If there were any lingering doubts in our minds as to whether 2018 really was the 100th anniversary of Iceland’s independence, His Excellency Pétur Ásgeirsson permanently dispelled them in his October 3 talk on the history of Iceland. To start with, he reminded us that Iceland is the youngest of the Nordic countries, having been permanently settled in 874 or so. But it is also considered to have the world’s oldest continually-running parliament, the “Alþingi”, which was formed as early as 930. The centre of the parliamentary gathering was the impressive Lögberg, (or law rock - pictured above), where the chieftains sat while listeners were seated on the ground below.
In 1264, Iceland’s major chieftains made an agreement with King Haakon IV of Norway. Referred to as the “Old Covenant,” it created a union between the two countries. In exchange for taxation by Norway, Iceland would receive regular shipments of goods and provisions, a code of laws, peace and protection, and equal rights in each country. Under the agreement, Iceland remained a separate country, and was not part of Norway. In 1397, when Norway entered into the Kalmar Union with Sweden and Denmark under a single monarch, Iceland was included as a dependency of Norway. Then in 1662, documents were signed in Kópavogur that established the Icelandic nation as being under the Danish monarchy.
It was in the 19th century that Icelandic students attending university in Denmark began fighting for the independence of Iceland. In 1874, King Christian IX of Denmark “presented” Iceland with its first constitution. In 1904 the government of Iceland was established, and a Minister for Iceland joined the Danish cabinet. Iceland then had its own legislative power, but royal assent from the Danish monarch was still required.
Statue in Reykjavik of King Christian IX “presenting” its constitution to Iceland
1918 was the year that the Act of Union was signed, recognizing Iceland as a fully sovereign and independent state in a personal union with Denmark, meaning that although they shared a common monarch, their boundaries, laws, and interests were distinct from one another.
As Ambassador Ásgeirsson explained, there is no doubt that 1918 was the year Iceland achieved full independence, just as Canada is fully independent even though we share a monarch with the United Kingdom. In 1920, Iceland opened its own embassy in Denmark, and in 1940 it had embassies in London, England and in New York. This could not have occurred if Iceland was still part of Denmark. Some sources cite 1944 as the year Iceland became independent because that was the year that Icelanders voted practically unanimously to terminate the personal union with Denmark and become a republic. It was an amicable departure from the Union and Denmark has been Iceland’s strongest partner ever since. But it seems that some citizens of republics still have a hard time believing that a sovereign state is in fact an independent country.
The Ambassador answered a number of interesting questions from the audience of 54 people before President Karin Birnbaum thanked him and presented him with the “coveted CNS mug.”
Ambassador Ásgeirsson is on the right, with some members of the CNS council, from left to right, Hilde Huus, Astrid Ahlgren, Trygve Ringereide and Karin Birnbaum