The First to Fall: Protesters Topple Icelandic Government

Unrest has spread across the globe as people are losing their jobs, watching their savings vanish before their eyes while banks and other multi-billion dollar institutions are bailed our by their governments. Iceland, a typically tranquil country, has been turned upside down with social unrest, and recently gained the notoriety of being the first government toppled by its people through street protests.

The country had the world’s fifth highest per capita income in 2007, but is now experiencing Unemployment, once at zero, is expected to soar after Iceland sought a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

A small island country of just 305,000 people is generally laid back with little conflict but after Iceland’s currency, the krona, collapsed and the banking crisis left many Icelanders with unpayable debts, the country fell into almost daily protests. Eggs and toilet paper were thrown, youth scuffled with riot police and for the first time since 1949 the government retaliated with tear gas on demonstrators.

When parliament reconvened after Christmas Break, the politicians were barricaded inside for hours as thousands of protesters smashed windows, set off smoke bombs, banged pots and honked horns demanding the resignation of the ruling conservative party. Many of the other protests took on similarly confrontational tones- including protesters pelting the car of the prime minister (who has now resigned) with eggs and paint.

On January 26, after denying the possibility of holding early elections, Prime Minister Geir Haarde announced the resignation of his cabinet and the collapse of the current coalition government. Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir is expected to fill the vacancy, becoming the first openly gay head of state. Still, despite new leadership and promises to also dispense of the now loathed Central Bank of Iceland, this will unlikely satisfy the protesters, who have widely reached the point of losing faith in all politicians, echoing the sentiments of the Argentinian protests of 2001 that were so well encapsulated in the popular chant “Que Se Vayan Todos- They All Must Go.”

The future of this small island nation is unsure, though it is certain that popular resistance has already forced large concessions to the people of Iceland, sending shockwaves to the leaders of neighboring countries, who have anxiously watched the first government fall to the monumental failures of capitalism.

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