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Iceland’s Pirate Party Gains Popularity After Prime Minister Walks the Plank over “Panama Papers”

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Iceland’s prime minister resigned Tuesday, becoming the first major casualty of the Panama Papers revelations. Leaked documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed that Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson owned an offshore company with his wife, which he failed to declare when he entered Parliament. He is accused of concealing millions of dollars’ worth of family assets. Gunnlaugsson’s resignation followed the largest public demonstrations in Iceland’s history, with more than 20,000 protesters massed in Reykjavík outside Iceland’s Parliament on Monday demanding the prime minister step down. We speak to Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of the Icelandic Parliament and an unofficial leader of the Pirate Party, which has seen a surge of support following the publication of the Panama Papers. Polls show it is now the country’s most popular party with 43 percent support.

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Video squareWeb ExclusiveApr 06, 2016Panama Papers: Could Pirate Party Co-Founder Birgitta Jónsdóttir Become Iceland’s Next PM?
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Iceland’s prime minister resigned Tuesday, becoming the first major casualty of the Panama Papers revelations. Leaked documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed that Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson owned an offshore company with his wife, which he failed to declare when he entered Parliament. He’s accused of concealing millions of dollars’ worth of family assets. His resignation followed what might have been the largest public demonstrations in Iceland’s history, when as many as 20,000 protesters massed in the country’s capital outside Iceland’s Parliament demanding the prime minister step down.

EINAR BERGMUNDUR: I’m just protesting the corruption of the government. The prime minister has been hiding his money in Tortola and lying about it. The financial minister has also been lying about his participation in secret companies. And everybody is just fed up with this.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday evening, protesters returned to the streets of Reykjavík, rejecting the interim setup and calling for fresh elections.

Well, to find out more about what’s happening in Iceland, we’ll go directly there. We’re joined by Birgitta Jónsdóttir. She is a member of the Icelandic Parliament, an official spokesperson of the Pirate Party, which has seen a surge of support following the publication of the Panama Papers.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! by video stream in Reykjavík.

BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what has taken place, the resignation of your prime minister, why everyone—why tens of thousands demanded he resign, and what the Panama Papers means to you.

BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Yeah, great to be on again, and thanks for having me, Amy.

So, actually, the strange twist of events is that the prime minister has sent an email to all the mainstream media around the world, declaring that he’s just temporarily stepping down. He is going to resume as a parliamentarian, and he might step in again—unless something has happened while I’ve been waiting to get on this stream. His interim or second in line, the offer that we got for the next prime minister, is absolutely not what the Icelandic people are calling for. Even if Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson decides to resign as a minister and not only have a temporary leave, that is just simply not enough, because he is not the only minister that is mentioned in the Panama Papers. We also have two other ministers from the other coalition party, the Independence Party. One of them is the finance minister and the minister of taxes. So, obviously, people want him to leave. And the other one is the interior minister, the minister for the—the judge system and so forth. So, people are still very upset. There were—there are planned protests, I guess, until the government leaves. We have prepared a new vote of no confidence, the minority parties in the Parliament, that we will put forward immediately after a new government has been formed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Birgitta, to what do you attribute this huge outpouring into the streets? Because these revelations now have been spreading for several days, and there’s outrage in many countries, but people aren’t turning to the streets like they have in Iceland. Why is that?

BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, Iceland, unfortunately, is a country—in Scandinavia and in Western Europe, is the only country that has sitting ministers in this leak. So other countries might have former leaders, but Iceland is the only country in Western Europe and Scandinavia that has ministers that are actually in office now. So I guess that’s one of the reasons. But, of course, we had, you know, a massive financial collapse in 2008 that really shook Icelandic society, and many people simply woke up. And we had massive demonstrations back then that I was a part of, and—like so many other Icelanders.

The protests two days ago were really unique, because in Iceland, like in many other countries, it is very difficult to get people to come out to protest unless their livelihoods are threatened in one way or another. So this was a protest against what people sensed was the ethical collapse that was relieved—revealed, by the one-percenters of Iceland. So, I was—I can’t really describe the feeling I felt to see so many Icelanders actually come forward and in massive demonstration, biggest in our history, to show the rest of the world that not all Icelanders are of the same nature as the leaders of Iceland.

AMY GOODMAN: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, you are a member of the Icelandic Parliament. Your party, the Pirate Party, according to one poll, has now 43 percent support. Is that right? Could you become the next prime minister of Iceland?

BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, I haven’t and we haven’t really gone that far in our thought process. Yes, the Pirate—a member of the Pirate Party could become the next prime minister. And actually, it is very interesting to look at the polls for the last year, because the Pirate Party has been going up in the polls on a steady level, and we’ve been somewhere—we’ve been measured between 35 to 42 percent in the last half a year. And we’ve been measured bigger than both of the coalition parties put together, that are in governance, for a half a year. So it is obvious that the government does not have the support of Icelanders.

And this was the sort of—you know, the drop that filled the cup and is spilling over, the anger towards the type of governance that we have been witnessing. It is important to note that one other minister, the former interior minister, was forced to resign a year ago, or half a year ago, because her assistant had leaked confidential information about a refugee and was found guilty. And it wasn’t until he was found guilty that she resigned. But instead of actually showing that they are—you know, have learned from it, they actually made her the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Parliament. So, obviously, these people that represent the parties that are in power have zero trust by the nation, or very little trust.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And we have only about a minute left, but could you tell us how Iceland has fared since the financial collapse? What’s the state of your economy right now?

BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: OK, so, we actually managed to do things right, and we were lucky enough to have a left-wing government that went through the austerity measures in the wake of the crisis. We were the first Western country to go through an IMF program. We have had capital controls. We sort of closed Iceland off, and we publicized or we took ownership of the collapsed banks again. So we’re doing actually quite well. We’re in a really sensitive state of lifting the capital controls. And it is imperative that we have people that are lifting the capital controls that the general public in Iceland trust, and the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, we have to leave it there, but we’re going to do a post-show with you to find out the platform of the Pirate Party, and we’ll post it online at democracynow.org. Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a member of the Icelandic Parliament with the Pirate Party.

That does it for our show. Our 100-city tour starts tonight at Ithaca College. On Monday—on Friday, we’ll be in Columbus, Ohio, then St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri, on the 9th; Los Angeles and Santa Barbara on the 10th; San Francisco on the 11th; then to Stanford University and Santa Clara on the 12th. Check our website at democracynow.org.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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