“That the protest was on that particular day reflects a certain situation which must be tackled. Though it did, unfortunately, put a dampener on festivities,” the mayor of Reykjavík commented following yesterday’s protests against the government which took place on the National Day, June 17.
Austurvöllur square in central Reykjavík was teeming with people yesterday—many there to celebrate and hear the speeches, including from the prime minister, and others there to protest.
The protest rally began at 11.00, just before the formal schedule of events started and before Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson made his address to the nation.
Dagur B. Eggertsson the Social Democrat mayor of Reykjavík was at Austurvöllur: “It was unique and I can’t remember this happening before,” adding that even on that date and at that location, people’s right to protest must still be respected.
Attendees held red placards and chanted “vanhæf ríkisstjórn” (translated as something like ‘incompetent government’), which could clearly be heard throughout the PM’s speech to government officials, ambassadors, other dignitaries, the public and broadcast live.
The protest took place for several reasons, the organizers’ Facebook page states, including: against the government’s decision to forcibly end strikes by law, its lowering of tax and duties on fishing companies at the same time as saying there is no money to put into the interpreters’ fund for deaf people, and that the government has broken its election promises “one after the other”.
They were also protesting the fact that the PM and his finance minister, Bjarni Benediktsson, chose to attend the Iceland-Czech Republic football match last Friday evening instead of joining the parliamentary debate on the bill to end the BHM academics’ and Association of Icelandic Nurses’ strike by force.
In retort to Dagur’s comments, Progressive Party Reykjavík City councilor Guðfinna Jóhanna Guðmundsdóttir said: “I think it’s okay to protest nearly every day except for the National Day itself. That day should be characterized by joy. There were children at Austurvöllur and it’s totally unnecessary for them to have to experience the anger that there is in society.”
Near the end of his speech, the Prime Minister emphasized that Icelanders must continue working towards more equality, more democracy, and more progress. He was booed especially loudly at that stage.
Halldór Auðar Svansson, Reykjavík councilor for the Pirate Party, told Vísir that June 17 was chosen as National Day because it was the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson—a man known especially for his protests against the aggressive Danish government of Iceland before independence. “People must remember that this sort of protest is not directed at the festivities themselves. This is about antipathy towards the government,” he said, adding that June 17 is no worse of a day to protest than any other.