With every topic discussed, the owner of the hair salon struck a mannered pose: “Politicians are like pigeons.” From behind he examined the expression of the culprit in the mirror and seeing that his phrase had not missed its mark, he answered the questioning, silent gaze: “When they are below you, they eat out of your hand, when they are above you, they shit on you.”
Clearly, this man knows his pigeons. In front of Alþing, the Icelandic Parliament, you could hear people banging pot lids, spatulas, or anything you might carry in your pocket were your path to lead to the Parliament building. People we beating and hitting any surface capable of making sure that the people’s voice penetrated through the closed windows. Indeed, what’s the point of standing outside in the wind and rain for hours on end, if you can’t get your message through closed windows and make it so loud that any normal conversation becomes impossible, except by shouting at each other?
The idea that we can draw lessons from the past and that the parliament, which was accessible without the slightest security measure until 2008, needed to be protected against its people, proved to be a very stupid. That year, the people stormed the Parliament, a sort of “Defenestration of Prague” but without any defenestration, and Halldór Guðmundsson reported in his book We are all Icelanders that parliamentarians only owe their lives to the lack of an available tree on which to lynch them, since the last tree had been been burned.
To understand the Icelanders better, it’s clear that such a thing would never have happened, even if parliament had been surrounded by an entire forest. No angry individual would have dreamed of it. The Icelanders enjoy humour when it falls under the category of the ‘smart Icelander’. The act of burning the only tree in front of the Parliament, the gigantic fir tree, that Norway sends to the Icelanders each year by boat in time for Advent, must therefore be fall under the category of ‘smart Icelander’. That year then, this majestic fir tree had gone up in flames. Icelanders don’t like inflating the truth. Kiss goodbye to peace, joy and cupcakes. In the end it is a matter of pure survival.
These events clearly left a deep mark on the ladies and gentlemen of the parliament and the building has now adopted the continental fashion of a ‘security perimeter’. A kind of ‘iron curtain’ between the people and its representatives, more than a thousand years after the island was first settled.
Not that the people have become more violent over the centuries. In any way. Quite the reverse even. But it is easier to set up a security perimeter than rack your brains trying to understand how we could have got to the point of being forced to protect the people’s representatives against the ideology that they are supposed to represent, but in reality don’t, and who as a result, either through fear or ignorance, only differ from Louis 16th by the non-heredity nature of their office.
The security perimeter proved to be a stupid idea, because it used metal barriers. An invitation appreciated by all those who were forced to stand in front of the door. And this is how more than a hundred boots were battered against the barriers, not discordantly, but rhythmically, generating a pulsating beat that could be heard as far away at the church of Hallgrimur. The beating rhythm echoed through the rows of houses like invisible drums calling the warriors to the battlefield; the parliament, like a circle of wagons, was under siege and there was no John Wayne in sight to free the gentlefolk from the clutches of savages.
A few of these stoic messengers showed their ‘smart Icelandic’ spirit: they turned their back on the parliament and faced the people, without forgetting to hit back, like an Icelandic horse that punishes an inexperienced groom for getting too close.
We would therefore be within rights to enquire what provoked this confrontation.
It was the EU entry negotiations. But we would be mistaken in believing that this angry crowd was for or against Iceland joining the EU. It was purely and simply about respecting a campaign promise.
During the election campaign, the winning party had promised to put the question of whether to continue the EU membership negotiations to the vote and let the people decide. Scarcely after taking office, the government stopped negotiations with the EU, because statistics showed that in any case, most Icelanders would vote against joining. Despite the logic of the Government’s decision, the gulf separating it from the view of the people was immense: it wasn’t a question of knowing whether most Icelanders wanted to join the EU or not, it was about knowing that if a politician makes a campaign promise, however absurd, we must accept that he will break it. And this is what makes a people great: a word is like a signed agreement. If contractual fulfilment is stupid, that’s the problem of the person who was unable to remain silent. If he had said nothing, he would have stayed wise and got off scot free. That may not seem very pragmatic, but it all depends on how you define pragmatism. For Icelanders, making an electoral promise and then breaking it is not pragmatic. A pragmatic approach involves either coming good on a campaign promise, or promising nothing. And to ensure the message is heard loud and clear, there are always pan lids and spatulas in the kitchen.
Well, the parliamentarians heard the message and quickly learned the lesson. The following day, the metal barriers had disappeared, replaced by a plastic noise reduction plastic strip.
It was completely useless. Since in front of the Parliament, there are enough metallic objects that can be used as resonant bodies: lamp posts, street signs, parking posts, etc. Spatulas and pan lids therefore went on with their daily grind, since nature has taught each Icelander from their formative years that water drops falling one after the other will dissolve even the hardest of basalts.
Since it seems that the Parliamentarians didn’t dare leave the building. because the people were in front of the door, those who were standing in front of the door fulfilled their duty of assistance and brought sustenance to the representatives of the people. They couldn’t after all be accused of giving their MPs hunger pains. Only scandalmongers would say that bananas were a reference to the fact that by abandoning an electoral promise, the Parliamentarians had lowered the Republic to the level of a banana republic.
That being said, the process of cooling one’s heels in front of the Parliament building for hours, day after day, cannot necessarily be transposed to other countries. That could lead to the collapse of the nation. Because you would need to drum for 365 days. Each year. In front of parliaments, at the town, county, regional and national level. Breaking electoral promises is therefore a well established problem in these countries. What was the point of me chattering yesterday? We take offence and fall into the same trap the next time. He who believes that apples never fall far from the tree is indeed a fool.
In a democracy, the servant chooses his master, and the fish decides on the head. There is therefore not much point in poking fun at the master or the head. Better consider the fish or the servant rather than the head of the master. Those who want to become good citizens understand they must conform in time.
We therefore create structures in which the fundamental right of a cucumber to have a specific radius prevails over the right of every person to sell tasty cucumbers. And soon we’ll have the idea that one thing cannot be bad in Europe if it is found to be good elsewhere. In the event of an offence, the State is reminded of its duty: the explosive conclusions of a firm of lawyers has already been drafted and waiting in the drawers to be handed out the the MPs. In the form in orders, with 9 digits before the decimal point. People here, people there. And now, it is no longer the noise of pan lids which affects the MPs to the bottom of their souls. The magical phrase is therefore: ‘Hello, this is Boston Legal! My client has a pebble in his shoe. Do you want a lawsuit for damages? ’
Isn’t there a pan lid just under the sink? Could it be that we have noticed rather too late that the human right ‘All humans are created equal’ is also used for purposes for which it was definitely not intended? For example, people who hide behind the expression ‘free market’, are really interested in their bank balance and not their ‘rights’ at all. Other than the right to infinitely increase their balance? Indian rice farmers driven to bankruptcy in their villages fell into debt for something that until recently was a negligible cost: seeds. And in a democracy, is it not the fish that chooses the head rather than the head that chooses the fish? Security perimeters here and there?
Let’s cook the fish! Here’s the lid … And now who wants some butter for the fish?
Translation: Jackie Dobble