The first protest that took place outside Althingi after the Panama Papers revelations was one of the biggest in Iceland’s history. Counting attendance at such a sprawling event is always a difficult task, and as usual, the police estimate of 9,000 was conservative by comparison to the 23,000 quoted by organisers, who employed clickers to literally count people in the crowd, later posting photos of said clickers to Facebook to dispel any doubt. But police at the scene did say anecdotally that it was the biggest protest that they’ve seen, including during the national outcry at the 2008 financial crash.
Something that was widely noted—particularly by slightly confused holiday-makers, who found Reykjavík to be less sleepy than expected—was the tone of the protest. The teeming crowd was fired up, for sure—chanting, lighting flares, waving flags on nearby rooftops and throwing eggs, bananas and skýr at the parliament building—but there was no sense of it being out of control or dangerous. In fact, there were just three arrests, one of which occurred when some thrown skýr hit a police officer (“the most Icelandic thing ever,” said one viral tweet), and two for underage drinking. It was, all in all, a family show, with a brass band, impromptu drum circles, and an atmosphere at once amped-up and, to be honest, pretty chill.
It’s worth noting that during similar recent bouts of civil unrest in the UK and US, police have been much more aggressive, wearing riot gear and actively controlling the crowd, often with violent results. For all of Iceland’s current problems, the peaceful nature of the protest is something the country can be pleased about.
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