them the biggest party if nothing changes before the election.

The Financial Times explains their appeal: "The Left-Greens – an anti-big business, pro-environment party – have benefited from a dramatic rise in anti-capitalist sentiment in Iceland following the crisis as people expressed disgust at prominent and flashy young businessmen known as the ‘Viking raiders’."

Of course, a Left-Green led government would not be a panacea. It is calling for the renegotiation of Iceland's recent bailout deal with the IMF, but even if it manages to do this, the better terms it negotiates are unlikely to include ensuring that ordinary people don't pay for the financial crisis through job losses and reposessions. If people resist this, which they may well do given the evidence of the protests so far, the Left-Green Movement could end up enforcing the interests of capital rather than fighting them.

But perhaps I'm judging them by the standards of your average Social Democrat. If the Left-Greens maintain a close connection to the social movements which emerge in response to the crisis, and those movements maintain their self activity rather than leaving it all to the Left-Greens, something rather exciting could emerge in Iceland. And in the meantime, we can be heartened by the fact that Iceland seems to be lurching left rather than right in response to their economic crisis.

For further reading (all in English) see the Left-Green Movement's website, Aftaka (an anarchist site) and the Guardian's Iceland section.

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