Chieftains, farmers, pirates and class-traitors

Þessi pistill birtist í (frekar slakri) þýskri þýðingu í tas í Berlín fyrir helgi.

To begin: an anecdote. The Icelandic State Radio RÚV has on it’s homepage an election test, designed to help us – the people – find the candidates whose opinions most accurately reflect our own. In the test we, like the candidates, are asked about the most common issues which we grade on a sliding scale: Do we agree 94% that Iceland should accept more asylum seekers? Do we disagree 13% that kindergartens should be privatised? 29% that kindergarteners organs should be harvested? What do we think about allowing alcohol to be sold in convenient stores – could we perhaps not care less?

When I took this test the candidate whose opinions most accurately matched mine was Ásthildur Ósk Ragnarsdóttir, for Björt Framtíð – a newish social-democrat party. Ásthildur Ósk Ragnarsdóttir also happens to be „Hilda“ – my childhood sweetheart, the girl I was insanely in love with from age six to about eleven, when she brutally broke my heart and dumped me by mail. (Spoiler alert: I won’t be voting for her).

So. If you want to understand Icelandic democracy, the first thing to note is that due to the size of the population – 340 thousand people, whereof around 245 thousand are eligible to vote – Iceland doesn’t much function like a nation, in the continental understanding of that word. Iceland is a kind of a family gathering, a feast slightly larger than a Greek wedding, where the guests happen to share their own common language and a natural border.

The next thing to note is that with 12 political parties and 1.307 candidates running for 63 seats in a single house of parliament, 1 out of every 187 possible voters is also a candidate.

As is to be expected with a nation of this size, almost everyone on the voters registry is at least distantly related to almost everyone else and the probability of anyone being at least semi-closely related to a high-ranking candidate – or knowing them personally – is therefore great. To put it mildly.

So every time I criticize a political party on my Facebook feed, I need to state clearly, that my criticism does not refer to my friend Gylfi, my cousin Magnús, the wife of my friend Smári, the grandfather of my sons best friend, nor indeed my childhood sweetheart Hilda – who are indeed the onlyrepresentives of said parties worth their weight, and if only their parties were more like them, perhaps they would be electable.

For if I don’t single them out and except them from the apparent evils of their parties, they will see it and anger-like it, and that will make our next social gathering either embarassing or violent. The only way to maintain this illusion of nationhood – or indeed that of a functioning democracy – is through intense denial and clinical codependency.

Historically Iceland has been led by a coalition of the libertarian conservatives of the Independence Party and the national conservatives of the Progressive Party, sometimes supported by either of the two traditional left parties. I.e. farmers, chieftains and class traitors. Only once – from 2009-2013, right after the financial collapse – has the country been led by the left, without support or concessions to the right. Four years of diluted socialism during a time when much of the country’s economical policy was decided by the International Monetary Fund – in a history that reaches back to 930 AD. (Granted, Alþingi’s contemporary form is only about a 170 years old – before that Alþingi was mostly run by chieftains, foreign kings and heathen priests, which are demographics I have no problem with defining as thoroughly right wing).

This year, though, things are supposed to be different. For one thing the Pirates – a party hard to pin down in the chieftains, farmers and class traitors model – are polling at around 20%, despite the right’s rabid attempts at painting these often colorful characters as deceitful, melodramatic crybabies and out-of-control hypocrits. The biggest scandal they’ve managed to pin on the Pirates so-far is that one of their leaders once imprecisely stated his education. On a LinkedIn profile. From 2006.

The Social-Democrats in Samfylkingin – having spent their days in government trying to force-feed a non-willing public with an EU-application (now canceled) and the very unpopular Icesave-agreements – are slowly but surely disappearing. Considering that two decades ago, the party was literally formed in order to unite the left under one banner, that is insane. Their name – Samfylkingin – even means „the coalition“. With that name, you can’t poll at the bare minimum.

Meanwhile, most of the Social-Democrat following, that hasn’t escaped to the Pirates, has gone to Björt Framtíð („Bright Future“ – perhaps named so to emphasis the obvious: the only thing they don’t share with Samfylkingin is their „bleak past“) and to the more right-leaning, Viðreisn, popularly seen as a more liberal(ist) split from the Independence party.

For a full picture of the opposition to chieftains and farmers add to this two populist parties, Dögun (Dawn) and Flokkur Fólksins (The People’s Party), a semi-communist party called Alþýðufylkingin, the Humanists and the nationalists of Þjóðfylkingin – who though newly formed seem to have already imploded in a chaos of accusations, insinuations and malpractice, causing many to claim that the most powerful anti-fascist mechanism, when properly harnessed, is the unending stupidity of fascists themselves.

But stray voters have a tendency to find their way home in the end. Party insiders are now trembling from election jitters, grasping at straws in every available. Of course they all claim to be the only one (in this Greek wedding) with a long term memory. Don’t you remember when cousin Siggi drank up all the Ouzo? Have we already forgotten who’s responsible for yesteryears rotten baklava? If we again hire the same horrible DJ, I’m going home!

And to tell you the truth, having seen my country try and make many changes in the past years – a new constitution (stranded), anarcho-populist reform in Reykjavík (technocratism and liberal lip service), jailing bankers (it’s complicated, but ultimately unsatisfying), overthrowing the right wing government (only to vote them back in) – I’m fairly certain that after the weekend, we will be returning to a status quo of farmers and chieftains. The best we can hope for, is a few class traitors. Whereupon, of course, we’ll start hoping for a new revolution.

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