Iceland - national flag
The flag has been official since 1915. Iceland's traditional colors are blue
and white; to this was added the color red, and together the three colors show a
historical connection to Norway. The flag of the flag must symbolize the
connection to Scandinavia. From the 1500's. until 1944, Iceland was represented
in the Danish national coat of arms; until 1903 with a crowned stockfish, a
dried cod without a head, and 1903-44 with a falcon.
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Iceland - history
According to medieval sources, Iceland was first inhabited by northerners,
who came mainly from western Norway. The settlers came directly from Norway or
via the British Isles. Iceland was then uninhabited except for a small number of
Irish hermits, the so-called papars, who were presumably driven to
Iceland in their search for solitude.
The first settlement, the Free State and Norwegian rule (874-1380)
According to Íslendingabók (see Ari Þorgilsson enn fróði), written
in the early 1100's, the Nordic settlement began around 870, and traditionally
874 is considered the year of arrival of the first permanent settlers. The
settlement must be seen as an integral part of the Viking expansion to the west,
which went as far as Greenland and briefly came to the North American coast. The
early Icelandic sources claim that the leading settlers were for the most part
Norwegian chiefs who fled from the tyranny of Harald 1. Hårfager. While this
may have motivated some of the settlers, population pressures and the search for
new economic opportunities are more plausible reasons for emigrating to Iceland.
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||The first permanent settlements of northerners.
||Establishment of the joint assembly (Altinget). The good times
||Christianity is introduced.
||Literary heyday, the Icelandic sagas.
||The good times are coming to an end. Treaty with Håkon 4.
Håkonsson; Iceland becomes a province in the Norwegian monarchy.
||Together with Norway, Iceland becomes part of the union with
||Plague epidemics and ecological crisis. The population is falling
||The Danish state power increases its influence; the church becomes
evangelical-Lutheran. The king confiscates the church property.
||Denmark introduces a monopoly on trade with Iceland.
||Smallpox epidemics, volcanic eruptions and harsh climates are
causing severe population declines.
||The Althingi is finally closed down as a result of the introduction
of Danish case law.
||Beginning demands for national sovereignty and independence.
||Iceland gets its own advisory assembly of estates (Altinget).
||The Althingi rejects a proposal from the Danish state for an
||Iceland is forced into a constitution; increased autonomy, but the
executive power is still in Danish hands.
||Iceland gets home rule scheme based in Reykjavík. The law of 1874 is
still in force.
||Federal Law; Iceland will be a free and sovereign state in personnel
union with Denmark.
||WW2; Iceland is occupied by British soldiers. A defense agreement is
reached with the United States on defense of the island during the war.
||Iceland declares itself a republic.
||Member of the United Nations.
||Member of NATO.
||Iceland in conflict with Britain over fishing borders.
||Vigdís Finnbogadóttir is elected the first woman in the world to be
||The US NATO forces are leaving the base in Keflavík
From their homeland, the settlers included economic and social customs as
well as legislation and case law, and around 930 there was agreement to
establish a joint assembly for the whole country, the Althing. At the
parliament, which met for two weeks every summer at Þingvellir (Tingsletterne)
in southwest Iceland, laws were passed and legal proceedings were held.
With the establishment of the Althing, the Icelanders developed a judicial
system that encompassed the entire country, but they did not create any central
mechanisms for law enforcement. The most powerful people in the country were the
36, later up to 39 estates (chiefs), who played a central role in the
The absence of a centralized state structure led to the gradual dissolution
of the Icelandic political system. In the first centuries after the settlement,
wealth and power were relatively evenly distributed in the country, but in the
last decades of the free state or good times (930-1262) a few families took
control of all of Iceland (the Sturlung era), which led to great competition for
power. In the hope that peace would be restored, the Icelanders therefore
accepted the authority of the Norwegian king, and a treaty with Håkon 4.
Håkonsson was approved by the Althing 1262-64. With the treaty, which was later
called "the old treaty", Iceland became a taxable province in the Norwegian
During the fierce power struggles, the Icelandic cultural creative power
culminated during the 1200's. Most family sagas were written in this century in
addition to many other literary and historical works. A necessary precondition
for the literary production was Iceland's transition to Christianity
approximately 1000. Due to the fact that it was the Catholic Church that introduced
knowledge in reading and writing to Iceland, some of the monasteries became
learned centers in late medieval Iceland. Despite this, however, the bulk of
Icelandic literature was of a secular nature.
Danish rule and state integration (1380-approx. 1850)
The cultural production that characterized the turbulent 1200's ebbed into the
1300's and 1400's, and therefore there are relatively few sources for the
Icelandic late Middle Ages. It is known, however, that in many respects it was a
difficult time. Two plague epidemics almost devastated Iceland in the 15th
century, and the ecological system gradually collapsed due to colder climates
and overexploitation of vegetation.
The political development of the late Middle Ages followed the general trends
in the Nordic countries. When Norway entered into a union with Denmark in 1380,
Iceland actually became part of the Danish monarchy. Under pressure from the
Danish authorities, Iceland converted to Lutheranism in the mid-1500's, which
strengthened the Danish king's authority in Iceland as well as in other parts of
the monarchy. From then on, the church was a state institution under the direct
control of the Danish king and his officials. Furthermore, the confiscation of
the church's estates made the king the largest landowner in Iceland.
A growing state integration characterized the political and social
development in the time from the late 1500's. in the late 1700's. From 1602, a
strict monopoly trade was introduced, which meant that only Danish merchants, to
whom the king had granted trade licenses, had the right to trade in Iceland. In
the late Middle Ages, English and German merchants had fought for the Icelandic
market, but after the introduction of monopoly trade, legal trade was in Danish
hands, and Iceland was thus linked economically and politically to Denmark.
With the recognition of Frederik III's dictatorship in Iceland in 1662, the
country became further dependent on the Danish state. The introduction of
autocracy did not, however, lead to an abrupt transformation of Iceland's
political structure and judicial system, but in the long run significant changes
took place in the Icelandic administration and in the relationship between the
center and the periphery of the kingdom. In the late 1600's. the Danish
authorities reorganized the Icelandic administration, with the result that
the Althing simply became a mid-term tribunal located between the local courts
led by the governors and the Supreme Court in Copenhagen. This led to the
closure of the parliament in 1800 and the establishment of the more efficient
and professional Landsoverret in Reykjavík.
1700-t. is one of the most difficult periods in Iceland's recent
history. Between 1/4 and 1/3 of
the population died during an epidemic of smallpox 1707-09, and 1783-86 were
killed approximately 1/4 of the population as a result
of starvation after a violent volcanic eruptions and a second epidemic of
At the end of the century, the first trends showed a change in the Icelandic
administration. Inspired by the European Enlightenment, Icelandic intellectuals
and officials studied the country's constitution and wrote incentives that they
believed would help the broad sections of the population to progress. However,
these men did not demand Icelandic independence because they considered the
Danish king the most likely source of social and intellectual improvement in the
country, but their efforts inspired a new group of intellectuals in the
following century, who sought a re-creation of Icelandic society.
The struggle for independence (approximately 1850-1904)
Romantic nationalism thrilled the generation of Icelandic students who came
to Copenhagen in the late 1820's and early 1830's. Just as the Danish state became
a nation state, the Icelandic nationalists called for what they considered to be
the natural right of the Icelandic state: a form of sovereignty and independence
in relation to Denmark.
From the mid-1800's. and until the early 1900-t. the demand for
self-government and later for independence was the starting point for all
political activity in Iceland. The first response to these demands came in 1843,
when King Christian VIII gave the country its own estate assembly, called the
Althing after the old assembly. In the summer of 1845, the elected Alting met
for the first time in Reykjavík, and for the next decades, the parliament was
held for a few weeks every two years with representatives from all over
Iceland. Initially, it had no legislative power, but was advisory to the king in
Icelandic financial and legal matters. Nevertheless, the Althing developed into
the unifying symbol of the growing nationalist sentiments in Iceland, and it
came to serve as a platform for the nascent national movement.
The philologist and archivist Jón Sigurðsson was the undisputed leader in the
first phase of the movement. He began his political career in the early 1840's,
and until his death in 1879 he set the course for Icelandic nationalism. It was
under his leadership that a National Assembly meeting in Reykjavík in the summer
of 1851 rejected an offer from the Danish government for an Icelandic
constitution. The reason was that the proposal in all practical respects
incorporated Iceland into the Danish nation state.
Denmark unilaterally resolved this discussion in 1871-74 without consulting
the Althing, as all negotiations between the Althing and the Danish government
had been in vain. The Danish Folketing approved the law on Iceland's
constitutional position, and Christian 9.signed it in 1871. With reference to
the law of 1871, the Danish government gave Iceland its own constitution in
1874. The constitution, which still forms the basis of the Icelandic
constitution, gave the Althing a limited legislative power and the right to
manage its own budget, while that it secured the fundamental democratic rights
in Iceland. However, the new constitution did not meet all the demands of the
Icelandic nationalists because the executive power remained with the Danish
government, where the Minister of Justice was also the Minister of Iceland. When
the ministry was based in Copenhagen, the real government remained in the hands
of the governor, the highest royal authority in Iceland.
Icelandic Home Rule System, the Personnel Union and the Time During
World War II (1904-44)
The system change in 1901 drastically changed the Icelandic Icelandic policy,
with the result that Iceland got a home rule scheme in 1904 and the ministry in
Copenhagen was moved to Reykjavík. The new ministry consisted of three offices
under one and the same minister, and the office of governor was
abolished. However, it did not satisfy the nationalist dreams in Iceland because
the law of 1871 was still in force and the country was still considered an
integral part of the Danish kingdom. During the period of home rule 1904-18,
Icelandic politics was characterized by an intense nationalism. Tensions
culminated in 1908, when Icelandic voters rejected an agreement between the
Althing and the Folketing regarding the country's status in the Danish
state. However, this problem was solved towards the end of World War I by a
committee consisting of Icelandic and Danish parliamentarians. In the autumn of
1918, the Federal Act was passed in both the Danish and Icelandic parliaments,
and it formally entered into force on 1 December of the same year. The law made
Iceland a free and sovereign state in personnel union with Denmark. The Danish
authorities had to take care of certain matters, such as the foreign service and
the coast guard, until the Icelanders chose to take them over.
Icelandic society changed radically in the 1900's. The process of change began
in the second half of the 1800's, when the population pressure in the countryside
led to a gradual collapse of Iceland's traditional social system. Characteristic
of this development was the rapid demographic change in Iceland, especially
after 1880, when an increasing number moved to towns and villages along the
coast. At the same time, many Icelanders emigrated to North America and
established Icelandic settler communities on Lake Winnepeg in Canada, in North
Dakota, and elsewhere in the United States. In the first decades of the 1900's,
the Icelandic fishing fleet was rapidly motorized, while motorboats and trawlers
replaced open rowboats and deck boats. As fishing became more efficient,
agriculture lost its economic supremacy in Iceland.
Increased economic prosperity, growing urbanization and the end of the
nationalist struggle required a radical reorganization of the Icelandic
political system based on the new social reality. In addition, both women and
workers gained full civil rights in the early decades of the 1900's.
World War II had a major impact on Iceland, although the country did not
participate directly in the war. With its location in the middle of the
Atlantic, Iceland gained great importance for the preservation of communication
between the United States and Europe during the war years. To secure the sea
route for its American allies while preventing a German invasion of Iceland, the
British Army occupied the island in May 1940. The following year, the Icelandic
government signed a defense agreement with the United States, assuming US forces
responsibility for its defense during the war. Although British forces remained
in Iceland until the end of the war, this agreement freed many of the British
troops in Iceland to fight on the European continent and in North
Africa. Finally, the Icelandic-American agreement meant that Iceland was finally
drawn into the American sphere of influence.
Establishment of the Republic and the time after World War II
||Stefán Jóhann Stefánsson
||Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson
||Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson
The Republic of Iceland was formally established on 17 June 1944 at
Þingvellir, and the establishment was accepted almost unanimously by a
referendum in Iceland, although some regretted that it happened at a time when
Denmark was occupied by Germany. Iceland legitimized the severed relations with
Denmark by the Federal Act of 1918 allowing both parties to demand a revision of
the law after 1940; the war, however, made it impossible to discuss this
revision with the Danish Parliament as required by law. Now Iceland could become
a full member of the international community, and that fact was later confirmed
with the country's membership of the UN and NATO. During the Cold War, Iceland
strongly sided with the United States and its Western allies, but the Icelanders
have always been reluctant to relinquish that sovereignty. which they have won
through long struggle. Therefore, the presence of American troops in Iceland
from 1951 for decades was the most debated political issue in the country. A
possible membership of the European Union also provoked strong opposition in
Iceland, although the country has for years had full co-operation with its
neighbors in the Nordic Council and with EFTA and participated in the 1992
European Economic Cooperation Agreement.
Despite working closely with Western Europe, Iceland's most serious
international confrontations since World War II have been with its NATO ally,
Britain. The conflicts with the British, the so-called Cod Wars, were due to
expansions of Iceland's fishing borders, but despite violent protests, the
British government had to accept the Icelandic demands in 1976.
After significant economic problems in the early 1990's, as a result of
cuts in cod quotas, Iceland experienced annual growth rates of between four and
five percent since 1996.
Iceland - history (after 2000)
The economic growth is due the expansion of the aluminum industry, which
is possible due to Iceland's large hydropower resources. In 2007, a new large
power plant will be commissioned in Kárahnjúkar, and until 2020, several
hydropower plants for the supply of energy-intensive industries are planned in
the desolate and pristine Icelandic highlands. However, there are serious
concerns about the environmental consequences, because in many cases the large
water reservoirs are located in ecologically vulnerable areas.
||Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
Europe is of increasing importance as a market for Icelandic products, and
the Agreement on the European Economic Area, which entered into force in 1994,
has ensured a close relationship with the EU market. Also in terms of defense
policy, the Icelanders have turned their attention to Europe after the USA in
2006 stopped its activities at the base in Keflavík.
After a period of economic growth and extensive construction activity,
Iceland was hit hard by the international financial crisis in 2008. The
Icelandic krone weakened by more than 50%, which resulted in a banking
crisis in which the country's three largest banks crashed. Iceland had to ask
for international loan assistance, and growth was significantly slowed down.
A narrow majority in Iceland's parliament The Althingi decided on 16 July
2009 that Iceland should submit a formal application for EU accession
negotiations. The application was submitted to the EU Swedish Presidency the
following day. If the EU and Iceland agree on the conditions for EU membership,
the Icelanders will have to decide the issue in a referendum.
After the economic collapse in 2008, the Social Democrats and the Left-Greens
took power. Strict austerity reforms were introduced and unemployment began to
In the 2013 election, the government lost power, the victors instead became
the two bourgeois parties, the Independence Party and the Progress Party. These
two parties subsequently formed a government with the leader of the Progress
Party, Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson (b. 12.3.1975), as Prime Minister and the
leader of the Independence Party, Bjarni Benediktsson (b. 26.1.1970), as
Minister of Finance. The government quickly announced that it would take a break
from EU membership negotiations. Gunnlaugsson resigned as Prime Minister in