“It’s important to put your ego as a politician aside” Skip to content

“It’s important to put your ego as a politician aside”

By Larissa Kyzer

The United States’ TIME magazine interviewed Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir as part of its TIME100 Talks series, which brings together “global leaders and experts from different fields to spotlight solutions to urgent global problems.” The PM’s 20-minute conversation with interviewer Katie Couric focused on Iceland’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Noting the significant backlash that social distancing mandates have faced in many states in the US, Katie asked if Iceland had experienced a similar response at any point during its lockdown. Quite to the contrary, Katrín responded, the reaction had overwhelmingly been one of support and solidarity, an attitude that she linked to the country’s lack of armed forces.

“We don’t have a military in Iceland,” noted Katrín. “We are very focused on [being] a very liberal society, so actually, you could say that the responsibility was placed on the shoulders of each and every single one of us. And the slogan was that we are all really part of this public security, we all need to be a part of it if it’s supposed to work. And I think that has actually worked.”

When asked why she thought social distancing, quarantining, and other strategies intended to stem the spread of COVID-19 have been so difficult to implement in countries like the US and the UK, Katrín acknowledged that Iceland’s small size has, of course, played a helpful role in allowing authorities to really get across the importance of following rules and regulations during this time. Not only is it easier to manage something like contract tracing, she said, but “being in a small country, I think, you really do get this feeling that we are in this together, that we are fighting the epidemic together.”

“I also think that the strength of Iceland in this progress has been the public health system and that it’s accessible to everyone,” she continued, although she was quick to note that Iceland, like all countries, has made mistakes in combating the virus and “will have a lot to learn” when looking back on the pandemic.

“…[I]t sounds like you gave scientists the lead on this,” noted Couric later in the interview. “In terms of communicating with the public, you put them front and centre is that right?”

“Yes, we did that,” confirmed Katrín. “And they also approached this very humbly and said, ‘We really don’t know everything and we are not going to be able to answer all your questions, but we will try our best.’ And I think that’s something that the Icelandic public really appreciated…”

“I think what we can learn from this,” said Katrín later, remarking on the observation that many of the world leaders credited with the strongest management of the COVID-19 crisis are women, “is that it’s important to put your ego as a politician aside and really learn from those humble scientists…Be ready to admit that we are all really learning by doing and probably we will make mistakes. And I think that has been the biggest issue of leadership and maybe that comes easier to women than men.”

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