'IMF' Tag Archive

Oct 28 2013

Come and Meet the Members of the Brand


By Haukur Már Helgason

After being hailed as the world’s radical wunderkind for a few years, Iceland left observers perplexed when the parties evidently responsible for its failed neoliberal experiment were voted back in 2013. Who or what runs this shop, really?

You “want to move outside the herd and be independent” because you are “different from the ‘ordinary’ tourist.” You “have above average education” and you “have above average income,” says the Icelandic Tourist Industry Association’s report from last year, defining their target group, ‘the enlightened tourist.’ And boy, are you targeted. Read More

May 24 2013

In the Land of the Wild Boys


Andri Snær Magnason

First published in Grapevine. Based on a 2010 article entitled “Í landi hinna klikkuðu karlmanna.” (“In the Land of the Mad Men”). Translated in part by Haukur S. Magnússon.

After the election, we see the old parties of economic mass destruction are coming back to power. Giving enormous promises of easy money to be wrestled from evil vulture funds, debt relief and tax reduction, The Progressive Party doubled in size after a few years of hardship. There is a jolly good feeling between the two young new leaders of a brave new Iceland, and when a radio host called them up and offered to play them a request, they asked for Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys.’ I Googled the lyrics, not quite remembering the lines, and got a nice chill down my back:

Wild boys fallen far from glory
Reckless and so hungered
On the razors edge you trail
Because there’s murder by the roadside
In a sore afraid new world

They tried to break us,
Looks like they’ll try again

Sounds quite grim. This, coupled with the new government’s announcement that it would be effectively dismantling the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources and that there will be no Minister for the Environment, gave me a strange flashback feeling. I decided to revisit the state of mind that we used to call normal in 2006. When the economic policy, the energy policy, the expansion of our towns, the mortgages on our homes—almost all aspects of our daily life had become totally mad. This is not my own diagnosis; if you search the homepage of the IMF for the phrase “Collective Madness,” you’ll find this:

“’Iceland, in the decade and a half leading up to the crisis, was an example of collective madness,’ said Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, a remark that elicited spontaneous applause from the more than 300 participants, many of them Icelandic policymakers, academics, and members of the public.”

In our daily lives, we usually sense what is normal and what is over the top. Sometimes the discourse will blind us; PR and propaganda can create a kind of newspeak. It can be a good exercise to try to talk about things in a foreign language, to view them in a new light. As an Icelander, you could for instance try to tell someone from another country that Iceland’s government sold one state bank and received payment in the form of a loan from another state bank—and vice versa. That the state banks were thereby handed to men that were closely connected to the then-reigning political parties. The manager of one of the parties became head of one of the banks’ board of directors, while the other party’s former Minister of Trade belonged to the group that was given the other bank. That man had access to every bit of inside information about the bank’s standing.

In the meantime, this former Minister of Trade became Central Bank Manager. He went to the US and made Alcoa an offer that the company could not refuse. He had thus set in motion the largest-scale construction project in Icelandic history, greatly increasing economic activity in Iceland—a grand boon for the bank he just finished selling to himself.

If you tell this story in a foreign language, people shake their heads. They gape in disbelief. They use words like “corruption” and “mafia.” They exclaim, full of disbelief and even disappointment, “no, not in Scandinavia!”

THE ACCEPTED INSANITY

It is insane to expand a banking system by tenfold in eight years. We know that now. It isn’t technically possible to grow all the knowledge and experience needed to build up and manage such a contraption in such a short time. Not even by shoving an entire generation through business school. It is impossible.

But the megalomania was not just confined to the banking sector. Energy production in Iceland was doubled from 2002–2007, when the huge Kárahnjúkar dam was built in the eastern part of the highlands—to serve one single Alcoa smelting plant. The energy it produces, about 650MW annually, is enough to power a city of one million people. Doubling the energy production in a developed country over a five-year period is not only unheard of, but it would also be considered ridiculous in all of our neighbouring nations. Most industrialised states increase their energy production by around 2–3% annually. Doubling it would be unthinkable. It has been proven again and again that gargantuan investments generally destroy more than they create. Read More

Aug 27 2011

Disciples of Milton Friedman


The following chapter is from ‘Bankastræti Núll’, the latest book by poet and author Einar Már Guðmundsson, translated and originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine, parallel to an introduction to Einar by Alda Kravec. The introduction says that the book “opens with the narrator’s lament: the current political situation has stifled his ability to write poems to his lover. Although he foresees a future where “reality wakes up” and poets can once again sing the praises of love and nature, the resounding sound of social injustice presently overwhelms him and beckons him to first engage in the struggle against the free reign of the stock exchange, privatisation and greed.”

It is written somewhere that all cats are grey in the dark, but here in Iceland, official reports are all black, no matter how bright it is outside. Alþingi’s Investigative Commission’s Report is black. The Central Bank’s Report on the status of household debt is black. And the government and International Monetary Fund’s Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies is also black, dark as a coal mine, and sure enough, it was drafted in April, the cruellest month. It is a reminder of the misery that the IMF has presided over in countries all over the world, and directly refutes the notion that the IMF plans to apply different methods than those it has adhered to until now.

In Greece, the public has risen up against the Fund’s plans, but here the labour movement and employers get into bed with it and are almost more devout than the Pope in getting investors to come here with their baggage of offshore profits and dummy corporations. In one district, where neo-liberals have sold everything and there is nothing left to mortgage except the harbour, efforts are being made to set a precedent by selling natural resources through a shelf company just so politicians can save face after having handed over the entire district to their associates and relatives on a silver platter. Read More

Jan 08 2011

Support Jason Slade! – Saving Iceland Activist Facing Heavy Charges in USA


A good friend and comrade through the years, Jason Slade, is facing heavy charges in the US for his participation in a protest against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in Washington D.C. on April 26th 2009. For the last years Jason has lived back in forth in Iceland and is a veteran Saving Iceland and Food Not Bombs activist over here, to name only a few examples. We are calling for support of him, especially financial assistance at this moment.

During the above-mentioned protest, Jason was handcuffed after wanting to check out a friend of his who had been attacked by the police and arrested. In the end he was though not arrested until the next day when leaving the city in a car with that same friend. They got pulled over by a policeman who told them they had not given a turn signal. Shortly afterwards a policeman from the day before turned up and arrested Jason. Read More

Aug 16 2010

Inside a Charging Bull


Iceland, one year on
By Haukur Már Helgason

After Iceland’s three banks collapsed in October 2008 – a bankruptcy bigger than Lehmann Brothers’ in a republic of 300,000 inhabitants – the public overthrew a neoliberal government through mass protest, precipitating a general election. On election day, 25 April 2009, the conservative head of Iceland’s public radio newsroom sighed his relief: ‘Judging from the atmosphere this winter a revolution was foreseeable in spring, some sort of revolution – that something entirely different from what we are used to would take over. Now we know better.’(1) Read More

Jul 13 2010
4 Comments

Saving Iceland Mobilisation Call-Out


Join our resistance against the industrialization of Europe’s last remaining great wilderness and take direct action against heavy industry!

The Struggle So Far
The campaign to defend Europe’s greatest remaining wilderness continues. For the past five years summer direct action camps in Iceland have targeted aluminium smelters, mega-dams and geothermal power plants.

After the terrible destruction as a result of building Europe’s largest dam at Kárahnjúkar and massive geothermal plants at Hengill, there is still time to crush the ‘master plan’ that would have each major glacial river dammed, every substantial geothermal field exploited and the construction of aluminium smelters, an oil refinery, data farms and silicon factories. This would not only destroy unique landscapes and ecosystems but also lead to a massive increase in Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Read More

May 20 2010

Magma Energy Takes Over HS Orka


PipelinesThe third largest power company in Iceland, HS Orka (Southern Peninsula Power Company) is in the process of being sold to the Canadian company Magma Energy. Magma already owns 46% of the stocks in HS Orka and is now set on buying Geysir Green Energy´s (GGE) 52% stock, leaving only 2% of the company in Icelandic hand´s. Magma´s takeover of the company started in july of 2009 when Magma bought an 11% share from GGE. Around the time of the purchase, Ross Beaty, Magma’s director stated that the company did not plan to become predominant in H.S. Orka or meddle with the management of the company’s power plants. Now, barely a year later, those words seem long forgotten.

Members of the left wing in the Icelandic government and environmentalists have been criticising the sale, focusing on the fact that a national resource is slipping out of the populations hands and citing laws forbidding investors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to own part of Icelandic power companies. But nobody seems to mind the fact that even before the sale of GGE´s share, the majority of HS Orka had already fallen into the hands of foreign investors, though only partly. How so? GGE owned 52% of HS Orka. Íslandsbanki (formerly Glitnir, formerly Íslandsbanki) owned 40% of stocks in GGE, so whereas 95% of Íslandsbanki was in the hands of foreign creditors, many of whom are from outside of the EEA, aproximately 20% of HS Orka was belonging to these foreign creditors. On top of that can be added the fact that all board members of HS Orka at that time were under Íslandsbanki´s control, the bank now headed by former president of Landsvirkjun (National Energy company) and environmental terrorist, Friðrik Sophusson. Like stated above, Magma owned 46% of HS Orka at that time, making the total foreign ownership of the company aproximately 66%.

Read More

Aug 27 2009

Iceland’s Geothermal Energy to be Privatized? – Canadian Company Wants to Take Over H.S. Orka


Magma Energy, a Canadian company, wants to buy a majority share in H.S. Orka, a geothermal energy company based on the Reykjanes peninsula. In July this year Magma Energy bought a 11% share in H.S. Orka from Geysir Green Energy (GGE) and therefor became the first foreign shareholder in an Icelandic energy company. The purchase was a part of a bigger agreement between Reykjanesbær and GGE, which resulted in GGE owning a little more than 50% of H.S. Orka. Around the purchase, Ross Beaty, Magma’s director stated that the company did not plan to become predominant in H.S. Orka or meddle with the management of the company’s power plants.

In the middle of August, Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (O.R. – e. Reykjavík Energy) decided to start discussion with Magma Energy about the latter’s purchase of O.R.’s share in H.S. Orka, which is 32% and would therefor give Magma 43% share in the company and the possibility of increasing it 5%. Magma has bought the very small shares of the communities of Sandgerði and Hafnarfjörður, and has been discussing with communities like Vogar and Grindavík about buying their shares as well. If everything goes like planned, H.S. Orka, which e.g. is the biggest energy provider for the Century Aluminum’s planned smelter in Helguvík, will mostly be owned by to private companies; Magma and GGE, which will own c.a. half of the shares each. Read More

Feb 09 2009

Iceland’s Ecological Crisis: Large Scale Renewable Energy and Wilderness Destruction


From New Renaissance Magazine

By Miriam Rose

The economic issues currently causing mass demonstrations in Iceland have a less publicised ecological cousin, and one which the IMF has recently identified as part of the economic collapse. In 1995 the Ministry of Industry and Landsvirkjun, the national power company, began to advertise Iceland’s huge hydropower and geothermal energy potential. In a brochure titled “Lowest energy prices!!” they offered the cheapest, most hard working and healthiest labour force in the world, the cleanest air and purest water – as well as the cheapest energy and “a minimum of environmental red tape” to some of the world’s most well known polluting industries and corporations (such as Rio Tinto and Alcoa). This campaigning has led to the development of an ‘Energy Master Plan’ aimed at damming almost all of the major glacial rivers in Iceland, and exploiting all of the geothermal energy, for the power intensive aluminium industry. The loans taken by the Icelandic state to build large scale energy projects, and the minimal payback they have received from the industry, has been a considerable contributing factor to the economic crisis, while at the same time creating a European ecological crisis that is little heard of.

The Largest Wilderness in Europe
I first visited Iceland in 2006 and spent a week with activists from the environmental campaign Saving Iceland, a network of individuals from around Europe and Iceland who decry the fragmentation of Europe’s largest wilderness in favour of heavy industry. From these informed and passionate folk I learned of the 690 MW Kárahnjúkar dam complex being built in the untouched Eastern Central Highlands to power one Alcoa aluminium smelter in a small fishing village called Reydarfjörður. The dams formed the largest hydro-power complex in Europe, and were set to drown 57 km2 of beautiful and virtually unstudied wilderness, the most fertile area in the surrounding highlands. Ultimately it would affect 3% of Iceland’s landmass with soil erosion and river silt deprivation. They also explained how materials in the glacial silt transported to the oceans bonds with atmospheric CO2, sinking carbon. The damming of Iceland’s glacial rivers not only decreases food supply for fish stocks in the North Atlantic, but also negatively impacts oceanic carbon absorption, a significant climatic effect. After taking part in demonstrations at the construction site of the Alcoa smelter (being built by famous Iraq war profiteers Bechtel), I went to see the area for myself. Read More