Presidential Reception for New Icelanders

Forsetaembættið. New Icelanders welcomed at presidential residence Bessastaðir

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and First Lady Eliza Reid hosted a reception yesterday for all those who had received Icelandic citizenship this year. The couple were both present at the event to welcome the group of new Icelanders and congratulate them on their newly-acquired rights and responsibilities as Icelandic citizens. It was the first time such a reception has been held by Iceland’s president.

In his speech to the group, Guðni emphasised the importance of healthy patriotism and defining Icelandic nationality with broad-mindedness, tolerance, diversity, freedom, solidarity, compassion, and empathy. The First Lady echoed his sentiments, while also addressing the challenges of learning the Icelandic language, which takes time.

The idea for the reception came from Eliza, who is an immigrant to Iceland herself. “When I became an Icelandic citizen in 2008 I was notified by a form letter in the mail,” the First Lady wrote on social media. “I thought it was a big deal, a moment to celebrate! But the letter didn’t necessarily indicate that Iceland thought it was a big deal that I was now among their ranks. So it has long been a dream of mine that we would be able to recognize and formally welcome new citizens in some way. It underscores to new Icelanders the importance and responsibility of citizenship, while reminding those of us ‘older’ Icelanders that we too have obligations to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute fully to society and help to make it a richer nation for all of us.”

Guðni is not running for re-election in Iceland’s ongoing presidential race. Eliza stated that while she will not have influence in the matter in future years, she hopes the welcoming tradition continues.

Intercultural Conference Addresses Ways to Fight Xenophobia

Hitt Húsið

The City of Reykjavík hosted this year’s Intercultural Conference at the youth centre Hitt Húsið, which was by all accounts well attended and well received. Speakers and attendees alike related their experiences with xenophobia and racism, as well as ways to combat it.

Translations and accents

Amongst the events at the conference was one led by First Lady Eliza Reid, entitled “Can good literary translations involve inclusion?”, which explored the idea of translated literature establishing better connections between cultures.

Yet another event explored the oft-overlooked subject of Icelandic spoken with an accent. Many people of foreign origin in Iceland who speak Icelandic will do so with an accent, and this event sought to examine how this affects one’s self-image, how those with Icelandic as a mother tongue respond to Icelandic with an accent, and related subjects.

Young people and racism

One of the other more compelling events was an open discussion group for young people aged 13 through 18. This event was coordinated in cooperation between Nordic Pioneers, the anti-racist group Antirasistarnir and Isabel Díaz, Iceland’s UN Youth Delegate on Education, Science and Culture.

Some of these attendees who spoke to RÚV recounted being subjected to bullying and slurs, in school and in the workplace, as well as more subtle kinds of racism. As one example, Kristín Taiwo Reynisdóttir was adopted and brought to Iceland when she was just a couple weeks old. Despite this, she says, she is repeatedly asked where she is from because she is Black. Other people of colour who attended expressed frustration with always being addressed in English first, no matter how long they have lived in Iceland, based on the presumptions others make because of their skin colour.

Women of foreign origin and education

Towards the end of the conference, W.O.M.E.N., an organisation of women of foreign origin in Iceland, led a panel discussion about how, despite their numbers, women of foreign origin are seldom in policy-making positions and are underrepresented in other spheres of society as well.

On a brighter note, the open discussion of young people raised several ideas for how xenophobia and racism can be combated. One of the more prevalent ideas to arise was education–for students, parents and teachers alike. Antirasistarnir offers such education for interested schools, as well as making themselves available to students struggling with xenophobia.

As about one quarter of Reykajvík’s residents are of foreign origin, the conference was by all accounts well received.

Iceland’s President and First Lady to Visit Canada

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Eliza Reid

Iceland’s President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and First Lady Eliza Reid will be on an official visit to Canada May 29 to June 1 at the invitation of Canada’s Governor General Mary Simon. It will be Iceland’s first official state visit to Canada since 2000 and has the goal of further strengthening the two countries’ good relations. Eliza is Canadian, born and raised in the country’s capital Ottawa.

The presidential couple will be accompanied by a delegation including Minister of Trade, Culture, and Tourism Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, and a number of representatives from Iceland’s business community, who intend to strengthen cooperation with Canada in the fishing industry, health technology, and the use of green energy.

The visit will begin in Eliza’s hometown of Ottawa, where the President and First Lady will meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon. Among the topics on their agenda are Iceland and Canada’s common interests, including language preservation in small language communities and youth public health.

In Ottawa, Eliza and Canadian author Whit Fraser (also Mary Simon’s husband) will hold a literary event titled “Stories from the North,” where they will talk to Canadian authors about the literary heritage of the two nations.

The visit will end in Toronto, where the President and First Lady will meet with the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. There, Business Iceland will also host an event bringing together Canadian investors and Icelandic businesses, where the President will address the guests.

Iceland and Canada celebrated the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic relations last year.

Icelandic Delegation Present at Royal Funeral

Iceland Review queen elizabeth

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and his wife Eliza Reid were present yesterday for the royal funeral in Westminster Abbey.

The royal funeral gathered together hundreds of world leaders, with much of London shut down to traffic for the funeral procession. The late Elizabeth II was laid to rest at 11:00am, Icelandic time.

In an interview with RÚV, the President stated that it was a vey solemn occasion, with psalms, organ, choir, and many other musical accompaniments. “The whole ceremony was significant in every way,” he stated, “and historic as well.”

The President continued: “She performed military service, took part in protecting her homeland in the Second World War, and departs us now in the year 2022. In this ceremony, times long gone met with the contemporary. Then we look forward and wonder to ourselves how the future will be. What we know is that Queen Elizabeth did her dues and performed her duties conscientiously and with respect for her country and subjects.”

The British Embassy in Reykjavík was closed for the occasion, and many Icelanders also followed along from home.

Some facilities even offered live screenings of the state funeral, such as the Hrafnista elder care home in Hafnafjörður, which held a ceremony for the residents.

Icelandic President’s Coat of Arms Unveiled in Denmark

Guðni Th.

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was awarded the Order of the Elephant in 2017. In a ceremony at Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød last Monday, the president’s personal coat of arms was unveiled.

“To thine own self be true”

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was awarded Denmark’s Order of the Elephant by the queen during a state visit in 2017. The Order of the Elephant is Denmark’s highest-ranked honour, which is almost exclusively awarded to royalty and heads of state today.

For over 300 years, it has been customary for every knight of the order to have a personal coat of arms made by the royal heraldic painter, which is hung in the Knight’s Chapel at Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød. On Monday, Guðni’s escutcheon was unveiled and hung in a ceremony attended by the president and First Lady Eliza Reid.

As noted on the website of the royal house, the coat of arms consists of six elements inspired by Iceland and the president’s life:

“The colours of the shield are that of the Icelandic flag. The open book refers to the study of history, university studies, and the president’s civilian career as a historian. The hammer resting atop the book is Mjölnir, representing strength, sport, and health. The waves symbolise the intertwining of Iceland’s fate and its surrounding sea while also evoking the president’s studies abroad (and the fact that he found his wife on the other side of the Atlantic). The maple leaf refers to the First Lady’s Canadian ancestry. Finally, five anchors represent the president’s children.

The slogan on the coat of arms is TIBI IPSI ESTO FIDELIS, which translates to “Be true to yourself.”

Baltic Presidents, First Ladies, on Official Visit in Iceland

Presidents of the Baltic States

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and First Lady Eliza Reid hosted a dinner for the presidents and first ladies of the Baltic countries last night. The dinner marked the second stop in a celebratory programme commemorating reestablished diplomatic relations between the countries.

Thirty years since diplomatic relations were reestablished

Thirty-one years have passed since the Baltic countries and Iceland reestablished diplomatic relations (August 26, 1991), after the latter became the first country to recognise the Baltic states’ independence following the fall of the Soviet Union.

To commemorate the milestone, the presidents of the three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – arrived in Iceland yesterday afternoon to participate in a celebratory programme.

President of Latvia Egils Levits and First Lady Andra Levite; president of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda and First Lady Diana Nausėdienė; and president of Estonia Alar Karis and First Lady Sirje Karis began their trip with a visit to Iceland’s Parliament. Birgir Ármannsson, Speaker of Parliament, welcomed the guests and offered a brief account of the institution’s history. The visitors then sat down with the representatives of Iceland’s political parties prior to concluding their evening with an official dinner at Bessastaðir, the presidential residence.

Accompanying the presidents are the three countries’ ministers of foreign affairs: Edgars Rinkēvičs of Latvia, Urmas Reinsalu of Estonia, and Gabrielius Landsbergis of Lithuania. The governors of Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius have also arrived in Iceland and attended last night’s dinner.

From Höfði til Þingvellir

A series of commemorative events have also been scheduled for today, beginning at Höfði, where the presidents of the Baltic countries will address attendees. Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, will introduce a joint statement from the four countries, which all of the foreign ministers will sign.

The parties will then travel to the University of Iceland where President Guðni Th. will give a talk entitled “Icebr­ea­ker on the In­ternati­onal Scene? Icelandic Supp­ort for Baltic In­dependence 1990–1991.” After the lecture, the four presidents will sit down and discuss their countries’ relationship.

In the late afternoon, the parties will sail to Viðey island where Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, will host a celebratory dinner. The dinner will be followed by a drive to the Hellisheiði Power Station where Iceland’s utilisation of green energy, and the work of the Icelandic Company Carbfix, will be introduced.

The final stop on the itinerary will be Þingvellir National Park.

Iceland’s First Lady Meets Jill Biden in Washington Today

Iceland’s First Lady Eliza Reid will be a guest at the White House in Washington today, where she will have a private meeting with First Lady of the United States Jill Biden. The occasion is a special event marking Equal Pay Day, a day meant to raise awareness of and help eradicate the gender pay gap. Eliza will also take part in the Taste of Iceland Festival in Washington later this week.

Eliza is a fitting guest for Equal Pay Day, having recently published a book on gender equality and feminism in Iceland called Secrets of the Sprakkar, about “a small island nation, the women who live there, and how they are changing the world,” according to the book’s subtitle. Eliza spoke to Iceland Review about feminism and the book in our latest issue.

Woman of Letters

Paradise is such an uncompromising word. Through the years – aided by viral headlines, marketing brochures, and proud locals extolling the virtues of their ancestral land – Iceland has acquired a reputation as a utopia. The best place in the world to experience untouched nature, where white-collar criminals get punished for their infractions, and, of course, the best place in the world to be a woman. As with all generalisations, there’s a grain of truth, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. For Eliza Reid, Director of the Iceland Writers Retreat and author of the new book, Secrets of the Sprakkar, gender equality hasn’t been achieved in Iceland. But it’s still a pretty great place to live.

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Iceland’s First Lady Asks: Do Women Exist?

Eliza Reid Guðni Th. Frederik Crown Prince Denmark

Iceland’s First Lady Eliza Reid graced the cover of Morgunblaðið newspaper today, yet her name was not mentioned anywhere in the accompanying text. The cover photo features her shaking hands with Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, as he arrived in Iceland yesterday. Both the Prince and President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who is also in the photo, are named in the text but Eliza’s name is left out. Eliza shared a picture of the cover on her Facebook page today with the hashtag #dowomenexist.

“Summary of this photo caption on the cover of the newspaper today: One man with a name came to dinner at another man with a name’s house. With the visitor was a third man with a name [not pictured]. That is all. #dowomenexist” Eliza wrote.

https://www.facebook.com/elizajeanreid/posts/406342764389133

This is far from the first time Eliza speaks out about sexism. In 2019, she addressed the expectation that diplomats’ “unelected, unpaid” spouses will accompany their partners to official functions, writing: “I am not my husband’s handbag, to be snatched as he runs out the door and displayed silently by his side during public appearances.”

Fourteen Awarded Order of the Falcon

Icelandic President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson awarded 14 individuals with the Order of the Falcon yesterday, June 17 (Icelandic National Day). The Order of the Falcon is the only chivalric order in Iceland, originally founded by King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland on July 3, 1921. Honorees are selected by the President of Iceland and a five-member council.

This year’s recipients include ornithologist and falcon enthusiast Ólafur Karl Neilsen for his research into Icelandic birdlife; former Governor of the Central Bank Már Guðmundsson for his work on behalf of the government; producer and activist Rakel Garðarsdóttir for her efforts on raising awareness of food waste and environmental issues; and filmmaker Egill Eðvarsson, for his contributions to television programming and Icelandic cinema.

Complete List of Honorees:

  1. Már Guðmundsson, economist and former Governor of the Central Bank
  2. Dagný Kristjánsdóttir, professor of Icelandic literature
  3. Edda Jónsdóttir, visual artist and gallerist
  4. Egill Eðvarðsson, filmmaker
  5. Felix Valsson, anaesthetist and intensive care physician
  6. Jón Kristinn Cortez, choir director and music instructor
  7. Lára Stefánsdóttir, headmaster
  8. Margrét Kristmannsdóttir, former Deputy Chair of SA (Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise)
  9. Ólafur Flóvenz, geologist
  10. Ólafur Karl Nielsen, ornithologist and Chair of BirdLife Iceland
  11. Páll Halldórsson, pilot-in-command
  12. Rakel Garðarsdóttir, activist
  13. Rósa Björg Jónsdóttir, library and information specialist
  14. Þorbjörg Helgadóttir, former dictionary editor at the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen.

 

The award is bestowed twice a year, on January 1 and June 17.