Iceland's unfinished revolution? An interview with Hordur Torfason
(Image: OddurBen, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) )
You’re credited as the person who started the “pots and pans revolution” in Iceland. How did the protests start?
I’m 70 years old this year. I started becoming an activist around 20 years old. Not that I wanted to become an activist, not at all. But I’m gay and it tells you a story that I’m the first gay man in the history of Iceland who steps forward. When I was 30 years old I was very famous. Everybody knew my song. I was on television, radio, doing concerts, LPs. I was doing everything that a young man can dream of. I was close to be a star or something like that in Iceland, in this small community. Except I was never happy because people were always trying to stop me being gay. I was not allowed to talk about it. It was like living in a dark cave.
One day I just decided to step out and say, “I’m gay and that’s it.” And everything went upside down, I had to go into exile and so on. That made me more determined to start fighting using my talent. I’m educated as an actor in the national theatre. I could play, I could sing, I could dance, I could write songs, I could write stories. This was how I started to become an activist, mixing activism and art. My main thing for all these years was to create awareness. Not only with myself but also travelling around talking to people through songs and stories.
So in the crash in October 2008, I had already done things like this. I’ve learned a lot of what I would call facts or methods through my years of dealing with people. So what I simply did is what Socrates did in the old days, I went around asking people questions. I just placed myself in front of the parliament building and I asked people, ‘Can you tell me what has happened in this country?’ and ‘Do you have any idea what we can do?’ I stood there every day during the lunch-hour and it didn’t take me long to understand the seriousness of the situation, the anger among people and how scared people were.
So I decided to put up a big outdoor protest meeting. I just called friends, artists and intellectuals and asked them to clarify the situation with a speech, because the government wasn’t doing that. I thought what I will try to do is to inform people about what is happening. The first meeting was like a week later, the 17th October and that’s how it started. And I remember looking over those thousands of people who were there. I had been talking to many of them. That’s what I do usually, I go among people I know and I don’t know, I just ask them questions, have a conversation with them about the situation. But what struck me there was the anger and the confusion. Nobody seemed to know what had happened and the government, the prime minister was telling us we should just relax he would take care of it. And in my heart I would never believe that. A person who has led us into this confusion, this terrible situation, I didn’t trust him to lead us out of it. Not at all. And it’s my constitutional right to stand up and protest so I simply asked people to stick together, talk together. We were all in this together. And I simply asked them, ‘do you want another meeting in the same time, the same place next week?’ And thousands said ‘yes’ and that was enough for me. And I simply started working on this very seriously.