For over a year, Icelanders were alive…
The Kitchenware-Revolution, Austurvöllur square, Reykjavik
Jorgen Jorgensen, a Danish adventurer who died in the wilds of Tasmania in 1841, is, as a result of his various misadventures, a laughing stock in his native land. However, one of this prolific writer’s exploits did have irrefutable panache. In 1809 he landed in Iceland, then under the authority of Denmark, bent on trading. By early summer he had managed to jail the local governor for frustrating his mercantile ambitions, and proclaim the independence of the island.
Following the lead of French and American revolutionaries, Jorgensen decreed that “all men are born free and equal”, and promised the creation of a parliament, with elections that same summer. Alas, two months later he was arrested by the English, who had come to lend their Danish allies a hand. Jorgensen’s attempt at revolution had ended in fiasco, and today Icelanders recall with fond amusement this ambitious and ephemeral monarch, the ‘Dog-Day King’.
“At the time Icelanders didn’t understand what was happening. They weren’t ready to hear this call for equality, and the man who was to obtain our real independence, in 1944, was born years after this episode”, regretted Andri Snær Magnason, a young writer with a mop of blond hair, author of damning books on the consumerist Iceland of the 2000’s. “I feel as if the same thing happened to us 200 years after,” he continued. “For a few months, we citizens held power over the banks, business and the government. In theory, anything was possible. But our libertarian way of thinking, took over again. We were afraid of becoming a Castro-island like Cuba, and things gradually went back to the way they were.” With an embarrassed smile, he concluded: “We didn’t dare change our alphabet.”
Two years after the collapse of its banking sector there is a whiff of missed revolution in the air of Iceland, as if the window of opportunity to change everything had been walled up without warning. “Things happen in waves. In 2008, society woke up in a state of desperation mixed with euphoria”, said Minister of the Interior, Ögmundur Jonasson, Green MP and one ofthe pillars of the current social-democratic government elected in April 2009. “New faces appeared in meetings, on the front pages of newspapers, on television. For over a year, people were alive. And I’m a bit worried about how things are beginning to die down at the moment.”
Iceland is going through a moment of truth for the future of its revolts. The citizen movements of the past few months today find themselves confronted by conservative forces that have regained their confidence. “We’re fighting monsters who have been prospering for over a hundred years,” said The Movement’s Sigurlaug Ragnarsdottir. “The Independence Party and some of the banks on the island have evolved together since the early years of the twentieth century, and it’s not easy to get rid of them.”