“People feel like they’ll never be able to repay their loans”
Halldor Sigurdsson, 46, works in a metal recycling plant in Reykjavik.
I have been filming all the protests in Iceland since the crisis started. The Icelandic press doesn’t cover them very well, so I want to get the images out to the world.
It seemed to me like several thousand protesters came out, and the vast majority of them were peaceful. A few people threw eggs, but they were quickly stopped by others. Iceland is a small country of 320,000 people; we are all related to each other pretty closely, so we try to stay civil.
The president’s wife, as you can see in the video, pushed past the police to go meet the protesters. [Her husband, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, is not the top politician country; that role is played by the prime minister.] While some people think she’s a fraud doing this for publicity, I think it was very positive to show people that she wants to talk to them, that the elite are not in an ivory tower looking down on everyone else.
Icelanders just don’t trust the government anymore. Members of parliament are helping the bankers, who have kept their high-paying jobs; no one is being sentenced to jail. People think the special investigator in charge for investigating financial crimes is a joke.
Meanwhile, we are paying for the mistakes of the banks and of politicians. Many people here are losing their houses and can’t pay off their loans, while at the same time companies as well as some members of the government have had their loans written off.
“The situation will take time and patience to fix”
In Iceland, when inflation goes up, loan repayments go up as well. So people feel like they’re never going to see the end of it. Many of those who took out loans before the crisis are now repaying them many times over. So the protesters’ main demand is to stop what they owe from growing with inflation.
There’s also the problem of taxes. The government is heavily taxing everything it can – gas, alcohol, cigarettes. [It has also increased income tax and VAT taxes.] Many people have gone abroad to flee unemployment. [Iceland’s unemployment rate is 6.7 percent compared to 2.8 percent in early 2008, before the crisis hit].
It’s not all bad, though. There is some slow progress. The government is offering tax breaks to foreign companies to bring them to Iceland. So new jobs are beginning to be created. This situation will take time and patience to fix.”