2009 – Kitchenware revolution in Iceland

A people’s movement brought down Iceland’s government over its handling of the 2008 financial crisis, and spurred the jailing of the country’s top bankers for their role in the crisis – the only bankers  anywhere in the world to be imprisoned.

When the financial crisis struck in 2008, Iceland had spent the previous two decades going further than many nations down the route of privatisation, market deregulation, and financial deregulation. The economy boomed but it became dangerously dependent on risky speculative financial ventures. So when the financial crisis hit, Iceland was one of the most vulnerable countries. Its biggest banks failed, the currency collapsed, unemployment spiraled and discontent grew.

The first protests came in October, when singer Hordur Torfason stood in a square in Reykjavik with a microphone, inviting the public to voice their concerns. The following Saturday saw the first organised protest, and by the third Saturday, the ‘Voices of the People’ movement had been established, with four demands: the resignation of the government; the resignation of the Central Bank’s board; the resignation of the Financial Security Authority’s board; and new elections.

Weekly demonstrations grew, and on January 20, 2009, around 2,000 people gathered outside Parliament to protest, banging pots and pans – earning the nickname, ‘the Kitchenware Revolution’. The following day, Prime Minister Geir Haarde’s car was pelted with eggs and snowballs.

Protesters maintained noise demonstrations and bonfires in the streets, and on January 23, Prime Minister Haarde and his cabinet finally resigned, announcing new elections for May. The next day, the Director and the board of the Financial Security Authority also resigned. Three of four demands were now met.

Protestors gathered the following Saturday in front of Parliament, calling for the resignation of the three governors of the Central Bank’s Board. Hordur Torfason urged protesters to meet the next day at the Central Bank building. Bolstered by acting Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir’s disappointment at the governors’ refusal to resign, activists blocked the building, preventing bank chiefs getting in. One chairman agreed to resign, but the others refused.

During continuing protests in February, Parliament crafted a law to reform the Central Bank, abolishing the existing Board of Governors. As this new law became inevitable, the final two chairmen stepped down on February 26, 2009. All four demands were now met.

Iceland is the only nation to put top finance executives (almost 30 of them) behind bars after the 2008 crisis and has gone further than many nations in regulating the financial sector.

Revelations in 2016 that Iceland’s prime minister had stashed millions offshore, however, revived the popular anger that drove the Kitchenware revolution, leading to elections and increased support for parties critical of the financial sector.