David Friedman at Student Conference

David D. Friedman

Many well-known speakers will gave papers at the conference of European Students for Liberty and the Icelandic Association of High School Students in Reykjavik Saturday 30 September, including Professor David D. Friedman. Son of influential economist and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, David D. Friedman is known for his radical anarcho-capitalism, as he argues that individuals and their associations can, at least in theory, perform all or nearly all the tasks which government is now undertaking. Friedman is interested in medieval history and has written on the Icelandic Commonwealth. He has published several books on law and economics and two novels. At the conference Dr. Daniel Mitchell will state the case for tax cuts while Professor Edward Stringham will discuss entrepreneurship and the nature of government.

In the autumn of 1979, David Friedman was the first foreign lecturer at the Libertarian Association which operated in Iceland in 1979–1989. Friedman then discussed private enforcement of law as it was practised in the Icelandic Commonwealth. Daniel Mitchell is a frequent visitor to Iceland, and Edward Stringham was a Fellow at the 2005 Mont Pelerin Society regional conference in Iceland. A few other speakers will discuss the libertarian movement and its aims. The conference will take place in Room V101 in the University of Reykjavik from 11 to 16. All are welcome. The conference fee is ISK 1,000, which includes lunch, coffee, evening party and books. RNH supports the conference as a part of its joint programme with ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on “Europe, Iceland, and the Future of Capitalism”.

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Yeonmi Park: Don’t Forget North Korea

Yeonmi, Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson and publisher Jonas Sigurgeirsson.

North Korean refugee Yeonmi Park gave a talk on “Life in North Korea” to a packed Festivities Hall at the University of Iceland Friday 25 August. Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson introduced Park, whose book In Order to Live has been a best-seller in Iceland for months. Park said that she found it hard to describe the situation in North Korea to foreigners. After the Second World War, the three Kims had one after the other reigned with utter ruthlessness, being treated as gods, with supernatural powers. She was therefore relieved to meet a friendly and unpretentious prime minister like the Icelandic one. In her own region in North Korea, as many people had lost their lives in the famine of the early 1990s as the whole population of Iceland, more than 300,000. She had been surprised when she had for the first time seen a dustbin abroad. In North Korea there were no dustbins: Everything was used.

Park, soon to become 24 years, is a student at Columbia University.

In her talk, Yeomni Park described her escape with her mother ten years ago to China where they had been captured by human traffickers and sold as wives to Chinese workers. After two years of slavery and mistreatment in China they fled by walking over the Gobi Desert to Mongolia, eventually escaping to South Korea. It had been difficult for her to get used to the freedom in South Korea. For example, she had not known how to answer when she was asked about her favourite colour. In North Korea everybody was supposed to fancy red, as it was the colour of the revolution and the working class. North Koreans often found life in South Korea a challenge because they were used to obey and not to choose for themselves.

Vera Knutsdottir, Director of the United Nations Association in Iceland, chaired the following discussion. Yeonmi Park said that the key to future developments North Korea was to be found in China. The communist régime in North Korea still enjoyed the protection of the Chinese government. The liberation of North Korea had however to be made by the Koreans themselves and not by others. She did not consider it likely that North and South Korea would unify in the near future. The inhabitants of those two parts of Korea had grown apart, even formed different vocabularies. Yeonmi encouraged NGOs working for human rights to try and alleviate the plight of the North Koreans and asked the West, beset as it might be with problem, not completely to forget North Korea.

The meeting was held by RNH, the Public Book Club (Almenna bokafelagid), which had published Park’s book, and the Institute of International Relations at the University of Iceland. This very successful event formed a part of the joint project by RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on “Europe of the Victims: Remembering Communism”. The talk was streamed, both to the next rooms at the University and at the online site, visir.is. Around 5,000 people watched the streaming online. The event can also been watched here. Iceland’s main newspaper, Morgunbladid (The Morning Paper), wrote a leading article on Park’s visit and her message. An interview with Park was broadcast on the evening news magazine of the government television station 29 August.

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Friday 25 August: Yeonmi Park

RNH, with the Public Book Club (Almenna bokafelagid) and the Institute of International Affairs at the University of Iceland, holds a meeting in the Festivities Hall of the University Friday 25 August 2017 where Yeonmi Park, author of In Order to Live, describes her life in North Korea, the last communist state (and the first communist monarchy).

Only 24 years old, Park fled from North Korea ten years ago with her mother. Her book has been translated into many languages and been a best-seller in Iceland. Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson will introduce the author, and Vera Knutsdottir, the director of the United Nations Society of Iceland, will respond to her talk and chair discussions.

The meeting is between 12:00 and 13:15. Admission is free and all are welcome. The meeting forms a part in the joint project by RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on “Europe of the Victims”.

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Gissurarson on the Removal of Statues

The painting of Bjarni Benediktsson is behind Reagan.

There is a simple rule which should be used to decide which statues, busts, portraits and other historical symbols should be removed from public places and which should be kept there, RNH academic director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson said in an interview with the radio station Bylgjan 22 August 2017. If the individuals in question were clearly guilty of crimes against humanity, or against the peace, or against human rights, as defined in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders, then statues, busts, portraits and other symbols with them should be removed from public places. This was done in Germany after the War: there are no memorabilia of Hitler, Goering or Goebbels to be found there. However, in parts of Eastern Europe, statues, busts and portraits—and even street names—of Lenin, Stalin and their henchmen still remain. Professor Gissurarson recalled that he participates in the work of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience which fights for the removal of statues and other memoribilia honouring the blood-stained oppressors of the former communists countries.

Professor Gissurarson said that he did not see the same need to remove statues in public places of for example Southern generals like Robert Lee. The Civil War in the US had not been only about slavery, inexcusable as it was, but also about free trade and secession rights. We have to live with our history, even if we refuse to honour the memory of criminals in power such as Hitler and Stalin, Gissurarson argued. He recalled that the leftwingers who came into power in Reykjavik City Council in 1994 hastened to remove from historic house Hofdi a painting of long-time Prime Minister and Mayor of Reykjavik Bjarni Benediktsson which had become famous worldwide when it formed the background to the talks between Reagan and Gorbachev in Hofdi in 1986. This was a wrong decision, Gissurarson said. It was however extraordinary that in front of the Festivities Hall of the University of Iceland there was a bust of Brynjolfur Bjarnason, the first and only Leader of Iceland’s Communist Party 1930–8, a staunch Stalinist his whole life. Gissurarson’s interview formed a part of the joint project of RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on “Europe of the Victims”.

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Lively Debate on Small States

Gissurarson and Professor Jensen at the latter’s home 11 August 2017.

RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson gave a paper in a workshop on international relations at the Nordic Political Science Association Congress in Odense 8–12 August. The title of his paper was “In Defence of Small States”, where he argued against the doubts expressed after the 2008 Icelandic bank collapse by Professors Anne Sibert and Baldur Thorhallsson that Iceland was large enough to be sustainable as a state. Professor Gissurarson recalled similar doubts expressed by Rousseau, Marx and Engels and by Professor Alfred Cobban, before he turned to Sibert’s argument which was that small states were more costly to maintain than big ones. Gissurarson pointed out that this was not always true: Outlays per capita on public goods such as law and order and external security were actually lower in Iceland and the other Nordic countries than in the US or UK. The reason was that the small states were homogeneous, cohesive, transparent and non-aggressive, with a strong civic culture. The transparency in small states also reduced the likelihood of “hard” corruption such as extortion or bribery, although arguably there was scope there for clientilism and favouritism (which also could be observed, of course, in bigger states such as China, India and Brazil). Indeed, small states tended to be more wealthy than big ones, not least because their economies were open. The economic integration of the last half century had greatly benefited small states and perhaps paradoxically made political integration less necessary.

Professor Gissurarson discussed the “shelter theory” put forward by his colleague at the University of Iceland, Professor Thorhallsson, a former alternate MP for the Social Democrats and leading advocate of EU membership for Iceland. According to Thorhallsson Iceland needed a shelter such as the EU, not least after the US abandoned her. Gissurarson argued however that Icelandic history demonstrated quite the opposite. When the Icelanders thought they had gained a shelter under the Norwegian and later the Danish crown, they had actually been caught in a trap: The crown had isolated them, imposed monopoly trade on the country and worked with local landowners to stifle the development of fisheries. The result had been a series of famines on an island surrounded by fertile fishing grounds. The crown had cared little about Iceland, trying thrice to sell her to King Henry VIII and once to German Hansa merchants. In the 19th century, the Danish government had also seriously considered the idea of handing Iceland over to the Prussians in exchange for Northern Schleswig. When the Swedes had seized Norway in compensation for having to give Finland to the Russians, they had not bothered to include Iceland, even if she was an old Norwegian tributary.

Gissurarson pointed out that shelters were usually places of temporary relief from bad weather or danger. Therefore the concept was hardly applicable to fruitful cultural exchanges between nations of different sizes, or to mutual gains by trade for individuals and enterprises. The core of truth in the “shelter theory” was however that small states, with their limited military power, were vulnerable and needed alliances and even protectors. The military alliance between Iceland and the US in 1941–2006 when the US undertook to defend Iceland and maintained a base there had been successful. Iceland should, Professor Gissurarson submitted, seek to revive the alliance with the US and also to improve and strengthen the ties with her other North Atlantic neighbours, Norway, the UK and Canada. This did not mean that she should not pursue good relations with the EU which was indeed a very important trading partner. But the EU did not have the same military might as the US, and European political integration had probably reached its upper limit. Professor Gissurarson recalled that Jon Sigurdsson, the leader of Iceland’s independence struggle, had wanted to trade with many nations, not only with one.

Gissurarson Slides in Odense

A lively discussion, chaired by Danish Professor Anders Wivel, followed the paper. The commentator, Norwegian Professor Gunnar Fermann, expressed his satisfaction that this important issue was being actively debated in Iceland. He added that he himself shared many of the criticisms directed by Professor Gissurarson against the EU. Sverrir Steinsson, a graduate student who co-write a paper with Professor Thorhallsson on the “shelter theory”, stressed that the theory was independent of political views in Iceland on EU-membership and that perhaps in his critique, Professor Gissurarson had chosen some examples of outliers rather than more relevant data. Other participants wondered how a small state should be defined, whether a big nation supposed to give shelter to a small one would not require something in return, and if the real shelter which Iceland should seek would not be the Nordic community rather than the EU.

In Denmark, Professor Gissurarson used the opportunity to pay a visit 11 August to the distinguished historian Professor Bent Jensen who lives near Odense. In 2012, Jensen was the first lecturer to visit Iceland on the invitation of RNH. He has published several books about Stalin, Russia and the Stalinist apologists in the West, as well as a history of Denmark in the Cold War. Gissurarson and Jensen discussed how to remember the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia 7 November 2017. It started the advance of communism which had claimed 100 million lives in the 20th century and still lingers on in North Korea and Cuba. From Denmark Professor Gissurarson went to England and paid a visit 14 August to Lord Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England. Gissurarson interviewed Lord King about the international financial crisis and the 2008 Icelandic bank collapse on which he is preparing a report for the Icelandic Ministry of Finance. Gissurarson’s participation in the NOPSA conference and the meeting with Lord King formed a part of the joint project of RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on “Europe, Iceland and the Future of Communism”, whereas the meeting with Professor Jensen formed a part of the joint project of RNH and ACRE on “Europe of the Victims”.

Petur Fjeldsted interviewed Hannes on his Odense paper:

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Sigurgeirsson on North Korea

Sigurgeirsson: North Korea in the distance.

North Korea is a very strange country, but she should not be treated as a joke, because the oppression there is horrible, said Jonas Sigurgeirsson, managing director of the Public Book Club (Almenna bokafelagid) and of RNH, in an interview with the Icelandic Government Radio Station 15 August 2017. The occasion was the publication in Icelandic of a best-selling book by a young North Korean girl, Yeonmi Park, In Order to Live, which has been published in many translations around the world. The author who is only 24 years, describes her upbringing in North Korea where a famine raged in 1994–8. Her father was imprisoned for illegal trading, and Yeonmi and her mother decided to flee to China. There they fell into the hands of human traffickers, and were abused and forced into arranged marriages. Defying adverse circumstances, they managed to escape to Mongolia and eventually to reach South Korea. Yeonmi Park is now a student at Columbia University in New York and has recently married.

In the radio interview, Sigurgeirsson also gave an account of his trip in May 2017 to South Korea where he attended a meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society, an international society of liberal scholars, opinion makers and businessmen. One day he and other participants went to, or rather crawled under, North Korea through a tunnel which the North Koreans had dug into South Korea for their spies and agents to sneak in. The difference in living standards between North and South Korea is beyond belief, Sigurgeirsson commented. The publication of Park’s book forms a part of the joint project by RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on “Europe of the Victims: The Memory of Communism”.

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