This January has definitely been a month of firsts. While the world cheered the inauguration of the USA’s first African-American president, Iceland quietly inaugurated the world’s first openly gay premier. In many ways Johanna Sigrudardottir’s inauguration is more remarkable than President Obama’s. Even though the traditional prejudices against gay people have receded in the past decades, there is a considerable amount of pressure for mainstream politicians to conform to stereotypes of ideal nuclear families.
In Iceland, Ms. Sigurdardottir’s union with her long-term partner was completely irrelevant to her mass political appeal. St. Johanna, as she is affectionately known, has been repeatedly chosen in opinion polls as Iceland’s most popular politician. This is in stark contrast to Geir Haarde, who endured months of angry protests for perceived mismanagement of the economy. After years of cynicism and apathy in politics across the Western world it is refreshing to see politicians who inspire trust. Naturally, Ms Sigurdardottir’s sexuality is irrelevant to her politics. Her job is to fix Iceland’s shattered economy.
Even in tough times, instead of falling back to the traditional response to economic crises- attacking vulnerable scapegoats, Icelandic voters have stayed true to their progressive principles. As 2008 Nobel-laureate for economics, Paul Krugman points out, the dire state of the global economy calls for bold thinking and fresh ideas rather than the stale bickering of ideologues. Ms. Sigurdadottir, formerly the country’s Social Welfare minister, has her work cut out in lifting Iceland out of its misery. She may well fail in achieving her aims but it is encouraging that Iceland’s voters are willing to try out new ideas in order to tackle their country’s challenges. After all, as John Maynard Keynes observed, the greatest obstacles to restoring prosperity are ‘the obsolete doctrines that clutter the
minds of men’.