Ideas can be dangerous, especially the good ones
June 20, 2014 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Four years ago, a group of punk anarchists with no political experience led by Icelandic comedian Jón Gnarr formed a joke political party, the Best Party, to campaign for Reykjavik's mayoral and city council positions, hoping to lighten up local politics in the wake of the catastrophic Icelandic financial meltdown. To everyone's surprise, they won.

After winning a plurality of the votes in the municipal election (Previously on MetaFilter) on the tails of a charming campaign video, the Best Party announced they would only form a coalition with a party whose leaders had watched all five seasons of The Wire. (Luckily, the Social Democratic Alliance had.) Gnarr had told voters he could make more promises than all the other candidates because he intended to keep none of them.

But in four short years, the Best Party, without much interest in being re-elected and therefore not much beholden to entrenched interests, re-organized the floundering Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik Energy), merged the city's preschools, extended bike paths, appointed an official Christmas Cat, reorganized zoning, and set Reykjavik back on firm financial footing. One of his co-founders is now head of the city council for Reykjavik; another went on to national parliament and Eurovision. Of forming the party, Gnarr said, "I felt like a character in a Beckett play, where you have moral obligations towards something you have no possibility of understanding."

On June 16, Jón Gnarr's term came to an end, making him only the third mayor of Reykjavik since 1980 to serve a full four-year term.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Jón Gnarr has left the building.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (30 comments total) 126 users marked this as a favorite
The first and last links are the best; in the last link he talks a lot about his personal philosophy and ideas and it is fascinating and worth reading to the end.

Also his wife is BFFs with Bjork, apparently.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:20 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fantastic post.

"Are you saying our politicians are literally drunk at work, or that their condition just clouds their judgment in general?

'Yes, a lot of them are drunk at work. Or hung-over, not at their best. Or under the influence of something or other. And yes, it obviously clouds the judgment.'

You’re saying you’ve witnessed this during your time in politics?

'Yes. Yes. This is very prevalent in politics.' "
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:37 PM on June 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

To me, anarchism and Taoism represent the same idea. The only difference is that anarchism went the way of any other ideology. It was written down and demarcated, what counted as anarchism and what didn’t—and in that instant, it fell dead.

I figure that's the thing about anarchism, if you think too hard about it, or try to force it, you end up breaking it.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:53 PM on June 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also his wife is BFFs with Bjork, apparently.

FYI there's going to be a major restrospective/exhibit on Bjork at MOMA I think. In 2015.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:16 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Paging Kattullus, he's from Reyjavik and writes for the paper in the last link.

Also, Jón Gnarr is cooler than your mayor.
posted by JauntyFedora at 7:39 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also posing as Chauncey Gardner in your "leaving office" photo shoot? Killing it.
posted by JauntyFedora at 7:42 PM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Aren't we all, in our own minds, best friends with Björk?
posted by sourcequench at 7:50 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Powerlessness, humility, frailty" as principles of practical politics. And it worked.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:57 PM on June 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

Sounds like Iceland would do well to order them back to work at gunpoint.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:43 PM on June 20, 2014

Amazing story. I like his approach to ideology, and that he knows when to stop.
posted by zompist at 8:51 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes. I really like the philosophy behind AA. It’s very unique; it’s really a lifestyle of sorts that the members adopt. And it seems to work. You never hear anything about a scandal connected to AA. The organisation receives donations and handles money, but you never hear about a charter somewhere that was misappropriating funds or anything of the sort… that type of thing doesn’t seem to happen in AA. This indicates that the programme and the organisation work, that it’s healthy.
So, while there are a tons of critiques of the 12 steps of AA, I've read unabashed praise for their 12 traditions. If you are unfamiliar with them, I would recommend checking them out. I've heard them characterized as an anarchist ideal for organizations in AA: Cult or Cure, an enlightening read (this chapter, specifically).
posted by el io at 9:32 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you read nothing else, read the final link in full. Amazing. It's like the citizens of Reykjavik elected Odo from The Dispossessed.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:38 PM on June 20, 2014 [12 favorites]

This video is really trippy.
Also, it's interesting that Wikipedia has a 'List of frivolous parties'.
posted by growabrain at 10:57 PM on June 20, 2014

This makes me think that Pat "Pat" Griffin was onto something when he ran for Mayor of Pasadena on the Cocktail Party ticket. It's too bad the bankers hadn't yet blown up the country back when he ran. He might have had a chance.
posted by notyou at 11:54 PM on June 20, 2014

Reykjavík’s new leading coalition consists of the Social Democratic Alliance (who Dagur B. represents), Bright Future (The Best Party’s sister party, headed by Jón Gnarr’s former assistant S. Björn Blöndal, now the head of city council), The Left Green Party and The Pirate Party.

I knew that Jón Gnarr wouldn't run for re-election - he announced this (i think) in October last year. But it makes me quite happy to see S. Björn Blöndal to carry on the torch.
Go Bright Future!
posted by bigendian at 2:36 AM on June 21, 2014

Municipal meetings would be a lot more fun if they were suddenly broken up by Einar yelling. I hope he moves to my town and runs for council.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:39 AM on June 21, 2014

That first article's really informative. It's sad but telling the party lost half its support when Gnarr left. I wish he'd stayed.

Off to read the last article...
posted by mediareport at 5:15 AM on June 21, 2014

This would make a great premise for a movie. The American remake would be like Frank Capra meets Yippie anarchism.
posted by jonp72 at 6:31 AM on June 21, 2014

That Christmas Cat is scary.
posted by winna at 6:33 AM on June 21, 2014

> I wish he'd stayed.

From the last link (the interview):
We need more young women to enter politics, because this will create a balance. And this is indeed one of the reasons I am stepping aside. To create room. If I were a young woman, I would have probably stuck around a bit longer. But I’m not, so I won’t.
Like Harvey Kilobit said, if you read nothing else, read the final link in full. Anarchist though I am, if I were Icelandic I might have violated my principles and voted for him.
posted by languagehat at 6:48 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

This would make a great premise for a movie. The American remake would be like Frank Capra meets Yippie anarchism.

Americans wouldn't watch a movie about Icelandic anarchists. And setting it in America would be ludicrously unbelievable.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:37 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

> "We need more young women to enter politics, because this will create a balance."

From this interview, it's obvious he's dead serious about this:
Another thing I am actively trying to do, which I believe is very positive and which I am proud of, is placing a conscious emphasis on hiring women for management and upper level positions within the city ... I believe a healthy society must build equally on the forces of men and women; it must be based equally on masculine and feminine values ... Our culture is just insanely male dominated and oriented, and we as a party wish to confront and change that.

And this is something we are trying to alter slowly, by taking the abovementioned steps, and also by making the demand that those organisations that accept financial support from The City of Reykjavík follow the city’s human rights charter, which among other things states that you need to have gender balanced councils and committees ... when we started looking into it, I was surprised. It’s usually something like one woman for every twelve men on board.
He also talks a lot about garbage collection and other nuts-and-bolts issues. This is obviously something he and his party care about alongside feminism.
posted by nangar at 8:54 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Americans wouldn't watch a movie about Icelandic anarchists. And setting it in America would be ludicrously unbelievable.

So they'd relocate it to America somewhere, and after nine or ten drafts, the screenplay would finally settle on some quirky small town. Pauly Shore would be the mayor.
posted by philip-random at 9:01 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anarchist though I am, if I were Icelandic I might have violated my principles and voted for him.

And that would be the most anarchist thing!

This is a great post; I was vaguely aware of the post-meltdown recovery in Iceland, but only the broadest strokes, and these are beautiful details. It's like seeing a Tea Party-like candidate from an alternate universe, where they're not just out to fuck people and really do want the system to be better for everyone. Want more!
posted by rtha at 10:23 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Up with this sort of thing!
posted by ZipRibbons at 2:22 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interview with Heiða Kristín Helgadóttir, current chair of Bright Future (Björt framtíð).
posted by nangar at 6:30 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read the first link and the "What Happened?" interview. There is SO MUCH that I would like to quote. I wish to send this interview to everyone I know. Just amazing. It is surreal that a group of such wonderful human beings could actually work in politics. To The Rest Of The World: You have no excuse anymore, sorry.

When Iceland does politics well, it does politics very, very well.
"Exactly. This is my proudest accomplishment. It’s invisible and intangible, yet very real. It is like love. Love is a certain consciousness or state of mind that isn’t anything until you express it in action. When you act out of love for another. And that is what we have been trying to do, to build a loving environment that is based on consideration, respect and trust. To convince people believe that we respect them even though we are in disagreement, that this is possible and that it works. That political opponents can walk side by side in good faith, trusting that neither party will use the opportunity to hurt them or push them aside. We wanted to show that this works, that you exist in this way without being burned or abused."
To reiterate, these are the words of an elected politician. All of this is so good. I don't even...
posted by quiet earth at 1:57 PM on June 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Why did you decide against running for a second term?

Because the Best Party is a surprise party.
It took me two whole seconds to get that.
posted by narain at 4:19 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I read the first story, I was like, "Hey, these are my people ..." and then I read the interview and I was like, "These are really, really my people!" I am all about regular people running for local office ... and trying to do the job honorably and well and completely and with as much kindness and openness as possible when people are screaming invective at you, meeting anger with gentleness. And doing the details well, and listening to the marginalized, and being practical rather than constantly ideological (sometimes ideological is okay), and doing so with the belief that you can convince people of your practical solution if you just explain it to them.

I am not an anarchist and definitely not even a little punk (I'm far too square), but so much of what Gnarr and his colleagues said was a more eloquent, thoughtful version of the thoughts and ideals that pushed me into politics in the first place.

I'm right now trying to exit gracefully, which is hard because wow is it easier to be nasty than gracious. I actually ordered Gnarr's recent book (you can google it up) after reading the last-link interview so I can read more, and maybe feel a little better about choosing the high road in those moments that I feel low about it. I know it's right, but sometimes it'd be a lot more fun to be sensationalistic and ugly than ethical and it's hard to remember to keep doing the right thing when people are screwing you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:49 PM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also his wife is BFFs with Bjork, apparently.

From the article: "Being able to rely on Jóga [Jón’s wife, Jóhanna Jóhannsdóttir] and her judgement has helped a lot in this regard."

So... does that mean this could be about her? Huh.
posted by psoas at 8:39 AM on June 26, 2014

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