We seldom give much thought to Iceland unless some sort of peace negotiations are taking place in Reykjavik. Or, you perhaps still remember all the worrisome news in March of 2010 about the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption that blew massive quantities of ash and dust into the atmosphere and impeded air travel across much of Europe for many days.
Iceland is an island country with a land area somewhat similar to that of Nebraska. Iceland is located between Norway and Greenland. The very northern regions of the country just touch the Arctic Circle.
Even though Iceland is located so far north, only about 14% of the land is covered by glaciers and snowfields. The Gulf Stream moderates the climate so that Icelanders can enjoy a relatively mild climate. Most people live in the coastal areas of the island.
While Americans are fond of thinking of our government as the pioneering form of democracy, Iceland actually has dibs on it. Sometime after the arrival of the Norse peoples, a constitution was put into effect around the year 930, that created democratic rule and instituted the “Althing” which is the oldest practicing, existing legislative body in the world. Norway laid claim to Iceland in 1262 until 1397 when the jurisdiction passed to Denmark during the unification of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway as a part of the Kalmar Union.
Due to the early leadership of Jón Sigurðsson, an independence movement gathered steam. In 1874 Denmark recognized Iceland as a separate state, but Iceland remained a protectorate of Danish monarchial power. It was in 1874 that Denmark granted the Icelandic Althing autonomy in domestic affairs. Earlier, the Althing had been relegated to the status of advisory body to the Danish king and government.
Denmark fell under occupational control of Nazi Germany during the second World War. The result being the occupation of Iceland by American and British military forces. The country was utilized as a strategic air base against Germany. This is the time that Iceland became the independent nation we know now.
The formation of the Republic of Iceland depended upon a special clause in the 1918 Act of Union with Denmark that called for a revision in 1943. However, Germany was occupying Denmark so the agreed revision could not happen as planned.
A plebiscite vote was taken in 1944 in which it was decided that a republic be formed to replace the protectorate status of Iceland. Even though King Christian X was disappointed by the timing of the decision, the king did send a letter on June 14, 1944 to congratulate the nation on its new status 1,014 years after Danes first settled onto the island nation.
Icelanders celebrated the abolition of the monarchy and the adjustments to their constitution. The end of the long struggle for complete independence was to be celebrated with a special national day. The date, June 17th, was selected because it is the birthday of the early independence advocate Jón Sigurðsson.
Today, Icelanders will be celebrating with sporting events, patriotic speeches and parades, dancing, drinking and time away from work.
Despite much practice, the Blue Jay of Happiness still has difficulty pronouncing the name of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.