Stephen: Last year, we posted some of the wonderfully uplifting stories about what appeared to be going on in Iceland, as the country and her people defiantly took on the ‘might’ of the big banks, big business and the European Union.
As you may recall, the mainstream media wasn’t giving us the full picture of what was happening in this country of just 320,000 people and I even wrote to the Icelandic government seeking confirmation of some of the stories that were making their way to alternative media sites. Without much luck, I should add.
Nevertheless, in his last edition of Cosmic Vision News for 2012, Geoffrey West voted the Iceland “story’ his top news item of 2012. Why? Because what has evolved in Iceland in recent times has been truly remarkable. It sets the scene for the way the new world could be operating very soon – complete with a new constitution written by the people for the people.
This article – featured on Truthout.org – gives a good insight into the ‘new world’ Icelanders have created for themselves – when all else seemed to be stacked against them. Please note: as Truthout requires permission for re-publishing this particular report, I’ve posted the early section of the story and provided the link for you to read further.
With New Constitution, Post-Collapse Iceland Inches Toward Direct Democracy
By Sam Knight, Truthout – Janauary 27, 2013
When the global financial system crumbled over four years ago, Iceland played host to one of the most dramatic economic collapses in modern history. Its three largest banks were unable to refinance debt roughly ten times the size of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), causing one of the world’s wealthiest nations to limp with hat in hand to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The island became a symbol for capitalism’s systemic failure.
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.”
It’s unsurprising that inertia is casting a pall over the constitution’s future. In January 2011, the constitutional council’s election was controversially nullified by Iceland’s Supreme Court. Parliament effectively overruled this decision by appointing the 25 candidates who received the most votes to take seats on the council to rewrite the constitution.
Regardless of the document’s final status, the drafting process – inspired by crowdsourcing techniques – has produced a remarkably progressive legal code and generated significant interest from around the world.
“A PBS TV crew of seven or eight followed a group of us around the north of the country before the [October] vote,” Thorvaldur Gylfason, an economics professor and member of the constitutional council, told Truthout. (The footage will be part of a four-hour series on the US Constitution set to air in May.)
At home, supporters are hoping that the constitution can create more momentum for innovative reform. Information technology specialists who opened the drafting process to the public through social media are expecting to set up open data projects in partnership with the government. There has also been another web-based open government reform in the city of Reykjavik: the city council passed a law forcing it to consider 16 citizen-initiated proposals made each month through a web site called “Betri Reykjavík” (Better Reykjavik). There has been talk among its boosters that the constitution could mark the beginning of a gradual movement toward direct democracy.
But to better understand the significance and global appeal of the new constitution, it is worth discussing the state of Iceland’s economy, which has defined both the constitutional movement and international scrutiny of the diminutive subarctic nation since 2008.
To continue reading this comprehensive feature story, head to Truthout – http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/14097-with-new-constitution-post-collapse-iceland-inches-toward-direct-democracy