The Republic of Iceland (Icelandic: Lřveldi ═sland) is a borderless country in the northern Atlantic Ocean, located between Greenland, Scotland and Norway.
Main article: History of Iceland
Iceland remained one of the world's last larger islands uninhabited by humans, until it was first settled by Scandinavians, mainly Norwegians (Vikings), and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th century. It boasts the world's oldest parliament, Al■ingi (English: Althing), which was established in 930, although it has not run continuously since that date. It is thought that Irish monks had come to Iceland some thirty years before the first viking came to Iceland, but they left before the vikings came to settle the country.
Iceland remained independent for over 300 years, and was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark, formally as a Norwegian crown colony until 1814 when the united kingdoms of Denmark and Norway were separated by the treaty of Kiel, and Iceland was kept by Denmark as a dependency. Limited home rule was granted by the Danish government in 1874, and protectorate-like independence and sovereignty over domestic matters followed in 1918, foreign relations and defense remained in the authority of the Danes until the occupation by the British in 1940 in World War 2. De jure the Danish king remained the sovereign of the nation until 1944, when the current republic was founded.
Main article: Politics of Iceland
Iceland's parliament, Al■ingi, was founded in the mid-19th century as an advisory body to the Danish king. It was widely seen as a reestablishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. It has 63 members, each of whom is elected by the population every four years. The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat, figurehead and head of state. The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with his cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government. The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Al■ingi; however, this process is usually conducted by the leaders of the political parties, who decide what parties will form the cabinet and how the seats are distributed (under the condition that it has a majority support in Al■ingi). Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet himself. This has never happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 the regent of the country (Sveinn Bj÷rnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Al■ingi in 1941) did appoint a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Sveinn Bj÷rnsson actually went on to become the country's first president in 1944. The governments of Iceland have almost always been coalitions with two or more parties involved, since a single political party has never received a majority of seats in Al■ingi. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president are disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions suggest otherwise.
The president is elected every four years (last 2004), the cabinet is elected every four years (last 2003) and town council elections are held every four years too (last 2002).
Main article: Municipalities of Iceland
There are 101 municipalities in Iceland that govern most local matters like schools, transportation and zoning.
Main article: Counties of Iceland
The 23 counties are mostly a historic division. Today Iceland is split up between 26 Magistrates that are the highest authority over the local police (except in ReykjavÝk where there is a special office of police commissioner) and carry out administrative functions such as declaring bankruptcy and marrying people outside of the church.
Iceland is split up into eight district court jurisdictions. According to a United Nations document on Iceland:
- The Law on the Separation of Judicial and Executive Powers at the District Level No. 92/1989 laid the foundation for a changed judicial system. The law established eight district courts, one in each electoral area of the country. These courts have jurisdiction in civil as well as criminal cases, issue bankruptcy decisions and resolve disputes which arise during magistrates' major proceedings. Judicial authorities also resolve all disputes concerning the extent of administrative powers. After 1 July 1992 district court judges perform only judicial functions. The judicial authority previously wielded by magistrates outside Reykjavik has now been transferred to the new district courts.
List of District Courts
- ReykjavÝk District Court
- Reykjanes District Court
- West District Court
- Westfjords District Court
- Northwest District Court
- Northeast District Court
- East District Court
- South District Court
Main article: Constituencies of Iceland
Until 2003, the constituencies for the parliament elections were the same as the district court jurisdictions but by an amendment to the constitution they were changed so that today there are only 6 constituencies. The change was made in order to balance the weight of different districts of the country since a vote cast in the sparsely populated areas around the country would count much more than a vote cast in the ReykjavÝk city area. The imbalance between districts has been reduced by the new system but it still exists.
Main article: Geography of Iceland & List of settlements in Iceland
Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean, a bit south of the arctic circle, which passes through the small island Grimsey off the north coast of Iceland, but not through Iceland itself.
Iceland is located on a geological hot spot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The combination of being both on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and on a hot spot means that the island is extremely geologically active. It has many active volcanoes, notably Hekla. Around 10% of the island is glaciated. Iceland has many geysers (itself an Icelandic word) and the widespread availability of geothermal power means residents of most towns have hot water and home heat for a low price. (See also: Volcanoes of Iceland) Electricity is generally very cheap because of the many rivers and waterfalls which are also used for the generation of electrical power.
(See also: Rivers of Iceland, Waterfalls of Iceland, Lakes of Iceland)
The island itself has many fjords along the coastline, where also most towns are situated, because the island's interior, the Highlands of Iceland are a cold uninhabitable desert. The main towns are the capital ReykjavÝk, KeflavÝk, where the national airport is situated, and Akureyri. The island of GrÝmsey, on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland. (See also: Fjords of Iceland)
Unlike neighbouring Greenland, Iceland is considered to be a part of Europe, not of America. The island is the world's 18th largest island.
The island has four national parks: J÷kulsßrglj˙fur National Park, Skaftafell National Park, SnŠfellsnes National Park and Ůingvellir.
Main article: Military of Iceland
The Republic of Iceland has no regular armed forces. Defense is provided by a US manned NATO base in KeflavÝk. Iceland has a Coast Guard (LandhelgisgŠslan) and a SWAT team which is called SÚrsveitin (Task Force), commonly known as VÝkingasveitin (Viking Squad), and is under the command of the ReykjavÝk chief of police.
Main article: Economy of Iceland
The economy depends heavily on the fishing industry, which provides over 60% of export earnings and employs 8% of the work force. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant hydro-electric and geothermal power), Iceland's economy is vulnerable to changing world fish prices. The economy remains sensitive to declining fish stocks as well as to drops in world prices for its main exports: fish and fish products, aluminum, and ferrosilicon . Although the Icelandic economy is heavily dependant on fishing it is constantly becoming less important as the travel industry, the technology industry and various other industries grow.
The only natural resource conversion is the manufacture of cement. Most buildings are concrete with expensive imported wood used only sparingly and where necessary.
The center-right government plans to continue its policies of reducing the budget and current account deficits, limiting foreign borrowing, containing inflation, revising agricultural and fishing policies, diversifying the economy, and privatizing state-owned industries. The government remains opposed to EU membership, primarily because of Icelanders' concern about losing control over their fishing resources.
Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, and new developments in software production, biotechnology, and financial services are taking place. The tourism sector is also expanding, with the recent trends in ecotourism and whale-watching. Growth slowed between 2000 and 2002, but the economy expanded by 4.3% in 2003 and grew by 5.2% in 2004. The unemployment-rate of 2.5% (4th quarter 2004) is the second lowest in the European Economic Area after Liechtenstein.
Main article: Demographics of Iceland
The isolated location of Iceland has resulted in limited immigration and limited genetic inflow in its human population over hundreds of years. The resulting genetic similarity is being exploited today for genetic studies.
The language spoken is Icelandic, a Scandinavian language, and the religion is predominantly Lutheran.
Main article: Culture of Iceland
Some famous Icelanders include pop singer Bj÷rk; avant-garde rock band Sigur Rˇs; and novelist Halldˇr Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. Also, the former world chess champion Bobby Fischer became an Icelandic citizen on March 21, 2005. Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a citizen since 1972.
Iceland has world renowned nightlife. Downtown ReykjavÝk has many clubs and pubs that often have live bands playing.
Icelandic society and culture are very "woman friendly" with women in leadership positions in government and business, and women retain their names after marriage.
Miscellaneous facts about Iceland
- Number of hot springs: 800
- It is mandatory to keep the headlights on while driving, even in daylight.
- In 2004, British citizens made up the single largest group of tourists to Iceland (60,000) followed by Americans (48,000).