Árni Daníel Júlíusson
Iceland’s recent general election shows that the country’s neoliberal consensus is over. What happens next?
When the Icelandic parliament assembled in fall of 2010, tens of thousands gathered to throw eggs and rotten tomatoes at the politicians. The MPs were participating in a traditional march between the cathedral and the parliament building that marks the beginning of each legislative setting. Protesters repeated their performance exactly a year later, now with an even larger crowd.
These events marked the midpoint of Iceland’s anti-neoliberal rebellion, which had started in the fall of 2008 at the time of the financial collapse. The mass actions represented a definitive break with the neoliberal consensus the country had sustained since 1984.
Any government will now have to understand — and then accept — this popular revolt if it wants to credibly hold power. Old alliances and structures have collapsed, and new ones must be built.
This October’s elections reflected the changed political atmosphere. On the one hand, the results were inconclusive, failing to produce a clear majority that could form a government. On the other hand, they decisively showed the fate of the sitting government, made up of the centrist Progressive Party (FSF) and the right-wing Independence Party (XD). In 2013, they had received a clear majority of votes — each winning nineteen parliamentary seats out of a total of sixty-three — despite their direct responsibility for a number of bank collapses in 2008.
Between 1991 and 2008, XD enacted a unrelenting series of ultra-neoliberal and right-wing policies that led to the financial crisis. The basis for this neoliberal turn, however, was laid in the eighties, when an earlier Progressive-Independence coalition government held power.
How these parties returned to power in 2013 can only be explained by the events between the financial crisis and that election. Their fate in this October’s election gives us a sense of what might come next.
A Disgraced Left
When the Icelandic banks collapsed on October 6, 2008, a powerful mass movement appeared out of nowhere. By late November, it had become a grave threat to the government.
The movement was organized on several levels and had several centers of operations, which were mostly uncoordinated. All of them coalesced, however, in weekly meetings in the center of Reykjavík. On December 1, protesters convened a meeting at Arnarhóll, after which the more radical wing attacked and occupied the Central Bank of Iceland. A full-scale uprising — which many expected — did not materialize. Read More