FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Iceland’s Message to Portugal

This week has witnessed two very different reactions to European debt. At one end of Europe, Iceland’s voters decided once again not to accept the payment terms of their ‘creditors’, the British and Dutch governments, following the collapse of Icelandic banks in 2008. At the other, Portugal is being pushed down the path of shock therapy by the European Union, with the people of that country cut out of a process which will change their lives dramatically.

Neither Iceland not Portugal will have it easy in the years ahead. But there is a world of difference between the refusal of the people of Iceland “to pay for failed banks” in the words of their President, and the pain being imposed on Portugal from the outside. The European Central Bank’s head Jean-Claude Trichet has made it perfectly clear that the negotiations on Portugal’s future are “certainly not for public” debate.

Iceland’s people have not made a knee-jerk reaction. They are well aware that refusal to pay is the less easy short-term route to take. An impending court case by the UK and the Netherlands, the negative reaction of credit markets and the threatened block to their EU membership will all take a toll.

But for the people of Iceland the orthodoxy as to how countries are supposed to deal with debt is not simply economically flawed, it is deeply unjust, unfairly distributing power and wealth within and between societies. 28-year-old voter Thorgerdun Ásgeirsdóttir said “I know this will probably hurt us internationally, but it is worth taking a stance.”

If the people of a country which truly bought into free market ideology, deregulated capital markets and cheap lending can refuse to pay for the crimes of the banks, then those that did less well from the decades of financial boom can be expected to feel even more impassioned.

In Greece such anger is starting to turn into a constructive challenge to the power of finance. A debt audit commission has been called for by hundreds of academics, politicians and activists. Such a commission would throw open Greece’s debts for public examination – directly confronting the way that the IMF and European Union work behind closed doors to force their often disastrous medicine on member countries.

As Greek activists have said, “the people who are called upon to bear the costs of EU programmes have a democratic right to receive full information on public debt. An Audit Commission can begin to redress this deficiency.”

Their resolve is currently being bolstered by a website phenomena – a short viral film called debtocracy (government by debt) – sweeping Greece’s online population and convincing them they have been taken for a ride. Early next month activists from across Europe and the developing world will gather in Athens to put together a programme which will challenge the IMF’s policies in Greece.

Portugal’s deal is just beginning to be hammered out. As in Greece and Ireland, a ‘bail-out’ package will primarily benefit Western European banks, with €216 billion of outstanding loans to Portugal, while ordinary people endure a programme of deep spending cuts, reduced workers’ rights and widespread privatisation. The head of Portugal’s Banco Carregosa told the FT: “It’s not an exaggeration to call it shock therapy.”

The comparisons with developing world countries are obvious and the mistakes there are already being repeated. Time and again banks were bailed out and the poorest people in the world were pushed even deeper into poverty. Today countries from Sierra Leone to Jamaica are racking up ever more debts, once again, to weather the banker’s storm.

This is why a line must be drawn in Europe. Pouring more debt on top of Portugal’s woes will do nothing to resuscitate the economy. Portugal’s debt is totally unsustainable – largely the result of reckless private lending over the last decade. Those responsible are being bailed out, those that aren’t are suffering the pain. This is what Iceland has refused to do.

The people of Iceland have stood up for their sovereignty. Their future looks considerably brighter than those of Ireland or Portugal. The people of Greece are just beginning their struggle. The outcomes will have a monumental impact on the fight against poverty and inequality across the world.

NICK DEARDEN is director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

 

 

 

More articles by:

Nick Dearden is director of the Global Justice Now and former director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail