Referendums as Resistance: International Pressures and Nationalist Recoil in Iceland

Oddný Helgadóttir*, Jón Gunnar Ólafsson

*Corresponding author for this work

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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
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1330-1350
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: May 26 2021.


  • Nationalism
  • Referendums
  • Media
  • Iceland
  • Sovereign debt
  • Great financial crisis

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