On the society we could have had

What if…? 

What if the politicians that have shaped Icelandic society in the last couple of decades had followed Vilmundur Gylfason’s ideology instead of the one of Hannes Holmsteinn Gissurarson and David Oddson?

Vilmundur is a political legend in Iceland. These quotes are from a radio-column which he published in 1975. 

On silence

“We have a power-system that has the opportunity to use the conspiracy of silence when it would be better to speak up. That is if an healthy and honest society is what people want.” 

On co-insurance

“This system of co-insurance between the political parties sure exists. And it probably extends deeper in the roots of our nation than people like to think.”

On honorary agreements

“The parties have almost made an honorary agreement about which issues they should leave to debate and some really do matter. They argue about national defence and agriculture. But about many other issues they have chosen to keep silent. For example on matters concerning the operation of official institutions and the financial system.”

On the media

“Don’t we have newspapers? Don’t we have newsmedia? That is the core of the problem. In those matters we have an obsolete system. A system that is at least thirty years behind the times if we compare ourselves to our neighbouring countries. The state media is of course in a difficult situation. They are ruled by a political council and little by little the tradition has emerged of them becoming medias that only bring us announcements from official institutions.  This doesn’t have to be unnatural in itself but what should form a natural balance would be free newspapers. But those do not exist. All papers are directly or indirectly published by the political parties and behave accordingly. They are published by the same co-insurance system that controls the banks and therefore agree not to criticize the banking system”. 

Unchecked non-restraint

“This arrangement of unchecked non-restraint has bred politicians and public officials who appear to consider it their private matter how they spend…I would almost say waste the money of the state”. 

On bestowals from the tables of government

“Why they have laws about the purchase of cars is beyond my belief. Why should ministers enjoy tariff-perks for a whole year after they leave office? It must be clear that the opposition must have a hard time criticizing, and actually be unable to provide a healthy check or balance against it as it exits the government itself when it accepts such bestowals from the tables of the new government. Yet again, this is the co-insurance of politicians at work”. 

On debauchery

“I am of the opinion that we have a severely corrupt system of government. And that the reason for it is that we lack the media that can provide real supervision, and in the shadows of this system we have debauchery, more debauchery than people realise could exist. And this debauchery massively pulls down the moral strenght of the power system.

The papers are untrustworthy and some of them should be extint, two or maybe three should be out of business. Their existence makes no operational sense. But what has happened is that the co-insuring system comes along and awards them grants from the state-coffers, only so they can resume existing with their propaganda and not tell stories that need to be told, to paint a different picture from what actually happens in reality.

In these matters I see no distinction between Morgunbladid or Thjodviljinn, democrats or Progressives. It makes more sense to listen to a large and growing group of people that for natural reasons wants the least to do with this system and finds that their natural needs for socializing are better met everywhere”. 

On too little enlightenment

“The smallness of individuals against an arrogant power-system which keeps growing, and this system rules over both the banks and the media to mention those only. And this is dangerous to democracy if it won’t be fixed. A gap is and has been forming between the system and its nation, even between the parliament and the nation. In these matters we are approaching the rubikon of the possible. This frightening development must be stopped before there is no turning back. I don’t believe the public wants this to remain the way it is. It has no benefit in this and what is worse, human dignity is lacking here. I will nevertheless allow myself to be of the opinion that first and foremost we suffer from too little enlightenment, and there we have the co-insuring median and the co-insuring power system to blame.” 

Vilmundur was obviously chasticed by the co-insured system. He was a demanding figure, the son of a man who was  minister of education, business and industry and the brother of economist Thorvaldur Gylfason who has been chasticed himself by the co-insuring system of today for criticising it.

At the time of Vilmundur’s ascent, other notable politicians were also making theirs. Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Steingrimur Hermannsson, David Oddson, Thorsteinn Palsson, Hannes Holmsteinn Gissurarson and Geir Haarde to name a few. Jon Baldvin became an ambassador while his party was in opposition, Steingrimur and David became Central Bank governors after leaving the prime ministers’ office, Hannes Holmsteinn got a job at the University of Iceland and kept it even though he was convinced by court of plagarism and has been on the board of the Central Bank for his party, Geir Haarde behaved well enough for long enough to succeed David as prime minister and then his government appointed David’s son to the district court against the recommendation of a committee of peers that was supposed to provide transparancy. Olafur Ragnar left parliament after briefly becoming minister and then became president of Iceland. 

The words Vilmundur spoke 34 years ago were uttered at a time when Iceland was a wholly different, closed society. Yet, they reasonate perfectly with today’s discourse. He committed suicide in 1983. The above mentioned politicians shaped what would become the Iceland of 2008. A bankrupt country with a destroyed reputation where the seperation of the branches of power long ago ceased to exist, where nepotism is ripe, where the wealth is not shared, where crime goes unpunished, where trust is scarce, transparency is ignored and enlightenment is hard to come by. 

What sort of society would we have if it had been shaped by the words of Vilmundur, instead of the actions of that co-insuring group that did?

It is a sobering thought exercise that can only fill you with regret, “that is if an healthy and honest society is what people want”.

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1 Response to “On the society we could have had”


  1. 1 Roy February 26, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    A country that loses a free press has no investigative reporters and a country without investigative reporters never serves the masses!
    Buckle up!


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