Amid Greek debt crisis, Iceland still recovering from its own collapse
While Greece battles its debt crisis, Iceland – where major banks collapsed in the wake of the global financial meltdown – is gearing up for a referendum on whether its taxpayers will shoulder the burden of paying back billions of dollars of debt.
Looking on as Greeks took to the streets in recent days in protest at an economic crisis often blamed on powerful individuals and forces beyond the control of ordinary citizens, many Icelanders must have felt a sense of déjà-vu.Skip to next paragraph
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While the spotlight this week fell on Athens, where the rulers of debt-stricken Greece are braced for a public backlash against severe spending cuts and hundreds of finance and customs ministry workers took the streets on Wednesday to protest budget cuts, those behind Iceland’s own citizen uprising against their country’s banking and political elites insist that anger is still bubbling away here.
“We are not asking for people to be executed but we want them to face the consequences for what they did,” says Hordur Torfason, a folk singer and key instigator of the "saucepan revolution" – so called because of the kitchen implements participants took along to bang outside Iceland’s parliament.
Sipping coffee in a bustling cafe yards from where he led the protests, Torfason indicates that the next spark for a resurgence in popular anger may be just weeks away.
In what could be a perfect political storm, an eagerly-awaited official report into Iceland’s "riches to rags" economic crisis will be published days before a referendum planned for March 6 on a hugely unpopular deal to pay billions of dollars to Britain and the Netherlands arising from the collapse of an Icelandic online bank.
The poll was initiated when Iceland’s president refused to endorse the "Icesave" package, named after the bank which had offered high-yielding accounts to British and Dutch customers who were subsequently reimbursed by their own governments. Icelandic foot-dragging on paying that money back has caused a vital $4.6 billion International Monetary Fund-led loan to be frozen.
Ahead of the vote, a battle for the nation’s hearts and minds has been underway with Iceland’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, warning Iceland would effectively be opting out of the international financial system if it were to say no to the deal.