Iceland was in the midst of an application process to join the European Union. However now Iceland’s government has decided to pull out. This has not pleased the Icelandic public and Svanlaug Árnadóttir gets to the heart of the matter for Pandeia.
Iceland’s government recently decided to withdraw the application to the European Union, without consulting the people of Iceland. In last spring’s elections, the government promised in a public referendum, that such decisions would not be made unsupported by public opinion. The Icelandic people will not stand by silently and for the past three Saturdays, Icelanders have gathered outside of Austurvöllur, a public square in Reykjavík.
They are protesting the decision made by the current government, which is a coalition between the right wing Independence Party and Centre-left Progress Party.
Up to 8.000 people have been gathering for the protests and a number of famous people have attended to show their support. Amongst those are Ólafur Stefánsson, a former national handball player, who spoke to the crowd last week asserting that the government was no longer doing what was ‘right’ and suggested that it changed its path.
A matter of principle
The protestors said that they might not even want to join the EU, but it was mainly a matter of a principle, to have a say on the matter and to make sure the government keeps its promises. Around 50,000 Icelanders have already signed a petition against the decision to withdraw the application.
According to Bergrún Helga Gunnarsdóttir, a 53-year old nurse, who has already attended eleven protests, the demonstrators come from all political parties, or sometimes are not even affiliated to one. “It is just normal people, who were fed up and started a Facebook group, which is funded by free donation.” Bergrún describes how people are walking around the protests with plastic barrels to gather money for audio equipment and necessities in order to keep the protests going.
Armed with bananas
The demonstrations took a fruity turn as protesters showed up armed with bananas last Friday. They greeted the government with the bananas held up to the air or taped to their foreheads calling Iceland the “Banana Republic” – indicating that Iceland is loosing its status as a serious democracy.
Teachers strike – students suffer
There is even more evidence that its the time of protest in Iceland: University students recently protested planned cut-downs by the government for student loans and high school teachers just started a strike last Monday. The strike has left high school students in the dark about their future. Their final exams were supposed to start in a month and some students have already applied for further education abroad, relying on their exam results to get accepted. Other students have already dropped out to work during the strike, and plan to return to school next fall.
University teachers intend to follow this example and have planned a strike from the 25th of April to the 10th of May. This is in the middle of students’ final exams. The timing is no coincidence as the exam period is characterised by a heavy workload for the teachers, and the results of the exams will affect the school’s funding. If the strike actually happens, it will severely harm the student. In Iceland students do not get their student loans until having passed their exams. With no exams – student’s pockets will be empty.