By Mark Karlin. This article was first published on Buzzflash.
Iceland, the Last Hope for Transparent Democracy?
Truthout recently posted an article, "With New Constitution, Post-Collapse Iceland Inches Toward Direct Democracy."
It was a detailed report on how Iceland is on the verge of potential revolution in adopting a populist constitution, while ensuring a transparent government and true freedom of the press. It is not certain that Iceland's new burst of freedom and rejection of the managerial class will succeed, but the promise is exhilarating, according to journalist Sam Knight, writing for Truthout:
Now, Iceland is making headlines for more positive reasons: activists there are in the process of advancing some of the strongest freedom of information laws and journalist protections in the world, and the Icelandic economy, while still beset by problems, is significantly outperforming other crisis-stricken countries.
Most recently, on October 20, a remarkable constitution - written by an elected council with help from the public - took a step closer toward ratification after it was approved in a referendum by a 2-1 margin.
Before the changes are signed into law, the draft must be approved by the Althingi, Iceland's Parliament, approved again by referendum and finalized once more by the legislature after a fresh parliamentary election in April.
Uncertainty is swirling around the status of the constitution, however. Those opposed to it - primarily right-wingers - claim that the 48.9 percent turnout for October's vote doesn't lend the document legitimacy. There is also fear among the constitution's supporters in Parliament that some of their colleagues are trying to abrogate the public's influence by altering the document's content instead of offering the technical revisions they were given the mandate to make.
"I truly believe that our democracies have been hijacked by bureaucrats," said Parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a self-described "realist-anarchist" elected after the Kitchenware Revolution protests which ensued following the 2008 financial crisis and forced the long-ruling conservative government to resign in 2009.
"I don't want the new constitution to be plagued with their language, but the language of the people," she insisted in a Skype conversation with Truthout. "Their time is over. They just can't get over it."
Knight also noted:
"Political parties, liberally oiled by interested parties, no doubt - as they were by the bankers - have managed to thwart the popular will in Parliament," Gylfason said.
"The constitutional bill aims to correct the situation," he added.
In short, Iceland stands on the cusp of possibly becoming the vibrant "horizontal" democracy that the United States trumpets with cliches, but suppresses through an ossified financial/political ruling elite.
Given that context, it is also uplifting to learn that the Icelandic government reportedly kicked FBI agents out of the country who had arrived unannounced in 2011 to investigate Wikileaks. This account surfaced only a day or two ago on RUV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.
The RUV broadcast on the incident provides the context:
According to the [report from RUV], a private plane landed at Reykjavík airport in August 2011 and onboard were FBI agents who had flown directly from the U.S. to Iceland with the mission to investigate WikiLeaks operations in the country as a part of a larger investigation into the organization. The FBI agents reportedly contacted the head of the national Icelandic police, as well as the head prosecutor in an attempt to gain access to all available information on WikiLeaks.
When Home Secretary Ögmundur Jónasson found out about the FBI's visit, he met with the FBI agents, whom he told that the Icelandic government wouldn't permit a foreign power to run their own investigations within the country. Jónasson then ordered the FBI agents to return to the U.S., and after a special meeting of the cabinet about the inicident, Foreign minister Össur Skarphéðinsson was then charged with formally protesting against the United States' behavior.
A website Rixstep.com provides additional background on the US government's attempt to unearth involvement of Icelandic citizens in WikiLeaks, most notably a high profile member of the Iceland's parliament:
The hunt for WikiLeaks by the US has on several occasions involved private individuals and companies on Iceland. Authorities in the US have for example succeeded in obtaining account information from Twitter on parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir. Jónsdóttir today refuses to travel to the US out of fear of being arrested for her connections with WikiLeaks.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir is also one of the people behind a new piece of Icelandic media legislation which will make the country a bastion for freedom of speech and source protection. The law proposal is still a long way from being completed and can still take years before it's ratified by the Icelandic parliament.
Marcy Wheeler recently reported how the US government refuses to release the names of who or how many American citizens and others it is monitoring in relation to just WikiLeaks:
All the more so, though, in light of the possibility that the government conducted a fishing expedition into WikiLeaks as part of its Aaron Swartz investigation, almost certainly using PATRIOT Act investigative techniques. The government's documents strongly suggest they're collecting intelligence on Americans, all justified and hidden by their never ending quest to find some excuse to throw Julian Assange in jail.
Let's hope the new transparency law does not indeed take years to be enacted. Iceland and the US are like two passing ships when it comes to the direction the nations are taking in regards to civil liberties, press freedom, transparency and populist democracy.
Iceland is sailing toward the ideals promised in the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Meanwhile, the United States is on a trajectory backwards, navigating toward rule by the few, with onerous punishment for violating the secrecy of the elite.
Iceland is heeding the legacy of America's founders, while the US is moving in reverse, codifying the unaccountability that characterized the monarchies of Europe.