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Icelanders overthrow top power holders responsible for economic crisis (Kitchenware Revolution), 2008-9
At the dawn of the financial crisis, Iceland was controlled by the Independent Party, a right-wing party with decidedly neo-liberal economic policies. Over the past 19 years, banks had been privatized, regulations cut, and the corporate tax rate lowered to 18%. Personal income tax, on the other hand, was held at 36%, regardless of income. As global concern over bank failures grew, the Icelandic government continued to assure citizens that all was well. However, in September 2008, the Icelandic bank Glitner failed, followed closely by the remaining Icelandic banks, Landsbanki and Kaupthing. In October, there was growing discontent in Iceland as the financial crisis plunged a nation with historically negligible unemployment rates into 18% unemployment.
The first protest of the government's handling of this crisis came in mid-October, when a locally well-known singer and song-writer, Hordur Torfason, stood out in a public square in Reykjavik with an open microphone, inviting passersby to speak. The following Saturday was the first organized protest. This protest was better attended, but the event was dominated by one speaker and one view on the financial crisis, and Torfason saw a need to incorporate all voices. On the third Saturday, the campaign took more definite shape, as the organization Raddir Folksins (Voices of the People) was formally established. This demonstration led to the creation of four key demands that defined the campaign: 1) Resignation of the government (the prime minister and cabinet), 2) Resignation of the Central Bank's board, 3) Resignation of the Financial Security Authority's board, and 4) New elections as soon as possible.
The protests continued every Saturday throughout November and December, gaining support. The next development happened on the last day of December, when a group of protesters gathered outside a hotel where a TV special was being broadcast. Political party leaders were being filmed discussing the year's accomplishments. Protesters initially tried to disrupt the broadcast with noise from pots and light from torches, but after this failed, they climbed the fence into the hotel to pull apart and burn the TV cables. This successfully disrupted the broadcast.
The campaign suddenly escalated on January 20, 2009, when around 2,000 people gathered outside the Althingi House (Parliament Building). The protesters banged pots and pans in order to disrupt the meeting of Parliament, which is why the campaign gained the name "The Kitchenware Revolution." Protesters also threw eggs, skyr (a type of Icelandic yogurt), and rocks, breaking several windows. The police used pepper spray to suppress crowds and made over 30 arrests. However, the protesters stayed by the Parliament building into the night, using nearby wood and even a large display Christmas tree to build bonfires.
The following day, on January 21, a crowd surrounded Prime Minister Geir Haarde's official car, throwing eggs and snowballs. That same day, one group threw red paint on a government building. On the night of January 22, tensions came to a head when protesters threw rocks into the Parliament building and injured several policemen. In response, the Icelandic police used tear gas for the first time in 60 years. Throughout the week, protesters maintained noise demonstrations and bonfires in the streets. At the height of the protests, around 10,000 Icelandic citizens were involved, an impressive number considering Iceland's total population of 320,000.
On January 23, Prime Minister Haarde announced that new elections would be held in May and that he would not be running, resigning himself and his entire cabinet. The next day, the Minister of Commerce Bjorn Sigurdsson resigned, as did the Director and board of the Financial Supervisory Board. Participants in the campaign rejoiced, as three of the four demands had been met. However, leaders of the campaign acknowledged that greater reforms of the Icelandic government were necessary. The board and director of the Central Bank remained untouched. With an interim government in place and elections scheduled for May, Raddir Folksins temporarily ceased its Saturday demonstrations.
However, the protesters only skipped one Saturday protest. The following Saturday, February 8, saw protesters gathered in front of Parliament once more, calling for the resignation or firing of the three Governors of the Central Bank's Board. Hordur Torfason urged protesters to meet the next day at the Central Bank Building. That night, the acting Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir also expressed disappointment that the Governors had refused to step down. On February 9, a crowd of activists blocked the entrance to the Bank building, preventing bank chiefs from getting in. One chairman, Ingimundur Fridriksson, agreed to resign. However, the remaining two chairmen, David Oddsson and Eirikur Gudnason, still refused to yield to protesters' demands.
During the continuing protests in February, the Icelandic Parliament was crafting a law to reform the Central Bank. The amendments to the Central Bank Act would abolish the current Board of Governors of the Central Bank and replace these positions with one Governor and one Deputy Governor. As the passage of this new law became politically inevitable, Oddsson and Gudnason realized they would soon be forced to resign. Instead, both Governors chose to step down on February 26, 2009. On February 27, the amendments to the Central Bank Act passed, and a new Governor and Deputy Governor were chosen. At last, all four of the Icelandic protesters' demands were met.