Icelandic President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson discussed the country’s evolving diversity and proposed constitutional changes regarding the Icelandic language at Parliament’s opening session yesterday, Vísir reports. He touched on several historical milestones, emphasised the need to preserve foundational values like freedom of speech and the rule of law in a changing society, and advocated for language integration efforts to assist immigrants.
Many things to remember
Icelandic President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson highlighted the evolving diversity of Icelandic society and proposed potential changes to the constitution regarding the status of the Icelandic language during the opening of Parliament yesterday, Vísir reports.
He noted that in the upcoming parliamentary session, and throughout the next year, there were numerous important issues to consider, but also, importantly – a lot to remember.
Guðni noted that 2024 would mark a millennium since a pivotal parliamentary speech was given, according to Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, when Einar Þveræingur opposed the ambitions of King Olaf II of Norway to acquire the island of Grímsey.
“A thousand years ago, according to Fóstbræðrasaga, Þorgeir Hávarsson met his end. His mother Þórelfur, as depicted in Halldór Laxness’s masterful Gerpla, proclaimed, ‘Never should a virtuous boy choose peace when war is offered;’ Þorgeir’s pathetic admiration for power is particularly relevant as Russian leaders exert their influence through the violent invasion of a neighbouring nation.”
Furthermore, the President acknowledged several upcoming anniversaries that hold significance for Iceland. January 5 would mark 150 years since Christian IX, then King of Denmark, issued a new constitution for Iceland (a compromise between Iceland’s demand for political autonomy and Danish interests).
He also noted that 2024 would be the 80th anniversary of the Republic of Iceland’s foundation on June 17, during which a new constitution was enacted. This constitution, he observed, still bore the imprint of its origins in a monarchical system. Lastly, Guðni mentioned that next year will commemorate 30 years since the EEA Agreement was implemented in Iceland.
Significant social changes
In his speech, Guðni also acknowledged that Iceland had seen significant societal changes over recent decades, most notably a growing proportion of its population being of foreign origin. “People come here for work or shelter, and if things are done well, society becomes more diverse and beautiful, stronger and more progressive.” He emphasised, however, the importance of preserving foundational values like freedom of speech, the rule of law, and mutual aid in this changing landscape.
Guðni also spoke to the elements of culture that have the potential to unite the nation. “Icelanders possess a language that allows us to understand what was written on a scroll nearly a thousand years ago,” he noted. Expanding on this, he suggested, “The constitution could provide for what is already stated in the law, that Icelandic is the national language of Icelanders and the official language in Iceland.” He called for greater visibility of the Icelandic language in public companies and institutions.
Further, the President emphasised the importance of language integration for those who immigrate to Iceland. He advocated for easier access to Icelandic language courses and additional workplace support, stating, “It is important that Icelanders make it easier for those who move here to learn Icelandic, offer more courses and study materials, and even show increased agility and assistance in the workplace.”
As the parliamentary session commenced, Guðni expressed optimism for productive legislative work. “Now at the beginning of the session, I express the hope that you will be able to work well for the benefit of the country and the people. Certainly, the parliament should be a forum for disagreements and conflicts if the need arises. On that point, it is possible that some people find Bríet’s words in her song about Mt. Esja, appropriate, namely that we go ‘along a single-track road that goes in the wrong direction’ and ‘everything is repeated, yet so much is left unsaid.’”
“Nevertheless, one can hope that a good spirit prevails here, that respect will be given to different points of view, that parliamentarians can enjoy sweet moments between battles, engage in amicable relations, and feel that, despite everything, there is much more that unites us in this country than that divides us.”