ICELAND

"Kind of like in the Matrix: you wake up and realise everything was a lie"

Now it's official: Iceland's floundering government, under fire from an enraged population, has become the world's first to fall victim to the global financial crisis. Angry Icelanders explain the situation. Read more...

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 Image: Oli Kristinn.

Now it's official: Iceland's floundering government, under fire from an enraged population, has become the world's first to fall victim to the global financial crisis.

On Monday Prime Minister Geir Haarde announced the immediate resignation of his cabinet after last-ditch talks with coalition partners broke down. The dramatic move came after a week in which Iceland exploded in uncharacteristic violence and took to the streets to voice its anger with an administration that has presided over a spectacular economic meltdown. The Icelandic people, burdened by huge job losses (unemployment, once 1%, is expected to rise to 10% in 2009), soaring mortgage rates and unprecedented rises in food costs, descended on the parliament building in their thousands last week to urge the government to stand down. But although their wish has now been granted, they know the worst is still to come...

Iceland enflamed

Above images: Oli Kristinn.

 

A child calls for "new democracy". Photo by Inga Helgadottir.

 

"Stop the vultures"

Above images: Óli G. Porsteinsson.

"Our politicians have thought more about how to repay debts to Britain than how to protect its ordinary citizens"

Olaf Elisson is a 41-year-old musician.

The reason I am most angry with the government is a question of foreign policy. No one in the government protested against the way the British government pushed us over a cliff. The UK has shown total disregard for our economic situation and in return our politicians have thought more about how to repay debts to Britain than how to protect its ordinary citizens. It's outrageous. The stakes are really high - the debt of the Icelandic people next year is enough to build 50 new schools each year for the next decade. It is bizarre that the government didn't protest and simply say ‘no'."

"The next two years are going to be really tough, but we’ll get out of it in the end"

Heimir Karlsson is a radio talk show host from Reykjavik.

We're not used to this kind of protest - it's the kind of thing you see in the streets of Paris normally. There's a lot of anger but we despise this kind of violence. We've never even had an army. It's just a small minority [protesting]- tens among thousands and thousands of people. The others actually tried to build a wall of protection for the police, and I've heard that people are planning on protesting against the [violent] protests. You'd only get that in Iceland! But we are quick to adapt in Iceland. Our natural geo-thermal resources mean no one has to stay cold and no one goes hungry because our farming system is so sophisticated - and we have all that fish! So the next two years are going to be really tough, but we'll get out of it in the end."

"Social housing is set to be halved. But the weather here does not allow for homelessness"

Kitty Von Sometime is based in Reykjavik.

Many people I know have been protesting, including people I would never have expected. The general discord has spread to almost everyone. Tensions are running high: a colleague of mine was gassed, lots of people were maced [sprayed with pepper spray] and a colleague of mine knows a police officer who's been injured.

People are livid at the government because the entire country's base has collapsed - houses are being reclaimed by banks and social housing is set to be halved. But the weather here does not allow for homelessness. People will just die in those circumstances. Homeowners are in dire straits - no one is renting so rent is lower but the mortgage payments are much higher. The rent for my new flat is less than the monthly mortgage payment for the landlord. People are saying it's like the clock has been turned back 30 years. Many items I am used to getting in the supermarket are no longer stocked. I turn up in stores to get something specific and the store is closed. It's becoming very frightening.

The violence between police and protesters makes me so sad. The police just aren't trained to deal with this. They are people just like anyone else and you can see in their faces that they are not protecting the politicians because they believe in them, but because it's their job."

"Kind of like in the Matrix: you wake up and realise everything was a lie"

Páll Ívarsson is a computer games designer from Reykjavik.

The fall of the financial system is like a slap in the face, like waking from a good dream. Kind of like in the Matrix: you wake up and realise everything was a lie. And now people are angry, angry that they have been left out in the cold to pay the bill after the party and angry that the government is not telling them what it intends to do to stabilise the country. The protests have only now escalated into violence because it is only now that a lot of people are feeling the effects of the crisis. Three months and more and more people are losing their homes, their jobs, their families. My rent has gone up 30-40%. Groceries are up 40%. And although I don't have a mortgage or a car, it still results in me having less money in my pocket. However, I do not condone the violent tactics of some. Having been tear-gassed with the rest of the protesters, I feel even more strongly about the issues, but I do not agree that it needs to be this violent. I hope it doesn't get any worse."