President Cites Sagas, Pop Song in Opening Parliamentary Speech

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.

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.”

Zelenskyy to European Council: “Is There Anything We Can’t Do?”

Reykjavík Summit

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, delivered a remote address at the Reykjavík Summit of the European Council yesterday. After Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir had formally opened the meeting, Zelenskyy related how the Ukrainian armed forces had successfully thwarted a Russian missile attack and thanked European leaders for their support.

Three primary objectives

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir opened the Reykjavík Summit of the European Council at the Harpa  Music and Conference Hall yesterday. She began by laying down the agenda for the meeting, stating that the summit had three primary objectives: to reiterate support for Ukraine, to renew commitments to human rights, and to take on challenging tasks around the world.

“Standing by our values,” Katrín summed up.

Katrín also struck a somewhat ominous tone following her preamble: “We are not gathered here to celebrate but in the shadow of war. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is the most serious attack on peace and security in Europe since World War II. In addition to massive casualties, it has led to bloodbaths, rapes, and murders of civilians.”

Katrín then addressed Ukrainians and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy: “We have enormous respect for your determination to fight back. We will continue to stand with you,” Katrín declared, prior to once again calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine as a “first step to end the war.”

“This senseless war on our continent goes against all the values ​​we united around when we founded this Council; it is a serious attack against the values ​​that make Europe something bigger than just a continent but a common cause.” On Monday, it was reported that Parliament had proposed a resolution to authorise the Foreign Minister to secure the purchase of a mobile emergency hospital for Ukraine.

Zelenskyy “takes the stage”

Following Katrín’s opening remarks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the audience remotely from Ukraine. He began by relating how Ukraine’s air defence system had intercepted 18 Russian missiles of various types – including types that have been deemed unstoppable – on the night after Monday.

Zelenskyy added that no one had died in the Russian airstrikes and referred to the air defence operation as a “historical result.” He then thanked European leaders for their part in strengthening the country’s air defence system. Zelenskyy also noted that the success of the night would not have been possible a year ago.

“Is there anything we can’t do?”

“If we are able to do this, is there anything we can’t do when we are united – and determined to protect lives? The answer is that we in unity will give 100% in any field when we have a rule to protect our people – and our Europe,” Zelenskyy observed.

Despite this historical result, the Ukrainian president admitted that much remained to be done, given the size of Ukraine’s territory. In order to make the success of the night a rule throughout the country, the country’s air defence system would need to be further improved. The president then called for missiles, fighter jets, and other weapons.

“100% should be our benchmark. We must give 0% to the aggressor. 100% of the success of defence operations is guaranteed by weapons and training of our soldiers, and I thank everyone who strengthens our defence,” Zelenskky remarked.

“The task is massive,” PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir tells Arctic Council

Arctic Circle

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the audience at the Arctic Circle conference yesterday. In her speech, Katrín warned that if sufficient action wasn’t taken today, the arctic could “become unrecognisable” in the future.

Facilitating dialogue between interested parties

The Arctic Circle is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organisation founded by former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former publisher Alice Rogoff, and former Premier of Greenland Kuupik Kleist, among others. The organisation aims to facilitate dialogue between governments, organisations, corporations, universities, think tanks, environmental associations, indigenous communities, concerned citizens, and other stakeholders to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice.

During the opening of the 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly yesterday, October 13, at the Harpa Conference Hall in Reykjavík, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the audience. Katrín began her speech on a note of positivity, acknowledging the “broad political determination” to protect the Arctic and capitalise on present opportunities:

“On the positive side, we see expanding scientific networks, greater knowledge with both the public and businesses and growing skills, there is more investment in green technology, and we are witnessing various green solutions emerging.” However, Katrín noted, the Arctic could become “unrecognisable in a few decades” if further decisive action was not taken.

“Everything is changing – we see more extreme weathers around the globe – only in the last two weeks we saw hundreds of trees here in Iceland being ripped up by their roots because of extreme storms in the eastern part of the country. We see glaciers receding, permafrost is melting, heat records are beaten and forests are burning. And all this is happening much faster in the Arctic – where the ecosystem is sensitive and the resources are great.”

Some of these resources, Katrín noted, should not be meddled with: “We see big business and big countries showing more and more interest in the Arctic – not least because of its rich resources which should not all be harnessed. I applaud the decision of the government of Greenland not to drill for oil – my government has also declared that we will not issue licences for oil exploration in Iceland’s exclusive economic zone and this will be put into legislation.”

Condemning the war in Ukraine

Alongside addressing climate-related issues in the Arctic, Katrín also turned her attention to the war in Ukraine and the exclusion of Russia from the Council: “Our region is directly affected as the aggressor is an important player in the Arctic with legitimate interests. But Russia’s illegitimate actions made it impossible for us not to respond and they were rightly excluded from the Arctic Council. From day one Iceland has condemned Russia’s aggression in the strongest possible way. Iceland has solidly supported Ukraine, and we will continue to do so, together with our Nordic, European, US, and Canadian friends.”

Katrín concluded her speech with a nod to the massiveness of the task lying ahead:

“This room is full of hope and concerns for the future of the Arctic. We represent different interests, different politics, different ideas. But we should all be united in the will to protect the Arctic and provide a sustainable future for the local populations in the area, as well as for our ecosystems. The task is massive, but the solutions exist, it is ours to get the job done.”