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johanna_sigurdardottir_vefJanuary 28, 2009

By Rady Ananda

Iceland’s most beloved political leader, Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir, will become the world’s first openly homosexual prime minister.  A minority coalition government of Social Democrats and Left-Greens has replaced the toppled conservative Independence Party, which failed to regulate its banks. October’s financial collapse followed Ponzi-scheme lending when banks couldn’t cover their debts. 

Photo from Iceland Government

Iceland’s most beloved political leader, Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir, will become the world’s first openly homosexual prime minister, at least until the Spring elections.  Though Icelanders consider it “perverted” to even care about someone’s sexual orientation, news of Sigurdardottir’s ascendancy spread throughout the blogosphere and mainstream news sources.  A minority coalition government of Social Democrats and Left-Greens has been formed to replace the discredited Independence Party-led coalition government, which was terminated on Monday.  Sigurdardottir will be installed on Saturday.

One blogger titled his piece, “Lesbian Gets Second Worse Job in the World,” (after the US presidency following the Bush-Cheney years?).  But confidence in 66-year-old Johanna Sigurdardottir is high, with nearly a 75% approval rating.  She is also the only pol whose ratings increased in the past year.  Last night, Andy Harley of UKGayNews.org posted an in-depth bio on Sigurdardottir, providing info confirmed by Iceland contacts.  Sigurdardottir has been a member of parliament for over thirty years, with former leadership posts in various unions.

Harley reports, “Ms. Sigurðardóttir’s partner is Jónína Leósdóttir, a well-known Icelandic author, playwright and journalist.”  They registered their partnership in 2002.  “Both are very private people, as is generally the case in Iceland.  Ms. Sigurðardóttir has never given an interview about her sexuality and her relationship.”

Speaking with OpEdNews, Harley said, “Icelanders are very amused that Europe and America are interested in the ‘gay’ aspect.  ‘So what?’ is their attitude.”

The issue is of great relevance in those societies where sexual minorities are criminalized or marginalized by laws that ban full civil rights, including the U.S.  Violence against sexual minorities is so pervasive that in December 2008, more than a third of United Nations member states called for their protection and decriminalization.

Iceland was devastated by bank failures, followed by four months of weekly protests, one erupting in violence.  Amid charges of corruption and incompetence, several high level resignations ensued including the entire Financial Supervisory Authority board, as well as its director, Jonas Fr. Jonsson, and Minister for Business Affairs, Bjorgvin G. Sigurdsson.  Former Prime Minister Geir Haarde resigned this week, as did the entire coalition government.

Protestors, along with Sigurdardottir’s Social Democrats Party, continue to demand the resignation of all members of the Central Bank, and call for a complete restructuring of it.  The value of the Icelandic krona fell by half in 2008.  The nation’s banks collapsed last October under the Ponzi lending scheme where banks loaned money they didn’t have for expansive projects that benefited the few.  The Left-Green Party and the nation’s citizens have demanded that the assets of Iceland’s wealthy be seized. Social Democrats and the Progressives Party oppose this action, claiming it is unconstitutional.

The economic disaster precipitated by corrupt lending practices and government failure to regulate resulted in widespread unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, and starvation.  Nearly a third of Iceland’s population of 320,000 faces losing their homes and life savings.

After the financial collapse, Iceland negotiated a $10 billion International Monetary Fund loan with an interest scheme that the new government plans to review next month, and every three months thereafter.  The new minority coalition government promises to restructure its loans under less usurious terms.

Citizens, however, have demanded the canceling of all loans to its government:

“We, the People of the Republic of Iceland in this period of economic turmoil and near national bankruptcy, declare to the International Monetary Fund, to the Central Banks of all our neighbouring countries and to their respective governments, that it is not in the interest of the people of Iceland that our current government receive loans from anyone.

“It is precisely because of corruption in government and severe mismanagement of economic and monetary policy, that Iceland is now in such a sad and shameful position. Since we believe that a more politically accountable and civilised government is now crucial in order to ensure an effective implementation of economic recovery and reconstruction, a change has to be made in government to restore trust and credibility, domestically as well as internationally.”

Iceland is not scheduled to hold elections until 2011, but continuing policy failures led the nation to widespread protests, which finally toppled the conservative government.  Elections are expected shortly, but no later than May of this year.  With the Left-Green Party most closely representing the interests of Icelanders, it is not expected that Sigurdardottir will retain the PM seat after the election, unless the Social Democrats win a plurality of the vote. Given her popularity, her continued reign as the modern world’s first openly gay head of state may survive the election.

This article cited in The Week Magazine at Iceland’s gay leadership.