1949 anti-NATO riot in Iceland
The anti-NATO riot in Iceland of 30 March 1949 was prompted by the decision of the Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, to join the newly formed NATO, thereby involving Iceland directly in the Cold War, opposing the Soviet Union and re-militarizing the country.
Several hundred protesters first convened behind a school in the centre of Reykjavík and then marched on Austurvöllur, a small park in front of the parliament building, where a throng of people had already arrived positioning themselves between the parliament and the rioters, intending to defend it.
At first the demonstrators were calm, but when a leading member of the Socialist Party announced over a loudspeaker that the leader of his party was held hostage inside the Parliament building, things became violent.
Rocks and eggs were tossed at the building, some breaking the windows and one narrowly missing the head of the Parliamentary president, until the Reykjavík police force, aided by volunteers from the Independence Party intervened, beating rioters down and eventually launching tear gas grenades at the rioters. It was the first time police in Iceland used tear gas against protesters and the only time until 2009, when police used it during the Icelandic financial crisis protests.
The riot continued also after the conclusion of the vote and lasted for several hours.
Despite violent opposition, Iceland's membership in NATO was confirmed.
After the event, protests by anti-NATO activists were commonplace. The left parties in the 1950s and 1960s parliamentary elections promised to put an end to the bilateral U.S.-Icelandic Defence Agreement, but dropped these promises after becoming part of the ruling coalitions. The slogan "Iceland out of NATO and the Army out!" ("Ísland úr NATO og herinn burt!") became a part of Icelandic culture. In 1974, the government proposed closing down the Keflavik base, but a petition campaign gathered a quarter of the population's signatures. The government fell out of power, and it was replaced by a decidedly pro-NATO government. On 30 September 2006, the US Navy unilaterally withdrew the last of its military force from Keflavík airport.
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