23 Sep 2021
From its millennial parliament and endangered natural wonders to singer Bjork and her bank collapse in 2008. Here are five things you need to know about Iceland ahead of the country’s general election on Saturday.
– Old parliament –
The Althing, with its 63 seats, is considered to be the oldest parliament in the world still in operation. The first sessions were held outdoors, from 930, in Thingvellir near Reykjavik.
Every summer in mid-June, an assembly of representatives of the nation, descendants of the early Viking settlers and heavily influenced by their Norwegian roots, passed new laws and delivered justice.
Until 1798, the Althing met in various forms on the now historic site, where today only the rocky hills covered with moss remain. Parliament was dissolved for almost half a century after a royal decree from Denmark – from which Iceland did not become independent until 1944.
It was reestablished in 1845, before moving to the building currently in use in Reykjavik in 1881.
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– 2008, the fall of the financial “wizards” –
For a long time Iceland depended on fishing, but in the early 2000s the banking sector began to grow at a rapid rate, spurred by deregulation of the sector and adventurous businesses overseas.
At the start of the 2008 crisis, the combined balance sheet of the three big banks at the time was more than ten times the country’s annual GDP.
But when the US investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, it suddenly found itself unable to refinance itself and disaster struck and the Icelandic currency plummeted, causing inflation to spike.
After several months of the “pot revolution”, which saw thousands of protesters drumming on kitchen utensils in front of parliament, the government resigned at the end of January 2009.
Supported by the aid of the International Monetary Fund, Iceland has finally managed to get back on its feet, in particular thanks to tourism.
– Feminist land –
When men were busy fishing at sea, Icelandic women have long performed the traditional role of house keepers.
But on October 24, 1975, they staged one of the founding events of modern feminism: 90% of the island nation’s women stopped working and 25,000 of them took to the streets of Reykjavik to demonstrate their indispensable contribution to society.
Five years later, the seminal strike was followed by the rise to power of President Vigdis Finnbogadottir, making her the first woman in the world to be democratically president.
– Björk’s house –
Singer Bjork is Iceland’s most famous cultural export. She has challenged gender stereotypes within pop culture and has been a strong advocate for environmental issues.
Despite hailing from a country of just 370,000 inhabitants, the eclectic performer gained international fame, first as the lead singer of the alternative rock group The Sugarcubes and after the band split up as as a solo artist.
– Land of ice in danger –
Although glaciers still cover over 10 percent of Iceland’s surface – an attribute that gave the country its name – their area has shrunk by nearly 2,200 square kilometers over the past 150 years, and the pace is accelerating due to climate change.
Scientists also believe that melting ice could trigger a volcanic revival in what is already Europe’s most active region – an eruption occurs on average every five years.