Icelandic Pots and Pans

Originally posted at on June 13, 2012

This past Sunday, I spoke with Hördur Torfason, an Icelandic musician, activist and local folk hero who was largely responsible for organizing people to overthrow their corrupt government.

Icelandic protests began in October 2008 due to the financial crisis, calling for the resignation of government officials. The protests have been called by several names, most notably the Kitchenware Revolution or the Pots and Pans Revolution.

On January 17, 2009, he told protestors in front of parliament, “Go home, polish your pots and pans, and start training your voices because I will ask you to use them very soon. And next Tuesday, we will stand in front of this house, and make a lot of noise, because these people keep telling us to keep quiet.”

They came back to the parliament building every Saturday, and banged their pots. The protestors hurled many items: paint, eggs, snowballs, skyr, and smoke bombs. It was impossible for the government to ignore them.

Finally in March, 2009 all three demands had been met. It was time to start over with a clean slate. A parliamentary election was held on April 25, 2009 but the real work was just beginning, because the government had to be restructured.

I asked Hördur how he was able to organize people. He said “make it very clear what you want.” He formulated his simple message by asking people what they wanted. He let them talk, and here are the three things he heard over and over again. People wanted:

  1. Resignation of the government
  2. Resignation of the Central Bank chairman
  3. Resignation of the directorship of the Financial Supervisory Authority

Starting in November 2009, a National Forum was organized, inviting 1,500 people from all over the country, most chosen at random to allow the citizens to become involved in creating a new constitution.

The process will take time, but one thing is for certain: people are the process. In an interview last April, Hördur  summed it up this way:

“I think whatever they come up with is going to be better than what we have now. The power structure in this country is so sick, so corrupted. There’s going to be a lot of fights this coming winter. I mean, a new constitution: are we going to let the politicians and their rich friends take it and destroy it? Or are we going to get a new constitution and a better society? I cannot imagine the people in power saying, ‘Alright.’ They are not going to accept this. Have you noticed how well they live? I don’t mind people getting rich, but the parliament members are working for us, the people. Yet they seem to have the attitude that we are their slaves. They have lost the people’s trust and we must change this situation for the better. It will take time.”


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