It’s not often that you get to be where news is happening, but this week I was. Iceland made world news this week thanks to the Panama Papers.
For those of you not following the news here’s the issue in a nutshell. The Panama papers are a set of leaked documents, mostly from a Panamanian law firm, that show people and companies who have stashed money in several countries. Some of these countries are considered to be tax havens. Why does this matter? Usually when you earn interest on your savings you must pay tax on it. These accounts allowed people to avoid taxes, hide the true ownership of money and possible even launder it. So, if you’re taking bribes in your government position or in football, it might be best to hide the money somewhere other than your own country.
Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson was found to have had hid money in a tax haven company, although he eventually sold his share of the company to his wife for $1 USD. What made Gunnlaugsson an especially large target of scorn was that he ran for election on an anti-corruption platform.
So, back to the protests. Icelanders are by and large peaceful protesters. The protests started at 5 pm on both Monday and Tuesday and appeared to be finished in time to get the kids home to bed. There was no violence, although rolls of toilet paper were thrown. Many people banged on pots and pans or held up bananas to represent their feelings that they were living in a “banana republic.” One man brought a broom to “sweep out” the Prime Minister.
Iceland actually has a history of silent protests. Despite the banging of pots and pans, in many ways this one was no different. For many people, just being there was the protest. Compare this to the violent protests that other countries are known for. In the end, despite the calm manner in which Icelanders protested, the Prime Minister did step down, proving that you don’t need to break shop windows to get your point across. I think we could learn a little about protesting from Iceland.