Icelandic vigilantes try to stop evictions

REYKJAVIK Icelandic activist group Home defence use their bodies to try to stop evictions brought on by the financial crisis.

By Axel Kronholm

Þorvaldur Óttar Guðlaugsson and Þorvaldur Þorvaldsson from Home defence. Photo: Axel Kronholm

”We’re not doing this to be popular. We’re not interested in political discussions. Our only purpose is to defend the people’s homes,” says Þorvaldur Óttar Guðlaugsson, spokesperson for Home defence, or Heimavarnarliðið in icelandic.

We meet at Café Haiti, a small café in the Reykjavik harbor. Þorvaldur Þorvaldsson, who was one of the guys who founded Home defence in the winter of 2009, is on his way.

When the crisis struck Iceland in 2008 the housing prices plummeted while the loans became inflated. Since then, Þorvaldur Óttar Guðlaugsson has seen hundreds of families lose their homes to the banks. For this summer, he fears many will have to camp outside in tents.

Fighting ”unjust debt claims”

Their manifest is simple and clear: the purpose of their group is to protect those who are facing eviction because of, as they put it, “unjust debt claims.” What this means in terms of concrete action is that Home defence physically try to stop the eviction, or at least delay it.

They form a human shield infront of the entrance to the house in question. Sometimes they succeed, other times the bank is more determined and call for police to disperse the activists.

”At that point, some in the group would be willing to use their fists. Although it hasn’t come to that, yet. We understand that the police has the upper hand and that they will do whatever it takes to make the eviction go through.” Þorvaldur Óttar Guðlaugsson says.

As much as Home defence try to stop the evictions from happening, their objective is also to draw attention to what’s going and to the situation of the people in debt.

At this point in the conversation, the other Þorvaldur arrives, and adds to what his colleague is saying.

”Unfortunately, the media is very unreliable here. One day we are heroes, the other day we are crooks.” he says.

The home owner is boss

Home defence has no formal structure or leadership. A person who faces eviction can contact the group and ask for help. At that point, all the members meet to discuss and evaluate the situation. It is then up to each and everyone of them to decide whether they want to participate or not.

”When we finally act, the home owner is boss. All situations are unique and we don’t want to push anyone. He or she can decide what we should do and what kind of resistance we are going to put up.” says Þorvaldur Þorvaldsson.

The members also try to offer moral support to people, both before and after an eventual eviction. Many of their members have lost their own homes before joining Home defence.

Government and banks responsible

The government’s efforts to help people in debt haven’t been enough, they tell me. Þorvaldur Þorvaldsson and Þorvaldur Óttar Guðlaugsson want to see a holistic approach to solving the problems, and feel that the measures taken are too temporary and individual.

Even if some of their anger is directed against the government, they also feel the banks share a lot of the responsibility for the current situation.

”Before the crisis, people would get called up by the banks and prompted to take cheap loans,” says Þorvaldur Óttar Guðlaugsson.

Finally, they stress that they don’t see themselves as heroes or martyrs.

”Our goal is first and foremost to make the Icelandic people aware of the situation, and thereby get them to stand up for themselves and their neighbors.”

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