This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
face of death and destruction. When Atli, brother of Grettir the Strong, is thrust through with a spear in the doorway of his home, he looks down and says: “These broad spear blades are all the fashion nowadays!”1 Jon Gnarr, the current Mayor of Reykjavik, seems made of similar stuff. Sometimes described as a stand-up comic, he is actually more of a satirist and the party he heads, Besti Flokkurinn, (The Best Party) came to power in Reykjavik in May 2010 with a campaign of bitter humour in the wake of an economic and financial meltdown. Offering free bus rides for students and people with disabilities, it said it could promise more free things than any other group “because we aren’t going to follow through with it…For example, free flights for women or free cars for people who live in rural areas…It’s all the same.” To the amazement of most Icelanders, this “joke” party, founded the previous December, won the highest percentage of the vote and now governs Reykjavik, with the Social Democratic Alliance as coalition partner. The result was likened to “a bomb going off right in the middle of the Icelandic political system”.2 Besti Flokkurinn has yet to be tested in a national election, but it has already made a difference and looks set to run its full four-year term of office in Reykjavik. Gnarr, a long-time student of political theory, says people were voting for more honesty, fun, and simplicity. He soon realised that a special interplay of factors, including help from some talented fellow “creatives” as well as widespread distrust of traditional political processes, offered an unprecedented opportunity for change. Despite taking care not to speak ill of individuals, he was outspoken in attacking “the two-faced duplicity and dishonesty that has been allowed to fester in our culture”, and which he saw as having led to the economic collapse. He had learnt, he said, that the line between professed ideals and personal interest is often very thin. “When pushed, people will
As told in The World of the Viking Gods, Njordur P. Njarovik, Forlagio, Reykjavik, 2010 Egill Helgason, The Reykjavik Grapevine, Issue 7, 2010
but he has also had his victories. but whose every action is driven by his own insecurity and neediness.”3 With four traditional political parties “bested” in the 2010 municipal election. “Anger isn’t creative or nourishing. even. but it contains no nutrition or sustenance. ‘It was quite a shock to hear your opinion of me. ‘You may not think much of me. and you have yours. The verbal aggression of the political culture took him by surprise. I had gathered my thoughts and asked to say a few words in response.” The Best Party’s aim is for Reykjavik and Iceland to become a role model for the world of a better society. It was hard to deal with – the blood was rushing to my head. It is like sustaining oneself on junk food or candy. But by the time he sat down. I have tried to respond by increasing the good. and when they treat me in a bad way. “All of a sudden we find ourselves living in a society where anger is almost considered a virtue.” There is in fact a continuity between Gnarr’s work as an actor and comedian and the values with which he now seeks to inform his time in office. it caused him despair. but refer to their ideals in justifying themselves.” he says. by treating them in a good way. Gnarr has a particular distaste for so-called righteous anger. In the end I said. human rights. Gnarr came under huge pressure during his first year in office. I really don’t agree with you. But I have my opinion. His most famous comic creation is a character called Georg Bjarnfredarson. At times. “When somebody treats me in a good way. “I said. Issue 7. “A politician made an aggressive and disrespectful speech about me in City Hall. middle-aged man who sets himself up as some kind of moral arbiter. The Reykjavik Grapevine. He couldn’t hide his disgust. hectoring.protect their self-interest.’ So I had a chance to change the violent energy into something funny. This increases the good. an angry. And then there is the inevitable sugar-crash. but I would like you to know that I think you are a good person. where it commands a degree of respect. saying I was a clown. which he regards as a dangerous form of hypocrisy. You feel energized and full for a while. 2010 . promoting peace. and what a failure I was. green 3 Interview.
an Australian-U. 5 thjodfundur2010. Although traditional political divides continue. and as much as possible shifting power towards the people. Iceland does not have a military of its own. for the second year in succession. and not just Reykjavik. and with City Council support the Mayor has asked the Ministry of Internal Affairs to stop military traffic.” he says. An Icelandic National Forum5 that brought together a randomly selected two per cent of the population of voting age to consider the country’s future demanded constitutional guarantees of a public say in decisions regarding national affairs. Many visitors already see Iceland as a place of peace and non-violence and in June 2012. think-tank. to have the right to object to violence. with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit. particularly in the public sector and among public officials. care of families.S. the Global Peace Index4 ranked the country as the most peaceful in the world. including contractors moving prisoners from the Middle East for the CIA. and for ethics and morality to become an integral part of Icelandic society. The Best Party wants to further this reputation. finding it strange that vessels which could be carrying nuclear weapons should be allowed to dock whilst “we do not allow fish to be sold in the harbour unless vacuum-packed!” “I gladly continue to do what I consider my civic duty. Participants called for greater emphasis on honesty and integrity. He also broke with a tradition of giving a civic reception for foreign warships seeking to stop over in the city. Reykjavik had set an example to the world over the past 100 years of peaceful and prosperous development. from using Reykjavik airport. Despite finding itself forced into a “pioneering” role in facing financial crisis. “I am looking for ways to get into people’s awareness that it matters – it makes a difference. 4 Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace.energy. and militarization.” His party hopes to persuade the Icelandic Government to take a similar stand for neutrality.800 inhabitants. The Index ranks 158 nations using 23 indicators assessing domestic and international conflict. mostly living in cottages made of wood and turf. “power to the people” is something of a zeitgeist in the nation. societal safety and security.is .000 inhabitants. In 1900 it had 5. and non-violence. Today it is a modern. international city with about 120.
It is still early days. the people also refused to ratify a deal under which their Government would have taken on greater responsibility for the liabilities of the banks that had collapsed. The decision aroused international ire. but may come to be seen as wiser than the bailout policies that have saddled several European countries with extreme sovereign debt. Whilst so many other nations are struggling to come to terms with the consequences of financial mismanagement. but the Reykjavik Experiment has started well. .In a referendum called by the President. whilst failing to tackle the roots of the crisis. It has brought a generally raised awareness of the need to bring greater honesty and integrity – as well as more humour . this little country at the top of the globe may be well placed for helping to show how crisis can become a catalyst for transformation.into public and professional life.