Referendums as resistance: international pressures and nationalist recoil in Iceland

Oddný Helgadóttir, Jón Gunnar Ólafsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines how referendums on internationally contested issues can activate nationalist discourses. To this end, it carries out a case study of the ‘Icesave conflict’ between Iceland, the UK and the Netherlands. This conflict centered on whether the Icelandic government should insure British and Dutch deposits in the online accounts of the Icelandic bank Landsbanki, which went bankrupt in the Global Financial Crisis. Departing from a discursive institutionalist framework, the paper performs a detailed analysis of the conflict over time, including two Icelandic referendums on repayment plans. It argues that although calling a referendum likely gave Iceland more bargaining power, doing so also activated novel nationalist discourses. A main contribution of the paper thus lies in illustrating how international pressures can ‘reverberate’ in the domestic realm. Another key contribution is the dynamic analysis of a case that spanned several years, allowing for a time-sensitive understanding of evolving political developments and discourses.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by an EAHERDIF grant to the Center for the Study of Democracy at the Babeș-Bolyai University (PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2016-0729). The School of Social Sciences at the University of Iceland, the Institute of International Affairs at the University of Iceland and Creditinfo Iceland provided additional support concerning access to data and facilities. We thank Rakel Gyða Pálsdóttir and Hafsteinn Birgir Einarsson for research and data assistance. For constructive feedback we are grateful to Cornel Ban, Mark Blyth, Gabriel Badescu, Manuela Moschella, Sigrún Ólafsdóttir, Wesley Widmaier, Eleni Tsingou, Matt Kranke and participants of the 2015 Yale Symposium on Political Leadership and Economic Crisis. Last but not least we are very grateful to two anonymous referees for their very lucid and constructive feedback. The usual disclaimers apply.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Other keywords

  • Great Financial Crisis
  • Iceland
  • media
  • Nationalism
  • referendums
  • sovereign debt


Dive into the research topics of 'Referendums as resistance: international pressures and nationalist recoil in Iceland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this