Icelanders are once again making their dissent heard, loud and clear
Tension has been rising in Iceland of late. An estimated 4,500 people attended a general protest against the government on November 4, almost completely filling Austurvöllur by Alþingi. This marks it as one of the biggest demonstrations this year. The event was initially inspired by a Facebook rant from singer-songwriter Svavar Knútur, wherein he bemoaned the current coalition government’s favouritism of the rich and powerful.
Instigator Svavar Knútur began the demonstration by addressing the crowd. In his speech—which has been widely shared across social media since the event—he likened the rally to the first of three warnings his father used to give troublemakers at the dinner table before forcing them to leave. He went on to demand that elected officials do their job with integrity, modesty and a modicum of respect for the general public, while condemning their actions of late; which he said included refusing to take any form of criticism seriously—at best responding with condescension—leaking misleading personal information about asylum seekers, and covertly weaponizing their police force.
Svavar Knútur added that this protest meeting was but the first of many to come.
All kinds of people
Judging by the numerous signs and banners present, those present were there for a variety of reasons. Some signs insisted that the government was corrupt and pandered to the wealthy and powerful, while others displayed socialist slogans or urged for new elections.
Teacher Ólöf Húnfjörð Samúelsdóttir, 53, told me she was felt compelled to protest due to on-going strikes in the educational and health sectors. She described the situation as hopeless, and said didn’t even know where to begin listing what the government was doing wrong. Ólöf was joined at the protest by four family members.
In conversation at the protest, Agent Fresco singer Arnór Dan Arnarson was less charitable, noting that there was a great disparity between what the government said and how it acted. “It doesn’t make sense to say there’s no money to resuscitate our crumbling healthcare system, while at the same time lowering taxes on wealthy fisheries and quota owners.” He went on to say that apparent moves to privatization and police militarization were signs of Iceland moving further away from the Nordic welfare state ideal, and closer to the US model. “This government is out of touch with reality—it’s demolishing our society’s pillars. The only way to stop it is by making some major fucking changes and getting a new government.”
Meanwhile, inside Alþingi, Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson evaded questions from a RÚV reporter who asked why people might be fed up with his government, stating instead that they were upset about a great many things, such as the on-going music teacher’s strike, and the fact that their own parties were not in power. This demonstration was simply, in his opinion, a part of Iceland’s newly established tradition of protesting. He went on to claim that he agreed with some of the opinions expressed outside, and disagreed with others.
The protest meeting lost steam once the sun set, and by seven o’clock, two hours after it formally began, the protest had dwindled down to a few hundred. Around twenty police officers were present throughout, at no point interfering with the proceedings. One officer remarked that they felt the crowd’s anger wasn’t directed at them, but at the politicians.
The November 4 protests began at 17:00, and had mostly wrapped up two hours later. The protests were peaceful, with no arrests made by the police. The following Monday, approximately 2,500 people showed up with louder demands, and all signs point to the protests becoming a weekly occurrence.
Reaching out to Svavar Knútur, he said that even if he had a part in starting the protests, he was by no means any kind of revolutionary leader. “That would deprive other people of the opportunity to take responsibility and show up for their own reasons. Besides, I have a lot of other things to do in my life than lead protests.”
Svavar Knútur is overwhelmingly positive with the turnout and how nice people have been to each other and him personally. “Many have come up to me and said nice things,” he said, “and then there are numerous conservative types who get offended with what we’re doing, such as the mayor of the Westman Islands who wrote an article about how the so called ‘good people’ were actually pretty lame, getting worked up about how some people worded things, that we couldn’t take a joke. He then thought it was good taste to write ‘let’s lower taxes, shoot artists.'”
He informed me that others have felt that these protests were too tame, to which he said that the organisational group behind the protests is open to everyone to join and contribute to. There’s no hierarchy, no leaders, “we are just ordinary people who want to do some good in society,” he said.
Another protest has been organised for today at 17:00.