Why Iceland’s Revolution Failed

reykjavik rising

Reykjavik Rising

Directed Danny Mitchell (2015)

Film Review

Reykjavik Rising casts the cold light of reality on Iceland’s 2009 so-called “revolution.” Although the “pots and pans” revolution made a few meaningful reforms, in Iceland, as everywhere else, people are no closer to genuine democracy than they were before the 2008 economic meltdown.

This documentary profiles the three months of daily protests and direct action that brought down Iceland’s right wing government in early 2009. The new left wing government elected in April 2009 brought charges against the key bankers responsible for the country’s financial collapse. Although most were found guilty, none served sentences.

The People Write a New Constitution – Which Parliament Ignores

The new government also called a national assembly to rewrite the constitution, a key demand of the protests. The assembly was made up of 1,000 individuals drawn randomly from the National Register. It was their role to decide, by consensus, the core values the new constitution would embrace. They also elected 30 people to draft it.

Despite being ratified by 70% of Icelandic voters in an October 2012 referendum, state television (which was still controlled the right wing) ignored the outcome and the Icelandic parliament refused to ratify it.

Six months later, new elections restored to power the original right wing parties responsible for the financial crisis.

Why the Revolution Failed

The filmmakers interview activists with a variety of viewpoints on why Iceland’s revolution failed. Most agree that no single protest anywhere is going to achieve real social change. Years of preparation is required for ordinary people to successfully seize power from the global elite that controls our governments.

At the same time the “pots and pans” revolution led to a profound shift in popular attitudes. A majority of Icelanders now recognize that their so-called representative democracy is just a façade – that real power rests with banks and corporations. This corresponds with a proliferation of grassroots organizations and think tanks dedicated to the development of direct democracy.

There also seems to be strong agreement that activists must be prepared to push rapidly for change when the next crisis arrives. They must be prepared to actually take power and defend themselves against those who seek to usurp them.

For a month during the “pots and pans” revolution, ships with 1,000 Danish commandos were waiting offshore to retake Parliament if the protesters managed to take control.