Iceland History Part I

Iceland was discovered by Viking navigators and after some insignificant settlements of Irish monks, the island was colonized by a group of Norwegians, who, from 870 onwards, wanted to escape the tyranny of King Harold. In the sec. X the free Icelandic Republic was formed, divided into four cantons, and having as its supreme organ the assembly (Althing) of Thingvellir. In the year 1000 Christianity was introduced by law, but despite the fact that a first diocese was established in Skálholt in 1056 and the diocese of Hólarma was consecrated in 1106, the new religion struggled to establish itself in pagan custom. In 1262 the king of Norway, Haakon IV, subdued Iceland, favored by the discords between the most important and noble families of the island. A long period of decline followed, aggravated by volcanic eruptions and periodic famines. After the Kalmar Agreement (1397), Denmark replaced Norway in the dominion of the island, then forcefully imposing the Lutheran faith on the Icelanders under the reign of Christian III. The last Catholic bishop, Jón Arason, was executed by the Protestants in 1550. The first Protestant bishop was Gudhbrandur Thorláksson (1542-1627), who made active religious and cultural propaganda. Danish rule became more oppressive with King Christian IV, which imposed, in 1602, the “commercial monopoly”: only Danish merchants could trade with Iceland. This restrictive regime lasted approx. two centuries and caused decay and misery for Iceland. Starting from 1787, the island experienced a significant economic and political improvement, following the downsizing of the Danish “commercial monopoly”. During the nineteenth century a notable Icelandic nationalism developed: as early as 1809 the Icelanders had tried unsuccessfully to become independent.

Danish adventurer Jørgen Jurgensen briefly restored the island’s autonomy, but the Peace of Kiel in 1814 he returned Iceland to Denmark. Only in 1904 was Iceland granted administrative autonomy (with its own Parliament and government). However, foreign policy continued to be handled by Denmark. The process towards full autonomy culminated in 1918 with a federative treaty under which Iceland became an independent state, while remaining bound to Denmark by a simple personal union with the sovereign. This bond was broken during World War II, when Denmark was invaded by the Germans and Iceland was occupied by Allied troops. On June 17, 1944, following a plebiscite, Iceland finally proclaimed itself an independent republic and Sveinn Björnsson, who since 1941 had exercised the regency in the name of the king of Denmark, Christian X, was elected the first president of the republic. In 1949 Iceland joined the Atlantic Pact and granted (1951) to the United States the airbase of Keflavík, near Reykjavík, arousing the most heated protests of the entire population, very jealous of their independence and already irritated by the excessive presence in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean overlooking the island of foreign fishing boats, whose activity threatened one of the main sources of wealth of the country. The need to safeguard fish stocks led the Icelandic government to extend the territorial water limit first from 3 to 12 miles, then to 50 miles in 1972 and finally, in 1975, to 200 miles. This decision aroused the lively reaction of neighboring countries, especially Great Britain, and gave rise to a bitter controversy which was called the “cod war”. In 1976, Norwegian mediation made it possible to reach an agreement in favor of Iceland.

As for domestic politics, after the Second World War, according to computerminus, governments were predominantly coalition. At first there was an agreement between social democrats and independents (until 1971), and then an alternation of power between conservatives and progressives began. In the presidential elections of 1980, for the first time on the island and in Europe, a female head of state was elected, Mrs. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, later reconfirmed in office three times (1984, 1988 and 1992). The political elections of 1983 marked the affirmation, also in this case for the first time, of a party composed exclusively of women and the decline of traditional parties, which lost ground especially in the late 1980s (consultations of March 1987), when there was a certain political instability (decline of the traditional parties with the exception of the Social Democrats) and frequent government changes; Finally, in 1991 an alliance between the Social Democratic Party and the Independence Party resulted, led by Prime Minister David Oddsson, who left the Progressive Party, the pivot of the various government coalitions for twenty years, to the opposition.

The programmatic objective of this cabinet was the reduction of traditional isolationism of the country and the consolidation of relations with Europe. Although Iceland, in 1970, had joined the EFTA, a decision that had proved very useful for the purpose of increasing trade, it preferred not to participate in the European Community and in 1992 limited its participation to the European Economic Area. In this way, relations with the EU are regulated by agreements that oblige the country to partially accept the legislation of the European Union., but without the latter having an influence on the decision-making processes of the Icelandic government. NATO, starting from 1994, reduced its presence in Iceland, which had already been declared nuclear-free territory by Parliament in 1985.

Iceland History 1

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