Jul 15 2008

Radical Actions and Professional Protesters

By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, originally published in Morgunblaðið

Last Sunday, an anonymous journalist from Morgunblaðið wrote about Saving Iceland under the title “Action Groups and Cells”. He talked about Saving Iceland’s upcoming action camp in Hellisheiði and brougth forward a list of actions that people could anticipate from those attending the camp this summer, i.e. “try to get the police into a fight, chain themselves to whatever is near to them, do minimum sabotage, disturb companies’ legal operations or public traffic”. According to him, this kind of behaviour has characterized Saving Iceland’s activities for the last years.

We at Saving Iceland, use direct action and civil disobedience in our actions against capitalism in the form of Iceland’s heavy industrialization – and we do not deny that. Although we do not chain ourselves to whatever is around us, but to machinery, machinery which is being used to destroy the nature. Thus we stop the destruction for some limited time. One does not lock lock on to a huge machine “just because” – one does it because of ideals and with a spirit of resistance.

Saving Iceland has until now not committed any sabotage, apart from financially harming the companies that financially benefit from destruction, oppression and violence. We stop operations, which for sure are most of the time legal operations, but since when is there an equal sign between what is legal and just? The question is not that simple, because if it would be so, the most horrible atrocious acts of the history of mankind could be justified behind the idea of “law and order”.

The construction of the Century/Nordural aluminium smelter in Helguvík is legal in the sense that Century has a permission to construct a smelter. The company lacks any other other permission; it has neither the contracts for energy production nor permission for greenhouse gases emissions, or a working permit. Really there is nothing that indicates that the company will ever get all of the permissions it needs to operate the smelter. Still, it celebrates the breaking of ground for  the smelter and acts as if everything is in order. By using this tactic, it becomes harder and harder to deny the company the needed permission, since it constructs as much as possible whenever it gets one of these permissions. Thus the construction of the smelter is legal but at the same time, absolutely unethical.

Saving Iceland does not pick fights with the police but for sure reacts when the police uses violence. In August 2006, the police officer Arinbjörn Snorrason, drove a jeep into Ólafur Páll Sigurðsson, one of the attendants in Saving Iceland’s action camp in Snæfell. The latter was miraculously all right after the attack. When he brought charges against Snorrason the State Prosecutor refused to press charges. Later Sigurdsson was charged for having sabotaged the police car that Snorrason used to drive into him. No evidence was presented to the judge, no reports were taken from those who witnessed the attack and the only witnesses in court were four policemen, who all sat in the car that was driven into Sigurðsson. He was acquitted, which though did not change the fact that because of all the media attention around the court case, his name was repeatedly linked to sabotage. We have to react to these kind of lies and false accusations.

The Morgunblaðið journalist calls us “professional protesters” without explaining what he means. But most likely he means that we get paid for our participation in the actions. In the end of the summer of 2007, RÚV (the National Broadcaster) declared that those who take part in Saving Iceland’s action get paid for it and in addition get a special “bonus” for being arrested. Without bringing forth any evidence or quoting sources – RÚV refused to retract their statement. Following this statement, the word “professional protester” got stuck in the discussion about Saving Iceland and it is now repeatedly used when the group comes up in a discussions. No one has ever been able to prove this myth, let alone confirming where these payments are supposed to come from. Still, the concept seems to be so stuck in the rhetoric that it does not need any explanations or rationalisation. With the above mentioned article, Morgunblaðið follows in RÚV’s footsteps.

In the end the journalist brings forward an absurd claim, where he says that our actions damage the otherwise good cause of environmentalism. We have heard this claim many times before but never has it been sustained with any arguments or rationalisation. It would however be interesting to get an explanation about how and why our actions can damage the cause.

But we will for sure never get this explanation because radical resistance simply can not destroy any cause. Did Claus von Staufeenberg’s attempt to murder Afold Hitler damage the fight against Nazism? Did Nelson Mandela’s participation in militant resistance damage the fight against South-Africa’s apartheid policy? Can people really turn around in their opinion about the heavy industrialization of Iceland only because people who share their opinions believe in different methods? No, because the resistance tactics do not change the facts. Crane-climbing does not change the fact that nature is being destroyed because of energy production for heavy industry. Those who chain themselves to machinery do not change the fact that cultural genocides are taking place in the third world because of bauxite mining for aluminium production, and that children are being murdered all around the world, e.g. in Afghanistan and Iraq, with weapons produced by Alcoa.

Saving Iceland is not above criticism. But the criticism has to be built on something else than untruths and myths so it can be taken seriously.