Iceland shows leadership again with Wikileaks decision

Is Iceland the only country that is not a corporatacracy? When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Iceland faced what Greece, Italy, Spain and France are now facing. They were bankrupt with long-term massive debt, much of it attributed to shady banking practices and a failure of government regulators.  U.S. and European governments responded to the manufactured crisis by offering hefty bailouts to “save” financial institutions that were “too big to fail” while sentencing their greater societies to failure. 

Breaking from the pack, Iceland told its bankers they could pay for their own mistakes and crimes rather than stick citizens with the the bill, enact severe austerity budgets and give up their sovereignty to the IMF, Central Bank and World Bank. It wasn’t a painless process to reach that decision. Icelanders took part in massive protests, much like we are seeing in Greece, Spain, Britain, Italy and the United States. The difference is that Iceland’s government listened. Today, Iceland has one of the fastest-growing GDPs and among the lowest rates of unemployment. It has repaid its international loans ahead of schedule. 

Now Iceland has shown its independence from corporate powerhouses again. Reykjavík District Court ruled July 12 that Valitor, formerly VISA Iceland, violated contract laws by blocking credit card donations to Wikileaks. The court ordered Valitor, which processes transactions for Visa and Mastarcard, to open the donation gateway to Wikileaks within 14 days or it will be assessed a fee of 800 000 ISK ($6,200) each day it fails to comply.

U.S. financial institutions, including VISA, Bank of America, MasterCard and a half dozen other companies, acted outside legal frameworks, almost certainly at the urging of the  U.S. government, in creating a banking blockade against WikiLeaks shortly afterr the whistleblower site published embarrassing evidence of U.S. war crimes and dubious activities of certain U.S. embassies in 2010. The blockade effectively froze $20 million in donations from all over the world that were intended for Wikileaks.

People around the world who cheer for Iceland are trying to move their own governments to act in the national interest. Instead, the majority of government leaders have alligned themselves with powerful industrry lobbyists and well-connected heirs apparent.

It’s true Iceland is a small country, about the size of Kentucky, with a homogenous population of just 320,000 compared to the extremely diverse United States with 314 million. Still, the tiny nation offers those much greater in size and wealth lessons on how to respond to a crisis with integrity and indepenence. 

 

Kathlyn Stone

Kathlyn Stone is a Twin Cities, Minnesota-based writer who has covered general news, and business, international trade, and health care news and policies for public and professional audiences.