Einar K. Guðfinnsson

Centenary programme in the hands of the people

Iceland gained the status of a free and sovereign nation in 1918. And now, when a century has passed since that momentous event in our history, the landmark will be celebrated in various ways, as determined by a parliamentary resolution of 13 October 2016.

The year 1918 was bleak in Iceland. The nation was afflicted by a winter of severe cold, and an epidemic cost many lives. Yet there was hope in Icelandic hearts when national sovereignty became a reality on 1 December that year. 

The early years of the twentieth century were a period of rapid progress in Iceland. Gaining sovereignty boosted the Icelanders’ vitality and audacity, giving rise to advances which took us from poverty to prosperity with astounding speed. 

Now, when we celebrate the centenary of Icelandic sovereignty, we should look back, bearing in mind the words of poet Einar Benediktsson about the need to “look to the past in order to build something new.” But, as at any turning point, we must also look to the future – equipped with the experience of the past, and with the objective of learning from that experience.

It is safe to say that the high points of the centenary year 2018 will be two: a session of parliament to be held on 18 July at Þingvellir; and celebrations which are to take place all over the country on 1 December.

The Alþingi (parliament) has elected a committee to plan the commemoration of this historic landmark. The committee has been charged with compiling a publication on the background to the Union Treaty and its content and implementation, and a publication on the nature of the sovereignty acquired under international law in 1918; and organising in collaboration with the Árni Magnússion Institute of Icelandic Studies an exhibition of the major manuscripts in the collection, in order to highlight the roots of Icelandic culture and the grounds on which the nation reclaimed its independence and sovereignty; contributing to the publication of a complete edition of the Sagas of Icelanders in the centenary year, in order that the Icelanders’ ancient literature may be accessible to all, in both book and digital form; and urging schools to draw attention to the remarkable turning-point in Icelandic society represented by the Union Treaty of 1918.

From the outset the committee has set out to involve as many as possible in the programme of centenary events. We will be looking to the public, local government, public bodies, NGOs, and all who are interested in taking part in this huge undertaking. We will be advertising for people all over the country to contribute to making the centenary a success, with celebrations throughout the year, and the widest possible participation. We will be looking to both past and future, and prioritising the participation of young people. We are confident that this melting-pot will give rise to a diverse and exciting programme of events to mark this major landmark in our history.

We keenly look forward to working with the people of Iceland on the project, and we know that 2018 will be a truly celebratory year that underlines the significance of sovereignty – in past, present, and not least in the future.

Einar K. Guðfinnsson

Chair of parliamentary committee to plan celebrations of the centenary of Icelandic sovereignty