Austurvöllur Square has been a public gathering space for Icelanders since the 1930s. Though the Square is now home to many cafés and restaurants, the presence of the statue of Independence leader Jón Sigurðsson seems to inspire a spirit of protest as well.
Arguably Iceland’s bloodiest uprising in modern history occurred here on March 30, 1949, when demonstrators expressed vociferous opposition to the Alþingi’s (Icelandic parliament) move to join NATO. As Iceland had been de-militarised in 1869, the decision to cooperate with major powers engaged in a Cold War was widely seen as an unnecessary contradiction of the nation’s peaceful principles. After rocks were thrown at the parliament building, police soon resorted to firing tear gas at protesters, who subsequently dispersed.
The Square continues this legacy today, and was most recently home to Iceland’s biggest-ever mass protest, provoked by Sigmundur Davið’s naming in the 2016 Panama Papers. While this gathering of around 22,000 Icelanders removed Davið from his post, it seems likely the Square will soon be called on again, given the current political climate.
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