Icelanders are wondering what is ahead for their country in 2016. Will Iceland be ready for something new, more of the same, or perhaps a mixture of both? A special guest post by Sema Erla Serdar, chairwoman of the Social Democratic Alliance in Iceland.
Excluding Iceland’s beautiful nature, Bjork and the famous Skyr and lamb, it is safe to say that things sure have changed in the last few years.
2015 saw the rise of the Pirate Party, an attempt of the government to withdraw the EU membership application, strikes and protest, #freethenipple and other women’s revolutions at the same time as the refugee crisis reached Iceland and extremism and racism became a part of the public debate. And of course, the Icelandic men’s national football team qualified for the EURO2016 for the first time.
2016 began with the Icelandic president of the last 20 years, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, announcing that he will not run for his sixth term. Icelanders still remember him declaring the same thing four years ago, so nothing is certain when it comes to the presidential elections in June, except that almost everyone has been named as the next president.
What is certain, and perhaps the only thing that is certain, is that the presidential elections and the run up to the elections will set the tone for the parliamentary elections next year. Whether that tone will be less or more nationalism, less or more Europe or less or more political president is yet to be seen.
Not having any idea who will become the next president of Iceland rimes with the fact that the Pirate Party is still polling as the largest party of Iceland and the support for the government continues to drop and the rest of us are somewhere in between, which translates into the fact that most Icelanders have no idea what will happen in the run up to the parliamentary elections in 2017, but the politics of this year will of course be characterised by next year’s elections.
Besides the sometimes dull debate about the presidency (if only it could be more like the American one) which will take up lot of the political sphere in 2016 Icelanders can be sure about few issues that will dominate the political and economic debate this year. Amongst them is the long-awaited new constitution, which some are starting to wonder if it will ever see the light of day.
Another issue that still has not been settled is the currency issue. At the same time as the Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, tells the nation that the Icelandic krona is the strongest and most stable currency of the world – of course with its currency restrictions and its indexation – the Icelandic households continue to suffer from indexed loans and unstable exchange rate and food prices as well as higher interest rates than in our neighbouring countries.
The currency issue is of course strongly connected to another unsettled matter, the membership application of the European Union. Despite the fact that the government tried to formally withdraw the Icelandic application with a letter delivered to EU officials, without holding a promised referendum on whether or not to continue the membership negotiation.
The debate is far from over and the possible membership of the EU is believed to become an important question when Iceland comes closer to the parliamentary elections of 2017, as a high majority of the Icelandic population wants to have its say about whether or not to continue the negotiations through a referendum.
In general, the Icelandic population, regardless of its age, gender or (almost) status is demanding a better quality of life. Whether it is housing issues, high rent, long waiting lists at the doctors or elderly care, the people are tired of broken promises, they are tired of the traditional way of doing politics, corruption and slow changes. Whoever is the first to recognise this and steps up to fight for real changes, will be the one the people will eventually turn to. In the meanwhile, the people themselves are fighting for change.
Besides these big issues mentioned here (the list is longer – housing issues, pension, fisheries or banks needs more time to discuss) what I hope to see more of this year are the above mentioned revolutions led by the people, which we saw a record number of last year.
These revolutions focused on women’s rights, gender equality and the fight against domestic violence against women. These uprisings were very successful and left the nation with a bit more of awareness.
And lastly, the refugee issue is one of the biggest challenges the world faces now and Iceland can and will not stand by and do nothing. It is our responsibility as human beings to contribute to a solution to this big issue and assist in any way possible and Icelanders are proud of having already welcomed 35 Syrian refugees, amongst them 22 children, this month, and we are expecting more this year.
Unfortunately, hand in hand with the refugee crisis, migration and terror such as Daesh, comes another extremism that is no less dangerous. As a nation that prides itself of freedom, peace, justice and equality, there must be a greater effort put forward this year in turning around the developments Iceland has been witnessing with the rise of extremism, racism, and nationalism. Yes, in this regard, Iceland is no different than the rest of the world. As a multicultural society Iceland must never accept discrimination, racism or prejudice based on race, culture or religion, or forces that promote such things.
It is my hope that the people, the government, the media, the religious societies and other relevant institutions can unite in the fight against these extremists as we are united in supporting our country in Eurovision.
So, the bottom line is that anything can happen in 2016. There are no guarantees and nothing is a safe bet. Who knows, Iceland might even play the finale in EURO 2016.
Sema Erla Serdar is a Political Scientist with a MSc. in European Union Politics and Law from the University of Edinburgh. She is currently the Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the Social Democratic Alliance in Iceland. She is also the Editor-in-chief of EVROPAN – an online news publication covering European Affairs in Iceland. Previous experience includes work at the European Parliament, the European Movement in Iceland, political campaigning and other activism.