Your friends at the Reykjavík Grapevine followed the Rainbow Revolution
very closely while it was happening, and were there sporting cameras,
notepads and recording equipment the whole time. We posted daily reports of the proceedings via our newsfeed, below you may read and view most of what we observed during those seven days that shook a nation.
Day 1: Protests At Parliament Continue Through the night
Protests in front of the Icelandic parliament continued through the night last night and bonfires were lit (watch video), one of which consisted of a Christmas tree from Norway, fishing palettes and several park benches from the area. Police guarding the the scene used clubs at one point, contending that they were protecting the parliamentary building.
Four arrests were made last night, with two released from custody shortly thereafter. According to Morgunblaðið, the protestors were for the most part dispersed around three in the morning, and not much damage was done by the fires. The protests thus carried on for over thirteen hours, from when parliament was due to commence at 13:00 yesterday into well into the night, with varying degrees of intensity and attendance.
Several unrelated groups had – on social networking site Facebook and political or activist web-sites such as Nei. and Aftaka.org urged the populace to bring their pots and pans (for making noise) to the house of Alþingi at 13:00, as parliament was scheduled to meet after a month’s long “Christmas leave”.
Attendance peaked at 14:00 and again at 22:00 yesterday, when an estimated 3.000 persons of all ages and political affiliations gathered in protest, beating on pots, pans, bottles, drums and light posts amidst chants of “Unfit government, unfit government!”
A protestor interviewed by the Grapevine on-site said that the call of the people was for “[…] someone to accept at least a little bit of responsibility for all that’s gone wrong, and been done wrong. We want the government to resign, and we want to vote again as soon as possible.”
At the time of writing on, today’s scheduled parliamentary meetings have been cancelled without explanation although a statement is expected. Already, hundreds of citizens have already reconvened in front of the house of parliament to protest, and the numbers are expected to grow throughout the day.
Icelanders have been protesting in front of parliament on at least a weekly basis, calling for the resignation of the sitting ruling coalition of government, who many see as bearing a great deal of the blame for Iceland’s current economic woes.
Day 2: Protest Action Mounts In Reykjavík – “Police Disband Austurvöllur Crowd Using Teargas, Get Stoned”
[note: we posted this one in the wee hours of the morning of the 22nd]
Words in the morning. For now enjoy these videos.
This first one shows the crowd of protesters – many of whom had been at it since 1:00 PM that afternoon – convened in front of the government’s headquarters at Lækjartorg at 1:20 AM this morning. This was after their peaceful protests in front of the house of parliament, Alþingi, at Austurvöllur were disbanded by repeated teargas attacks from the police. At the moment of recording, they can be seen trying to build a new fire using newspapers and park benches as fuel.
The second one, shot at approximately 1:45 AM tonight, shows where small portions of the hitherto peaceful protesters have started throwing bricks from the surrounding sidewalk at the small group of police officers guarding the building. About fifty seconds into the clip, you can see a group of peaceful protesters have grouped in front of the policemen, as if to form a barrier to protect them. After calling for silence, they demand that their fellow civilians stop throwing rocks at the police, as they are merely doing their job. “Stop throwing the fucking rocks,” they can be heard say, “this is a peaceful protest! Direct your anger in the appropriate direction! Let this not dissolve into chaos!”
Today is reportedly slated to be the third consecutive day of protesting in Reykjavík.
Also: this guy gathered some pretty nice pictures from here and there. This Flickr has recent shots, Nei. has some good ones, and Grapevine scribe PalliH tells an interesting tale in his pics.
Day 3: They Keep A-Bangin’! – Reykjavík Protests Continue Despite Bad PR, Shitty Weather
Protests against the government have continued all day, and are still raging at the time of writing, as can be observed in the below videos. This is despite horrid weather conditions and some very bad PR caused by a handful of hooligans at the tail end of yesterday’s awesome display of public will.
Seven individuals from the police’s “riot squad” apparently had to seek medical care after being hit by bricks while defending the house of parliament at Austurvöllur and the government’s headquarters at Lækjartorg after midnight last night. Teargas was employed to disburse the Austurvöllur crowds, some of whom returned to Lækjartorg with a renewed sense of rage (and burning eyes) after the fact. A few unruly protestors started throwing sidewalk bricks at police officers, but were quickly stopped by a large group of peaceful protestors, as may be seen here.
Yesterday’s protests were peaceful and triumphant up until the very end. The crux of the action was at Hverfisgata by the National Theatre at around 10 PM, where the Reykjavík branch of the Alliance party met to discuss the party’s coalition government with the Independence party. Protestors lit fires outside of the meeting, held up traffic and celebrated carnival-style as word got out that the meeting had uniformly agreed to end the coalition with the Independence party (this agreement has no formal significance, and in fact Minister of Industry Össur Skarphéðinsson was quoted today as saying that there were no plans to end the coalition government).
After a hearty and peaceful celebration, things started heating up and turning to the worse as protests moved back to the original Austurvöllur venue. Again, the events that followed may be observed here.
A dedicated group of protestors started gathering at Austurvöllur at 10 AM this morning and started growing around noon, when the “official protest” as advertised on Facebook and such sites began. Despite rugged conditions, the crowd has kept a-banging on their pots and pans between cries of “unfit government! Unfit government,” growing in numbers.
The following videos are neither professional nor high quality. They are simply meant to give an idea and a perspective of what the situation was like at Austurvöllur today, and still remains. At the time of writing (7:15 PM), there is still a considerable crowd outside of parliament, and it is expected to grow as the night goes on. Your friendly friends at the Grapevine will keep posting videos and pictures as the night progresses and we see fit.
This first video was shot at 12:30 PM today. It shows the growing and gathering crowd banging their drums, making a noise as well as a point at Austurvöllur. Note that some of the protestors are sporting orange clothing or wristbands. This is meant to indicate that they are non-violent protestors, and will commit no violence. This movement was announced and publicised through the web-site www.appelsinugulur.is this morning, and is a reaction to the negative aura the protests have gained since last night.
The second one was shot at 1:30 PM (after lunch). It clearly shows the growing crowd in front of Alþingi, as well as some of the extreme noise tactics the peaceful protestors are using. I for one have no idea how police or the media estimate the size of a given crowd, so you’ll just have to decide for yourself after viewing the videos how many people there are (note that the crowd is significantly smaller today than the previous days, probably on account of the shitty weather).
Notice that around the 1:10 mark, you can observe that some resourceful protestors have brought hot chocolate to the site to give out to their fellow protestors (as well as any taking police officers – there weren’t any).
Also pay attention to the police officers on guard near the end of the video. Several of them had tulips tucked in their belts or in their hands. When Grapevine enquired how they got there, one officer responded “I can’t hear you!” and another smiled, pointed to the drum-banging protestors and told me “they gave this to us. A peace offering, maybe.”
The third video was shot at 4 PM. The crowd has grown in numbers significantly, and the noise is louder than ever. Notice that even despite the negative publicity the protests have received today, there are still lots of folks of all ages, and several “noted Icelanders” (such as renowned author Hallgrímur Helgason).
This last fourth one, you can’t really see anything. It was dark and our camera equipment sucks. You can, however, hear the noise and the chanting and the undying spirit of defiance these brave (via stubborn) protestors are displaying. It is safe to say the Icelandic people have stood up for themselves.
Lastly, the following photographs were shot by excellent photographer Sigurður Gunnarsson at the eve of the first day of protest, 20.01.2008 (a date that is bound to become historical in Iceland). They show some of the action.
(“We all vomit!”)
Day 4: Protests Continue – Elections This Spring – Haarde Resigns, Sort Of – Several groups urge protestors to lay low tonight and tomorrow on fear of drunken bouts of violence
Today was officially the fourth day of protests outside of the house of parliament (Alþingi) at Austurvöllur. Despite diminished attendance numbers, the small crowd banged on throughout the day (and was still banging at the time of writing).
The group started protesting outside the Independence Party’s committee meeting at the party’s headquarters, Valhöll (“Valhalla”) around noon, but quickly shifted to the house of parliament as some shocking news from the meeting were revealed.
Haarde Sick – Steps Down
At the meeting, Prime Minister and Independence Party chairman Geir H. Haarde delivered the news that a malignant tumour had been detected in his oesophagus. Reportedly, the unsuccessful PM got word about the tumour from his doctors last Tuesday, followed with advice that he should seek treatment. “Such a treatment cannot be performed in this country, and I will therefore undergo it abroad at the beginning of next month. I am optimistic that I will beat this sickness, and I am told that my chances for recovery are good and that I can expect full working capacity in the next month. On the other hand, one cannot rule out the possibility that matters like this can turn to the worse in the long run,” Morgunblaðið quotes Haarde from the meeting.
He furthermore announced that the Independence Party is calling for elections this spring, on May 9th to be exact, and that he will not seek to lead the party anymore, in light of his sickness. In light of their proposed election date (and these guys usually get their way, so it’s probably going to happen), the party has furthermore decided to postpone its annual party conference until March 26. He also noted that it was the party’s opinion that the current government should remain in office until the proposed election.
Extreme Sympathy, Some Remain Unconvinced
It’s safe to say that the Icelandic nation responded with extreme sympathy to Haarde’s announcements, although some remain unconvinced that this changes anything in terms of the current situation. Protest organiser and troubadour Hörður Torfason was quoted by Morgunblaðið as saying he was surprised by Haarde’s announcement, that the proposed election was a diversion tactic and that much more action needed to be taken in light of the current situation.
His honest, if untactful, announcements were met with shocking amounts of rage and – dare we say – homophobia by Morgunblaðið’s bloggers, who claim that he should have shown more empathy towards the PM’s troubled situation (some of them add that Torfason “…should climb back into his closet and stay there”). Other noted talking heads, such as resident Social Democrat Alliance EU cheerleader Eiríkur Bergmann Eiríksson called to an end to all protesting so as to show solidarity with Haarde.
The Grapevine is of course saddened by the news of Haarde’s illness, and wishes him a quick and speedy recovery. Despite all that’s gone down lately, he is a good guy and a formidable singer. However, both Haarde, the government he leads and the system that it governs remain unchanged and unreformed, so if there was ever any merit to the protestors claims – it still remains.
Or to quote an unnamed protestor The Grapevine interviewed outside of parliament today: “I feel sorry for Haarde, and I hope he makes it. But I wasn’t protesting his health. I wasn’t protesting his body or his oesophagus. I was protesting a government that is incapable, and a government that remains unable to accept any responsibility for the situation we are currently faced with. If they get off the hook this way, I have even less faith in the Icelandic nation than I used to. I guess it gets what it deserves. Lord knows they’ve voted for these people enough times.”
Social Democrats Leader Also Ill
Haarde is not the only member of Iceland’s government to be stricken by illness, as Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the Social Democrat Coalition Party, has been incapacitated over the last few months due to a benign brain tumour.
Today, Gísladóttir returned from Sweden, where she has been undergoing treatment for her illness. She threw a small press conference at her return, where she announced that the Independence Party’s proposed election date of May 9th sounded good to her, and that she could make no immediate announcements of how the governmental coalition of her party and the Independence Party would continue until then. She furthermore expressed her sympathies to Haarde, and that she planned to lead her party in the upcoming elections (there have been speculations that she will resign due to her illness). This was reported by Vísir and Víkurfréttir.
No Drunken Protesting This Weekend!
As for the protests, they continued throughout the day and were still going on as Grapevine left the scene at 7:00 PM. The below video was shot at 4:00 PM and shows the determined bunch banging on, clapping on and making some noise to apply pressure to the government.
Several leading groups in the on-going protests have announced that they do not plan to protest tonight (Friday night) and tomorrow night, so as to prevent drunken hooliganism from tainting their cause (and as can be observed HERE – click “Horfa á myndskeið með frétt”) this is a good idea. They urge people to show up tomorrow at three, and continue protesting vigorously on Sunday, when there is less chance of hooligans ruining everything.
Day 5: Biggest Protest Meeting Yet – Commerce Minister Resigns – Central Bank Party Crashed
Protestors show no signs of letting off
[this marks the last of our daily updates from the protests. What a party it was]
Saturday saw protestors convene at Austurvöllur in record numbers for the 16th consecutive Saturday protest meeting, organised by grassroots group “Raddir fólksins”. Up to seven thousand citizens made their way to the peaceful protest meeting, where speakers urged the government to admit responsibility and resign under thunderous applause (videos below).
Despite loud speculations that yesterday’s protest meeting would prove a failure (due to extremely negative public reactions to protest organiser Hörður Torfason’s statements regarding PM Geir H. Haarde’s health – see here), the protest meeting drew a record crowd and sent a clear message to the nation’s government that an immediate change is called for.
After applauding the last speaker of the day, the protestors turned their attentions to the house of parliament, where a choir featuring amongst others police chief constable Geirjón Þórsson, performed a patriotic hymn.
A large portion of the crowd chose to stay behind after the song, banging on pots and pans and shouting the usual chants of “unfit government! Unfit government!” well into the afternoon. Despite high attendance numbers, the police’s “riot squad” remained out of sight for the entire afternoon, and no violent clashes have been reported.
There were also reports of similar protest meetings in all corners of the country, with peaceful communions taking place in Akureyri, Mývatn and Ísafjörður. All of the protest meetings were carried out peacefully, and sent out a firm message to those in power.
After the day’s protests had died down, reports started trickling through that there was more still dissent action underway. Around 10 PM, protestors started gathering outside the Hilton Hotel Nordic in Reykjavík, where the Central Bank of Iceland’s annual celebratory feast was underway. When the Grapevine made it to the hotel at around 11 PM, a group of around 70 protestors had grouped behind the hotel’s ballroom, where the bank celebration was reportedly underway. Those present did their best to disturb the proceedings, banging on pots and pans in between cries of “unfit bank management!”
When the Grapevine sought entry to the hotel to confirm the meeting was underway, it was met by three uniformed police officers who announced that the hotel was closed for business tonight.
Word quickly got around that several of the partygoers were located in an outside smoking section of the hotel’s, at the back, so the protestors quickly made their way there and started infringing on the bankers’ right to smoke. The group then finally moved in front of the hotel, where it was stationed until 2 AM, when hotel staff agreed to escort the group’s representatives into the ballroom to confirm the party was over. Former PM and current head of the central bank, Davíð Oddsson, left the party in a rush around 11 PM, the Grapevine was told by protestors that witnessed his exit.
Judging by recent events, the protestors’ message seems to be heard loud and clear through Icelandic society. This morning Commerce Minister Björgvin G. Sigurðsson handed in his resignation after firing the head of the Icelandic Financial Supervision Institution. In a statement the minister said he acknowledged that Icelanders have lost faith in their government and political system and that by resigning, he was accepting his responsibility for that.
Sigurðsson also commented that he was not quitting politics, and that he would be running for the Social Democrat Alliance party in the upcoming elections.
Sigurðsson’s resignation sparked rampant speculation that the coalition government of the Independence Party and the Social Democratic Alliance was about to burst. Despite a long day of meetings between the parties’ heads, no statement had been released at the time of writing.
Speaking of the time of writing, the Grapevine just now passed a convention of protestors grouped at the Central Bank of Iceland’s headquarters in downtown Reykjavík. Around 50 people were present as the Grapevine left the site of the impromptu demonstration, which consisted of the usual pot-banging, bonfire dancing and shouting that the bank’s officials should resign.