Vesturport to Produce TV Show on President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

Vigdís FInnbogadóttir's first inauguration as president

The government has approved an ISK 5 million [$36,000 / €34,000] grant for the production of a TV show revolving around the life of former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. The show will comprise four episodes and will be aired on RÚV.

Nína Dögg to play Vigdís

At a meeting yesterday morning, the government approved the proposal of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister of Culture and Business Affairs Lilja Alfreðsdóttir to greenlight a grant of ISK 5 million [$36,000 / €34,000] to the theatre group Vesturport for the production of a television show about former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir.

The show, which will comprise four episodes, will cover Vigdís’ life from her teenage years until she became the first female democratically elected head of state. According to an announcement on the government’s website, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir will play the role of Vigdís in the series, which will be directed by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson and Tinna Hrafnsdóttir. The show will be aired on RÚV and other Nordic national television stations.

Vesturport produced the acclaimed Blackport series, which aired on RÚV in 2021.

From the Archive: President Vigdís

vigdís finnbogadóttir president of iceland

From the archive: This article was published in Iceland Review magazine in 1982. Archival content may not necessarily reflect the current editorial standards of Iceland Review.

President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir got to know her countrymen intimately during the presidential campaign in early 1980 — the first such campaign in Iceland where the candidates actively electioneered. It pleased her immensely to find out how much people in general knew about their country and its history. She came to the conclusion that common people in Iceland talk together much more than is usual in other countries — rather a novel discovery. She maintains that her experience in the theatre has been very useful in her present job. She is a firm believer in the future of small nations, provided they learn to stick together and utilize their potentials in a rational manner.

I was expected to do one better than the men.

Informality is a hallmark of Icelandic society, so there were no uniformed guards standing inside or out, as I walked into the office of the President, located in an old one-story building facing the central square of Reykjavik. The building, one of the very oldest in town, dating from the mid-eighteenth century, was at one time a Danish prison. President Vigdi’s is a tall, handsome, vital and quick-witted woman in her early fifties. Prior to her elections, she was for eight years manager of the Reykjavik Theatre Company. She is single and has one adopted child, and claims it would be difficult for a man of her generation to be the President’s husband. The pace she set during the campaign, when she travelled throughout the country speaking and meeting people, has continued. She has also made official visits to three of the Nordic countries: Denmark, Norway and Sweden, as well as to Great Britain.

Warm and friendly

“Surely you did not envision some two years ago that you would be sitting here today,” I said to President Vigdís after we sat down in her modest office. What made you run for president?

“As soon as it became known that President Kristjan Eldjarn would decline renomination, some of my friends and a number of strangers started coaxing me, pressing me to step forward. Out of the blue, they started enumerating various qualities which would stand me in good stead in this high office. I was supposed to know my country and its people well through my previous occupations. They said I was eloquent in Icelandic as well as in some foreign languages. When the campaign got underway, I was said to be quick to get out of a tight spot and to make a good impression, to be warm and friendly. Not so few also maintained that I never made distinctions among people. This was not only said by my friends, but also by people who did not know me personally. Now as then, I am always equally surprised when people tell me how they see me.”

vigdís finnbogadóttir president of iceland
President Vigdís with Crown Prince Harald and King Olav V of Norway.

I am always equally surprised when people tell me how they see me.

“I think that my teaching in secondary-school and on television has a lot to do with it. I am essentially modest and never believe I can do things as well as they ought to be done, but my upbringing made me ambitious to do my very best in any job. Actually, the idea that I should run for President first came to my attention more than three years ago. I had given a speech to a gathering of intellectuals, and later I was told that, after I left, the idea that I would make a good candidate was aired. At the time I thought the idea was preposterous.”

But you changed your mind?

“Well, when the first candidate came forward, the idea was revived. After Dr. Eldjarn had officially announced his intention of retiring from public life, there was not a moment’s respite. At first I did not really take it seriously, pushed the idea aside, wanted the closing date for announcing candidacies to pass. The other candidates stepped forward, but I hedged despite telegrams and delegations. I even stayed away from the Theatre. Then one night at the home of my friend and colleague, Tomas Zoega, who was the business manager of the Theatre, I decided to run. Several of my friends were present, and their main argument was that it was fitting, in view of the great success of Women’s Day in Reykjavik in 1975, that a woman should stand for election to the highest office of the land. As soon as I had made up my mind, my friends said, We all stand behind you! It never entered my mind that I would get elected, but I also felt sure that my candidacy would not be a total fiasco. I merely wanted to prove that a woman could take part in a presidential campaign on an equal footing with men.”

Obviously a gain for the liberation movement

Did you look upon your candidacy as somehow part of the women’s liberation movement? Or were other considerations more important?

“Not as part of the women’s liberation movement, no. But to me it seemed natural that some woman should run—that she should seek the office as an equal. At the time I happened to be at a crossroads in my life. I had just resigned from my job at the Theatre. I had no ties. I knew I would be exposed to a good deal of criticism during the campaign. But my mother and other close relatives were so old that they would not be told what might be said about me, and my little girl was too young to understand. This appraisal proved correct. I am quite convinced that I would not have run, had I been married.

I now appear so often at meetings all over the country that I could not expect a husband my age to be ready to follow me wherever I go on official business—and people would find it strange for me to be travelling alone most of the time. We live in an era when women still more or less live their lives through their husbands, not the other way around. Women my age very often see their surroundings through the eyes of their husbands, which of course can be excellent binoculars to look through at the world.”

Do you nevertheless look upon your election as a gain for the women’s liberation movement?

“The election was obviously a gain for the liberation movement. But I was not elected as a result of that struggle. If women had joined forces I should have won at least 50 percent of the votes. A very considerable proportion of my votes came from men, particularly old and young ones. The older generation really wanted to elect a woman. It is in truth hard to believe how many of the older generation supported me—especially elderly men. I suppose they were thinking of the future—the future of their daughters. I think men become women’s liberation champions for their daughters, not for their mothers or wives.”

Did you feel that you benefited or suffered for being a woman during the campaign?

The King of Sweden and President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

“Mostly I was treated with respect, even though political fanaticism sometimes raised its ugly head. I have never belonged to a political party, but I have had and still have strong opinions, especially regarding the struggle for the national and cultural independence of our people. This seems to have confused some people. I was supposed to be a communist sympathizer and to be opposed to church and religion. A strange conclusion indeed! This loose use of political labels is not only irritating but downright dangerous. I suppose we are all idealists and sympathize with the ideal of equality. Does that make one a communist? For one thing, how can an Icelandic nationalist possibly accept the subjugation of other nations or condone what has happened and is happening in various parts of the world? I stand for equality, cultural growth, national independence, world peace, and the hope that humanity may avoid a third and final holocaust.”

What was most surprising to you during the presidential campaign?

“My greatest pleasure was meeting this nation of ours. I had never imagined what fun it would be to travel around the country, visit farms and factories, talk to people from all walks of life and discover that they were articulate in a way that is becoming rarer in the big urban centres — to meet people who know their country and its history inside out. It was a revelation. I had mostly seen the country Irom a car window, driving along the highways, but not come into direct contact with the people themselves. It was a great experience, particularly in the sparsely populated areas. I had never expected the impressive qualities of those people. They were so wide awake and well informed. I think the common people in this country talk together much more than is usual in other countries I know.”

Wider powers not the goal

Then, on 1 August 1980, you took office. Was it hard to assume the new role? Were you nervous? Were you apprehensive about replacing your predecessor? Have your experiences in teaching and the theatre been of use to you?

“That’s a big bunch of questions. No, I was not nervous. I don’t think I am the nervous type. I had no idea of what I was in for. Nobody knows beforehand what he or she is in for. My predecessor guided and helped me in every way possible. We were in the peculiar situation of having no trade union to help us. My predecessor performed his duties with such excellence—for years, I had admired his performance—that I felt apprehensive about not being able to do equally well. I have tried my best. But obviously, each of us does the job in accordance with his or her character. It is impossible to imitate others. Each of us creates a different image of the office. But at the same time, we try to preserve established traditions. I don’t want this office to gain wider powers; it should not aim at monarchy. My experience in the theatre has been valuable. Whoever deals with drama gets to know human nature in the most diverse circumstances. I entered this office with the experience that nothing in human nature or conduct is entirely unexpected. Of course, you never know how much you actually do know, but I have learned so much about human beings in the theatre so I don’t judge harshly. I have learned to be tolerant of everything except prejudice.”

president of iceland vigdís

Do you find it hard to be your own real self when you appear in public? Can you say what is on your mind and do what you like in a world where for instance flirting lends a certain colour to life?

“It is hard to change a 51-year-old person even if every opinion should be changed whenever valid reasons suggest that. I don’t find it difficult to appear in public. I always enjoy being with other people and think I am my old self all the time. I hope I’ll never lose the joy of life nor the human touch. Whether you flirt with a child or a man, mutual understanding is always a pleasure, and the moment’s delight from one day to another is what actually counts.”

During your official visit to Denmark last year, the Danes found you more open and outspoken than is common for heads of state. Do you think they were right? If so, do you consider this an asset?

The President should be as close to the people as possible.

“There is no doubt that as a popularly elected, non-political head of state I can allow myself to say more than royalty can. It is obvious that those brought up in a certain manner to fulfill prescribed duties have a different attitude. I never make a political statement and take no stand on political questions – unless we agree that the whole of life is in a certain sense politics. I am very discreet and try not to change that strand in my nature. I would never dream of revealing secrets, and find myself to be one of the most reticent Icelanders now alive — like a doctor who has taken his Hippocratic oath. That’s why I could follow my intuition and say what I wanted to have in the headlines of next day’s papers in Denmark.”

Nationality and culture

How do you look at the role of the President beyond the traditional one?

“The traditional role is trying to be alert to everything concerning Icelandic nationality and culture. The President should engender, among the people at large, a feeling of genuine mutual friendship. I try to talk personally to everybody when I meet groups. The President should be as close to the people as possible, for the office is first and foremost a symbol of national unity.”

What is it in Icelandic culture that, in your opinion, should be especially cultivated and stressed?

Vigdís Alongside Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

“The preservation of our language and a steady stimulation of all creative efforts. In many ways we are unique in our creativity. If we look after our culture as well as our children, we consciously strive for what all humanity yearns for: peace. Nobody can believe in the future without working for peace. Wishful thinking is not enough. We have to follow closely what is happening in the world and state categorically: This we want but that we do not want. We have to demand that all the money now squandered on armaments and international power politics should be channelled to make use of the marvellous scientific discoveries of modern times in the service of the hungry and the needy. We have found the means to halt the population explosion. I refuse to believe that we cannot find the means to halt the greed for power. I am an idealist on behalf of children. Those jockeying for power around the world have only ten or twenty years to go. They must not leave the coming generations with a world threatened by annihilation.”

The small nations of the world have a future.

“Youth should protest instead of losing hope and taking refuge in drugs to dull the senses. Only a lack of will to live can make a person try to dull the senses in order to survive.” Do you think the small nations of the world have a future, considering the so-called brain drain, which deprives them of their ablest minds and best-educated citizens?

“I feel convinced that the small nations of the world have a future once they realize that by sticking together they are a major power. It may not be possible to stop brain drain entirely, but it can be diminished if the small nations co-operate and exchange talents for certain tasks, just as farmers share tractors. Nordic co-operation is a case in point. The Nordic countries are a cultural superpower, no doubt about it. They have produced a culture which reaches the masses, and publish newspapers and weeklies which enhance sensibilities and rational thinking.”

You have been asked to open the Scandinavia Today exposition in Washington D.C. next September on behalf of the Nordic heads of state?

“Yes, I am proud to have been asked to do that and am very much looking forward to the occasion. This is a dream I have long known would come true. I am proud of being a spokeswoman for all the Nordic countries on that occasion, and it is a great compliment to us that they have this confidence in me, underlining the fact that Icelanders were the first Europeans to write in the vernacular, nearly 900 years ago.”

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Exhibition to Be Opened Next Year

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

According to a letter of intent signed at the University of Iceland yesterday, an exhibition on the presidency of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir will be opened next year at Loftskeytastöðin. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was the first woman to be democratically elected head of state, in office from 1980 to 1996.

Exhibition to be housed at the “old radio station”

At a commemorative ceremony yesterday, marking the University of Iceland’s 110th anniversary, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Transport and Local Government Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, and President of the University of Iceland Jón Atli Benediktsson signed a joint letter of intent to open an exhibition on the presidency of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir next year.

According to the agreement, the government will aid in preparatory efforts for the exhibition, which will be housed at Loftskeytastöðin – Iceland’s first radio station, inaugurated on June 17, 1918. Loftskeytastöðin, which is located next to Veröld – the House of Vigdís, will also accommodate research and academic facilities. The agreement stipulates that the exhibition receive an annual subsidy from the treasury. The University of Iceland will manage the exhibition and related scholarly activities, both of which will be integrated within the operations of Veröld. The signees hope to inaugurate the exhibition next year.

“A symbol of unity,” PM on Vigdís

“Vigdís’ influence on Icelandic society, especially on those who grew up during her presidency, can hardly be overstated: waking up, one morning in June of 1980, as the first nation in history to have democratically elected a woman as head of state. In an incredibly brief time, Vigdís managed to unite the nation. The prevailing attitude at the time was that a president should be a symbol of unity, and in Vigdís the nation quickly found such a symbol,” PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated in a speech during the ceremony.

Having wished Icelanders happy National Day, and congratulated the University on its anniversary, Vigdís announced that she would be donating various keepsakes from her presidency to the University of Iceland, including letters, gifts from foreign heads of states, and clothing. These items will serve as the basis for the exhibition at Loftskeytastöðin.

A former Müller-ist

As noted in an interview with Iceland Review in 2019, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir always considered herself “one of the people.” Even after being elected president, Vigdís continued visiting the public pool in West Reykjavík, where she would join fellow swimmers in a regimen of quaint exercises invented by the former Danish gymnastics educator J. P. Müller. Click here for an excerpt to the article.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir’s Formative Years Subject of New Series

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

Icelandic director Baldvin Z (Lof mér að falla, Vonarstræti) is working on a four-part series on the life of Iceland’s first female President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, RÚV reports. Vigdís was the first woman to be democratically elected as a Head of State in the world and to this day remains the longest-serving elected female head of state of any country.

The series is to focus on the period of Vigdís’ life from her teenage years until she became President of Iceland in 1980. The screenplay was written by three women: Björg Magnúsdóttir, Jana María Guðmundsdóttir, and Ágústa Ólafsdóttir, who have put years of research into the project. Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir (Trapped) has been cast as adult Vigdís in the series, but the role of teenage Vigdís is yet to be filled. Vigdís, who turned 90 last year, reportedly had a hand in casting Nina Dögg to play herself and has been consulting with the actress on the role.

The series is expected to go into production at the end of this year or in early 2022.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Awarded at Women Leaders Forum

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

Former President of Iceland Vigdís Finnbogadóttir has received the 2020 POWER, TOGETHER Award for her role in making the pink ribbon the globally-recognised symbol of breast cancer. Former US Diplomat Nancy G. Brinker, a breast cancer awareness advocate, is the other recipient of the award this year. The award was (virtually) presented to Vigdís today during this month’s Reykjavík Global Forum Women Leaders conference.

Breast Cancer Survivor

Vigdís was the first woman to be democratically elected as a Head of State in the world. She served as Iceland’s President from 1980-1996. Today she remains the longest-serving elected female head of state of any country.

Vigdís was a single mother and ran for president not long after surviving breast cancer. During her campaign, she was asked many personal questions, for example whether having just one breast would hamper her ability to lead the country. Her powerful response was “I never planned to breastfeed the nation.”

Global Forum Champions Women Leaders

According to a press release from Women Political Leaders, the organisation behind the POWER, TOGETHER Awards, they “recognise women for their distinguished commitments to set aside differences and come together to ensure a better future, because no sustainable change can be reached in isolation.”

The Reykjavík Global Forum was launched in November 2018 in Reykjavík, Iceland. This year the forum features Hillary Clinton, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and current WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The Forum is co-hosted by Women Political Leaders (WPL) and the Government and Parliament of Iceland.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir’s 90th Birthday

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir by the presidential residence at Bessastaðir

“When the fourth president of the Icelandic republic was formally inaugurated at the Althing in Reykjavik on August 1, 1980, history was made in more ways than usual at such ceremonies previously. The new president is a woman, and not only the first woman to become president of Iceland, but the first woman in the world to be chosen as head of state in a free general election.” Thus began an article in Iceland Review in 1980, shortly after Vigdís Finnbogadóttir’s inauguration as the fourth president of the Icelandic Republic. Born on April 15, 1930, today marks her 90th birthday.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Iceland Review
From Iceland Review 1980, issue 3.

Before her presidency, Vigdís had a career as a French teacher and director of the National theatre. She announced her candidacy for the position on February 1, 1980, the first woman ever to do so, running against three men. In addition to being the only female candidate, she was also the only one who was single. Following a tight race, where much was made of her gender, single parenthood, and even her mammectomy following breast cancer, she was voted the next president of Iceland with 33.8% of the vote.

She was president for four four-year terms, until 1996. Both during her presidency and afterwards, she spent her energy championing causes close to her heart such as reforestation, culture, and languages.

Due to COVID-19, the birthday celebrations were subdued, but in an interview from her doorstep, Vigdís told RÚV she didn’t mind, she had never been too fond of birthdays. “I’m simply happy that it’s a sunny day and the snow is lifting”.

The Iceland Review team wishes Vigdís Finnbogadóttir a happy birthday.

Vigdís FInnbogadóttir's first inauguration as president
From Iceland Review iss. 3, 1980

Former President First to Contribute Voice Sample

This morning, former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the first to contribute a voice sample to a project aiming to develop language technology tools for Icelandic. The project hopes to ensure that the Icelandic language remains on equal footing with other languages in the digital age (the project also aims to preserve and protect the Icelandic language itself, and to increase access to essential technologies in the public and private sector).

The project is sponsored by the Icelandic Centre for Language Technology (Almannarómur), which is under the guardianship of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and Guðni Th. Jóhannesson (Iceland’s current president).

As of noon today, anyone can contribute their own voice sample on the website Samrómur. Participants are encouraged to record a brief sound clip that will be used to develop software to aid computers in understanding and speaking Icelandic. Participants are also encouraged to confirm the accuracy of other sound clips in order to improve the quality of the corpus. The website aims to collect a wide variety of anonymous samples.

“Icelandic is a unique language that has changed less than other languages over the past one thousand years. Owing to rapid technological changes, however, the Icelandic language faces a difficult situation. Many of us communicate with computers and other machines in foreign languages. By teaching computers to speak and understand Icelandic we increase the likelihood that the Icelandic language will continue to survive and thrive in the modern world. We have the power.“ (Samrómur.is)

Challenge the City to Stop Construction in Ancient Cemetery

It’s almost unheard of that the earthly remains of people in hallowed ground are made to give way for a secular building, state three honorary citizens of Reykjavík, who yesterday presented the mayor and chairman of the city council with a challenge to stop the construction of a hotel in the city centre, RÚV reports. The hotel in question is to be built partially over an old cemetery.

Construction has started on tearing down the Landssími building by Austurvöllur square, which is to be replaced by a hotel. The construction has been controversial, not least because the new hotel is to have a cellar, part of which will be built over the ancient Vík cemetery. The cemetery is where the people of Reykjavík were buried for the most part of the last millennium, probably from the 11th century until the 19th.

A challenge to stop the construction was delivered to mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson and city council chairman Þórdís Lóa Þórhallsdóttir today, by honorary citizens of Reykjavík Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former president of Iceland, Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir, musician, and Friðrik Ólafsson, chess grandmaster and former office manager of the parliament.

Friðrik read the challenge and reminded everyone present that the earthly remains of those buried in the cemetery had been removed two years ago. “It’s almost unheard of that the earthly remains of people in hallowed ground are made to give way to a secular building. This is blatant disrespect for our history and the memory of our forefathers.”

Buildings in ancient cemeteries are not in compliance with laws about cemeteries.

“We challenge the city of Reykjavík and the builders of the hotel to drop the intended construction that will predictably cause irreparable damage to this fragile and historic place in the heart of the capital,” said Friðrik.

Dagur told Vísir that he”understood their concerns over construction in a key location in the heart of the city. We had the issue looked over carefully. The cemetery hasn’t been used since 1837 and that’s something that the city considered when making its decisions. We will go over the challenge and present it to the city council.” Þórdís Lóa claimed to be happy that citizens care about the city’s issues. but that the construction was so far along that it would be difficult to stop.