The Cable

Hey, Just Wanted to Make Sure You Heard How Great Iceland Is

We get it, Iceland. We get it.


Just in case you haven’t heard: Iceland is great. Iceland is so great that, in the past 24 hours or so, numerous non-Icelandic publications have run stories on the variety of ways in which Iceland, which has a population of roughly 330,000, is great.

But a few years ago, Iceland was in the throes of economic crisis. And a few months ago, Iceland was engulfed in scandal, its then-prime minister (who has since resigned) having been identified in leaked financial documents known as the Panama Papers for partially owning an undeclared offshore company.

Now, however, Iceland has come barreling back and is having, as they say, a moment. And its moment, like apparently everything about Icelandic politics, is great.

Iceland is a great place to be a woman in politics. Before last Saturday’s elections, Iceland’s was the 11th-most female parliament in the world. But women won 30 seats in the vote, and it is now the fourth. Currently, 48 percent of Iceland’s members of parliament are women.

Iceland is a great place for political participation of populist parties. Iceland’s Pirate Party, which has not a chairman but a captain, which is composed of “anarchists, hackers, libertarians and Web geeks,” and which did not exist four years ago, was able to participate so fully in the democratic process that many (including the prime minister, who resigned) thought the Pirates would sail to victory.

But, oh! Iceland is also a great place to defeat populism. Bjarni Benediktsson, the conservative who will likely be the next prime minister of Iceland, said his party was able to defeat the Pirates and other rivals by not overspending or over-promising and instead maintaining low unemployment and high economic growth. How moderate. How reasoned. How nice for Icelanders, 79 percent of whom exercised their right to vote, because of course they did.

But wait, you say. Iceland has many great things, sure, like this 400-year-old government meeting table, but surely it is ultimately one of a host of flawed countries. But such thinking is a trap set for critics of Iceland, for Iceland is even a great place to criticize Iceland. Early last month, this Icelandic outlet, not content to let the international media sing its country’s praises, convened four Icelanders to imagine what a Utopian Iceland might really look like.

Great. Super. Just what we need — another reason to read about an even better Iceland.

Photo credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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