01/20 – Iceland’s Kitchenware Revolution

Icelanders revolt. (AP)

On this day in 2009, the largest protests in Icelandic history took place at the Althing (parliament building) in Reykjavik in response to the 2008 Financial Crash. Like billions of people around the world, Icelanders were furious with their leaders’ handling of the crisis that devastated their economy. Beginning in 2008…

  • The three main banks – Glitnir, Kaupthing, and Landsbanki – defaulted after years of risky lending practices
  • External debt went through the roof due to government mishandling of the crisis
  • Global concerns about the stability of the Icelandic Krónur led to the currency’s value falling through the floor

Protesters flocked to Reykjavik from all over the island, bringing pots and pans to make noise and deflect tear gas canisters thrown by the police (hence, the Kitchenware Revolution). Because of Iceland’s tiny size – and perhaps the viking character of its people – the thousands who demanded change in Reykjavik actually succeeded in their goals. Iceland’s political regime was overthrown, reforms were made and rules were put in place to prevent the crisis from happening again. Roughly 20 people faced jail or other forms of justice – a full 0.006% of Iceland’s population of around 350,000.

Iceland was unique in that, proportionately, it suffered the worst during the 2008 crash. It was also unique in that, unlike most other countries – who bailed out their banks and took care of those responsible – it used the opportunity to fundamentally change the way in which its banks did business. A relatively small number of citizens – about 6,000 at Althing – had succeeded in bringing fundamental change to a flawed system.

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