While Americans were watching the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as successor to the deeply unpopular conservative George W. Bush, thousands of Iceland’s citizens were fighting riot police around the Icelandic parliament building Althingi to try to prevent the world’s oldest parliament from meeting.
“We are calling on the world to help us get rid of this corrupt government,” Sturla Jonsson, one of protesters said in a midnight phone call from downtown Reykjavik where a crowd of about 2,000 still surrounded the Althingi House, in front of which a bonfire continued to burn. The protesters pounded drums and other instruments, shouted slogans against the government and parliament and threw eggs and food items, even old shoes at the house of parliament. The protest was nowhere close to slowing down despite it being close to midnight. The parliament postponed meeting until tomorrow afternoon, but protesters, whom police fought all day with teargas, pepperspray, and clubs, vowed to stay downtown all night, “and as long as we have to” Jonsson said. “And I want to tell you that the people gathered here are not “activists” or “militants,” he added, “they are just ordinary adults of all ages.”
One year ago, Iceland was named the most desirable country in the world. Today, its economy has been devastated by the catastrophic collapse of its three largest banks. Unemployment rose 45% between November and December, and a recent survey indicated that 40% of households and 70% of businesses were technically bankrupt. Since the fall of the banks in October, there have been no resignations from the government, the boards of the now nationalized banks have remained substantially the same, and weekly gatherings calling for new elections have been ignored.
Over the past eight years, America ceased being the City on the Hill, shining its light to the rest of the world. America and Britain closed the NATO air base in Iceland, and have made no offer to help Iceland in its time of trouble. We need help, not only to break down the old power structure, rotten to the core, but also to prevent it from being rebuilt. We desperately need stability, economic assistance, impartial advice, and fair supervision.
Barack Obama, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Please
I guess I haven’t been paying attention. I had no idea this was going on. I’ve been to Iceland a couple of times (as a child) and have always thought it one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.