Iceland Celebrates 100 Years of Sovereignty Skip to content
Photo: Forseti Íslands Margrét Þórhildur Danadrottning.

Iceland Celebrates 100 Years of Sovereignty

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir officially opened the centenary celebrations of Iceland’s sovereignty today in front of the government offices, where the Icelandic flag was first raised 100 years ago. The event was attended by Katrín’s government, President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

Iceland celebrated 100 years of independence and sovereignty this Saturday, December 1. On that day in 1918, when the union treaty with Denmark went into effect, Iceland became a free and sovereign nation. “That day,” explains the centenary website, may be seen as one of the most important landmarks in Iceland’s campaign for self-determination, which had then been in progress for nearly a century.” The momentous anniversary will be celebrated throughout Iceland on Saturday with a jam-packed schedule of nearly 300 events.

The centenary celebrations began in January with the screening of a short documentary about Iceland’s time as a sovereign nation. (The film can be viewed here in Icelandic, Danish, and English.) Following this, celebrations continued with a specially selected schedule of 100 different events curated by Icelanders from around the country which “embrac[e] all aspects of society – education, culture, sciences, health, politics, economic development, communications, transport and daily life in Iceland.”

“Refreshing and Creative Visions of the Future”

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson wrote an address for the occasion, recalling the crisp, sunny day that Iceland first became independent. “Towards midday a crowd assembled at the Government House overlooking Lækjartorg square: parliamentarians, other prominent individuals, and members of the public keen to observe the planned ceremony. And for good reason.”

“Most of us who now live in Iceland are descendants of those who experienced that historic moment in the nation’s history, Sovereignty Day 1918,” the president continues. “In 2018 we celebrate the centenary of Iceland becoming a free and sovereign nation. Although there is still room for improvement in our society, it must be clear to all that together we Icelanders have made great advances. Life expectancy is much enhanced and improved, health care and social security far better. Gender equality has made vast progress, as have human rights. And opportunities for education and leisure activities have been transformed. The same is true of people’s power to determine their own destiny and pursue their dreams.”

Young people’s “refreshing and creative visions of the future” were front and centre at the celebrations today. Per the centenary website, the government developed the day’s program in collaboration with young Icelanders, “…reflecting their interests and their ideas about the future of sovereignty. The campaign for self-determination in the 21st century will be the leading theme of artists, designers, scholars and scientists who contribute to the festivities with a range of works and events. In Reykjavík the nation’s leading cultural bodies will be holding art- and culture-related events, and there will also be events in every region of the country. Iceland will be looking ahead to the next 100 years, equipped with the lessons learned over the past century.”

Looking Ahead to the Next Hundred Years

Likewise, in his address, the president also looks forward. “What does the future hold for Iceland? What challenges, victories and opportunities await us? In many ways no doubt we have the same hopes and fears as those who stood outside the Government House a century ago. In other ways the world is utterly different. The people of Iceland no longer live solely on the resources of land and sea.”

“Today our wealth also consists in people’s mental powers, education, science and technology,” Guðni writes. “Cold weather conditions are unlikely to pose the same threat as they did a hundred years ago. It is more probable that we will see record high temperatures as global warming takes hold. We must hope not to be struck by another such epidemic as cost so many lives in 1918; but prosperity has led to other ailments of mind and body. Iceland went on to become a republic, independent of the Danish crown – and today international collaboration is growing in all fields, and foreign influences on Icelandic culture and language are greater than ever before; although Iceland was never completely cut off from the outside world as is sometimes assumed. We have succeeded in making greater use of our natural resources – but that entails a concomitant danger of pollution and other damage. Our society grows ever more diverse – but prejudices can prove a hindrance to social harmony.”

The print edition of Iceland Review is out today and this issue is dedicated to the anniversary of Iceland sovereignty. We look back at the fateful year of 1918, take the pulse of Iceland’s present and wonder what the future will hold.

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