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Transitional Justice After Economic Collapse: The Case of Iceland

Thu, August 30, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Hynes, 201


This article addresses the institutional strategies that political elites can deploy to address issues of accountability, truth and justice in times of economic collapse. The Emergency Politics of the Great Recession on the European continent, characterised by deepening legitimacy issues, stand in contrast with the mechanisms deployed by Icelandic political elites in their attempts to relegitimise the political body after the country’s economic collapse. Specifically, the political elite’s deployment of a truth commission; trials of bankers and politicians; reparations; and constitutional reform will be evaluated with the aim of providing comparative learnings for actors interested in democratic counterpoints to the logics of Emergency Politics. From the outside, the Iceland’s path has been perceived as one of unorthodox and uniform success. However, the mechanisms deployed varied greatly in their outcomes: there were institutional innovations worthy of attention; and mistakes were made that should not be emulated. The puzzle raised is why did the mechanisms vary so in their outcomes? It is maintained that mechanisms that were deployed at the early stages of the crisis met a clearly defined need and resulted in institutional learnings that contributed to reforming and religitimzing the political body. Conversely, as the time passed the needs became unclear and political elites followed an instrumental logic of blame games. The advice offered is that political elites cannot afford to delay the deployment of accountability, truth and justice mechanisms after an economic collapse, because they must act and act fast.