|Iceland||Introduction||Back to Top|
Iceland (in Icelandic, Ísland), officially Republic of Iceland, island republic, lying just below the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic Ocean, about 300 km (185 mi) south-east of Greenland, about 800 km (500 mi) north-west of Scotland, and about 1,000 km (620 mi) west of Norway. The country's maximum length (from east to west) is about 485 km (300 mi); the country's maximum width is about 305 km (190 mi) from north to south. Iceland has an area of 103,000 sq km (39,769 sq mi). The capital is Reykjavík.Official Name- Republic of Iceland
|Iceland||Provinces||Back to Top|
23 counties (syslar, singular - sysla) and 14 independent towns* (kaupstadhir, singular - kaupstadhur); Akranes*, Akureyri*, Arnessysla, Austur-Bardhastrandarsysla, Austur-Hunavatnssysla, Austur-Skaftafellssysla, Borgarfjardharsysla, Dalasysla, Eyjafjardharsysla, Gullbringusysla, Hafnarfjordhur*, Husavik*, Isafjordhur*, Keflavik*, Kjosarsysla, Kopavogur*, Myrasysla, Neskaupstadhur*, Nordhur-Isafjardharsysla, Nordhur-Mulasys-la, Nordhur-Thingeyjarsysla, Olafsfjordhur*, Rangarvallasysla, Reykjavik*, Saudharkrokur*, Seydhisfjordhur*, Siglufjordhur*, Skagafjardharsysla, Snaefellsnes-og Hnappadalssysla, Strandasysla, Sudhur-Mulasysla, Sudhur-Thingeyjarsysla, Vesttmannaeyjar*, Vestur-Bardhastrandarsysla, Vestur-Hunavatnssysla, Vestur-Isafjardharsysla, Vestur-Skaftafellssysla
|Iceland||People||Back to Top|
The first comprehensive census in Iceland was taken in 1703, at which time 50,358 people were reported. The 18th century was marked by great economic hardship, and by 1801 the population had declined to 47,240. There began a slow increase in the 19th century, and by 1901 the population had risen to 78,470. Accelerated economic growth during the early decades of the 20th century was paralleled by a rapid growth in population, which in 1950 reached 143,973. During World War II and the early postwar period there was rapid improvement in the standard of living and a new acceleration in the rate of population growth. The annual growth rate reached its peak during the 1950s; it has been declining since 1960, primarily because of a sharply reduced birth rate and continued emigration. For a brief period from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s the birth rate rose again before resuming its downward trend. In the late 1980s the population reached a quarter of a million.
The population of Iceland is extremely homogeneous. The inhabitants are descendants of settlers who began arriving in AD 874 and continued in heavy influx for about 60 years thereafter. Historians differ on the exact origin and ethnic composition of the settlers but agree that between 60 and 80 percent of them were of Nordic stock from Norway. The rest, from Scotland and Ireland, were largely of Celtic stock. The dominant language in the period of settlement was Old Norse, the language spoken in Norway at the time. Through the centuries it has evolved into modern Icelandic, which is used throughout the country. There are no racial or ethnic distinctions. The early Nordic and Celtic stocks have long since merged, and the small number of subsequent immigrants have had no major effect on the population structure. The Lutheran faith has been the dominant religion since the mid-16th century. About nine-tenths of the population belongs to the state-supported Evangelical Lutheran church. There is freedom of religion.
|Iceland||History||Back to Top|
Irish monks may have reached Iceland before AD 800, but it remained largely unsettled until about 870. Norwegian Viking Ingólfur Arnarson is traditionally considered the first permanent settler; he established his farm at Reykjavík, now the capital. During the next 60 years, other settlers flocked to the island from the Scandinavian countries and the British Isles. In 930 a central organization for the whole island was superimposed on the already existent regional polities in the form of a general legislature called the Althing.
Iceland apparently has no prehistory. According to stories written down some 250 years after the event, the country was discovered and settled by Norse people in the Viking Age. The oldest source, Íslendingabók (The Book of the Icelanders), written about 1130, sets the period of settlement at about AD 870–930. The other main source, Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), of 12th-century origin but known only in later versions, states explicitly that the first permanent settler, Ingólfr Arnarson, came from Norway to Iceland to settle in the year 874. He chose as his homestead a site that he named Reykjavík, which he farmed with his wife, Hallveig Fródadóttir. The Book of Settlements then enumerates more than 400 settlers who sailed with their families, servants, and slaves to Iceland to stake claims to land. Most of the settlers came from Norway, but some came from other Nordic countries and from the Norse Viking Age settlements in the British Isles.
1660 King Frederick III of Denmark assumed autocratic powers in his homeland, and two years later Icelandic leaders were forced, under threat of arms, to accept the absolute monarchy in Iceland. The abrogation of the Althing’s legislative powers, as well as the denial of its judicial role, quickly followed. The country now stood stripped of all political power. During the 18th century, Icelanders reached the lowest point of their national existence. At the end of the Age of Settlement, in 930, some 60,000 to 90,000 people are estimated to have lived in the country; in the early years of the 18th century, when the first national census was taken, the population was down to 50,000. A series of disasters, including a smallpox epidemic in 1707-1709, famines in the middle of the century, and the eruption of the volcano Laki in 1783, further reduced the nation to some 35,000 inhabitants, most of them paupers; Denmark seriously considered evacuating all the remaining Icelanders to the heathlands of the Jutland Peninsula.
|Iceland||Culture||Back to Top|
Icelanders are proof that a rich cultural life can be developed despite a small population. The country's literary heritage stems from writers of the 12th to 14th centuries who vividly recorded the sagas of Iceland's first 250 years. Other traditional arts include weaving, silver crafting, and wood carving. Poetry was the great literary form of expression in the 19th century, whereas the novel and drama have been the prime forms of literature in the 20th century. The Reykjavík area, which supports several professional theatres, a symphony orchestra, an opera, and a number of art galleries, bookstores, cinemas, and museums, has a cultural environment that compares favourably with those of cities several times its size. It also holds biennial international art festivals.
Art in Iceland was long connected with religion, first the Roman Catholic church and later the Lutheran church. The first professional secular painters appeared in Iceland in the 19th century. Gradually increasing in number, these painters, such as Jóhannes Kjarval, highlighted the character and beauty of their country. Painting continues to thrive in Iceland, where artists have fused foreign influences with local heritage. The old traditions in silver working have been retained, the most characteristic of which is the use of silver thread for ornamentation.
Literature is also alive and well in Iceland. The literary tradition of the saga has been revived, and Iceland has often been the setting of 20th-century fiction. Several Icelandic writers have received international acclaim, such as Halldór Laxness, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. Other native writers have written for the theatre, and their work has grown more international in theme and setting. Music also enjoyed a tremendous upsurge after World War II. The programs of the Iceland Symphony are drawn from a classical repertoire and the work of modern Icelandic composers, and one or more operas or musicals are performed every year at the National Theatre and the Icelandic Opera. Popular music by Icelandic performers, such as Björk, has gained international commercial success and critical acclaim.
|Iceland||Life||Back to Top|
The population of Iceland is extremely homogeneous, being almost entirely of Scandinavian and Celtic origin. Beginning in the 1940s a large-scale movement to the coastal towns and villages has occurred. Some 92 percent of the people now live in cities and towns. The population of Iceland (2001 estimate) is 277,906. The overall population density is 2.7 persons per sq km (7 per sq mi).
|Iceland||Land||Back to Top|
Iceland is largely a tableland broken up by structural faults. Its average elevation is 1,640 feet (500 metres) above sea level, but one-fourth of the country lies below 650 feet (198 metres). The highest point is 6,952 feet (2,119 metres), at Hvannadals Peak, the top of Örćfajökull in Vatna Glacier. The glaciers range in size from those in small mountain recesses to the enormous glacial caps topping extensive mountain ranges. Vatna Glacier covers an area of about 3,200 square miles (8,288 square km) and is about 3,000 feet (914 metres) deep at its thickest point. Much of Iceland is underlain by basalt, a dark rock of igneous origin. The oldest rocks were formed about 16 million years ago. The landscape in basaltic areas is one of plateau and fjord, characterized by successive layers of lava visible one above the other on the valley sides. The basalt sheets tend to tilt somewhat toward the centre of the country. The U shape of the valleys is largely the result of glacial erosion. The depressed zones between the basalt areas have extensive plateaus above which rise single volcanoes, table mountains, or other mountain masses with steep sides.
|Iceland||Plants and Animal||Back to Top|
The vegetation of Iceland is of the arctic European type. Grass and heather are abundant along the southern coast and afford pasturage for sheep and other livestock. Extensive forests probably existed on the island in prehistoric times, but present-day trees, such as birch and spruce, are relatively scarce. Bilberries and crowberries are the only kinds of fruit that grow on the island. The arctic fox was probably living in Iceland at the time of the first human settlement. Reindeer were introduced about 1770; rodents were brought in on ships. Neither reptiles nor frogs and toads are found. About 100 species of birds inhabit the island; many of these species are aquatic, among them the whistling swan and several kinds of duck. The eider duck is valued for its down. Whales and seals live along the coast, as do cod, haddock, halibut, and herring. Many salmon and trout inhabit Iceland’s freshwater rivers and lakes.
|Iceland||Economy||Back to Top|
Fishing and fish processing are the most important Icelandic industries, and the total catch in 1997 was 2.2 million metric tons. Food products, including fresh and processed fish, account for 75 percent of Iceland’s exports. Iceland is a leading producer of cod, and other major components of the catch include capelin, haddock, crustaceans, herring, redfish, and saithe. Coastal towns have extensive facilities for fish processing. In response to international pressure, Iceland suspended all whaling operations in 1989. However, in June 1992 Iceland withdrew from the International Whaling Commission, disputing the designation of some species of whales as endangered and claiming that certain species threatened Iceland’s commercial fish population.
World War II the government has aimed at a high rate of economic growth and full employment, and fluctuations in fish prices and catches have been an important influence on the economy. Iceland's real gross domestic product (GDP) increased by an average of about 4 percent per year after the war. After 1987, however, there was a slowdown in economic growth owing to limits imposed on fish catches in response to the depletion of fish stocks that had been overexploited for many years. From the late 1980s to the late 1990s the annual GDP growth rate averaged less than half what it had been. From 1994, however, there was a strong resumption of growth, mainly as a result of an improving fish catch. The inflation rate was high up to the end of the 1980s but thereafter declined. A low rate of inflation did not become a priority until the early 1990s, but Iceland now enjoys as low a rate as the other northern European countries. Unemployment has remained low.
Iceland's Scandinavian-type economy is basically capitalistic, yet with an extensive welfare system, low unemployment, and remarkably even distribution of income. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant hydrothermal and geothermal power), the economy depends heavily on the fishing industry, which provides 70% of export earnings and employs 12% of the work force. 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. 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 has been remarkably steady over the past five years at 4%-5%.
|Iceland||Communications||Back to Top|
adequate domestic service domestic: the trunk network consists of coaxial and fiber-optic cables and microwave radio relay links international: satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean), 1 Inmarsat (Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions); note - Iceland shares the Inmarsat earth station with the other Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden)
|Iceland||Languages||Back to Top|
The state church of Iceland is the Evangelical Lutheran church, with which more than 93 percent of the people are affiliated. Complete religious freedom exists, however. Free Lutherans and Roman Catholics make up a small minority. The language is Icelandic, which has remained closer to the Old Norse of Iceland’s original Viking settlers than to the other Scandinavian languages.
|Iceland||Politics||Back to Top|
Independence Party (conservative) or IP [David ODDSSON]; Left-Green Alliance [Steinsvimur SIGFUSSON]; Liberal Party [Sverrir HERMANNSSON]; People's Party (Social Democratic Party) or SDP [Sighvatyr BJORGIVINSSON]; Progressive Party (liberal) or PP [Halldor ASGRIMSSON]; The Alliance (includes People's Alliance or PA, Social Democratic Party or SVP, People's Movement, Women's List) [Ossur SKARPHEDINSSON]; Women's List or WL [Kristin ASTGEIRSDOTTIR]
|Iceland||Government||Back to Top|
Iceland is governed under a constitution that became effective when the country achieved full independence in 1944. Iceland has no armed forces of its own except for 120 coast guard personnel, but is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 1997 some 1,520 United States military personnel were stationed at Keflavík air base. The head of state of Iceland is a president, who is elected by universal suffrage by persons aged 18 and older to a four-year term. The president has little power, and the country’s chief executive is a prime minister, who is responsible to Parliament. The prime minister is assisted by a cabinet, which holds real executive power.
|Iceland||Legal||Back to Top|
Legal system: civil law system based on Danish law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal Executive branch: chief of state: President Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON (since 1 August 1996) head of government: Prime Minister David ODDSSON (since 30 April 1991) cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister and approved by Parliament elections: president elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held 29 June 1996 (next to be held NA June 2004); President GRIMSSON ran unopposed in June 2000 so there were no elections; prime minister appointed by the president election results: Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON elected president; President GRIMSSON ran unopposed Legislative branch: unicameral Parliament or Althing (63 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) elections: last held on 8 May 1999 (next to be held by April 2003) election results: percent of vote by party - Independence Party 40.7%, The Alliance (PA, People's Party, Women's List) 26.8%, Progressive Party 18.4%, Left-Green Alliance 9.1%, Liberal Party 4.2%; seats by party - Independence Party 26, The Alliance 17, Progressive Party 12, Left-Green Alliance 6, Liberal Party 2 Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Haestirettur (justices are appointed for life by the president)
|Iceland||organization||Back to Top|
Australia Group, BIS, CBSS, CCC, CE, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EFTA, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA (observer), IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO, ITU, NATO, NC, NEA, NIB, OECD, OPCW, OSCE, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNU, UPU, WEU (associate), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO
|Iceland||Education||Back to Top|
Literacy in Iceland approaches 100 percent of the adult population. Education is free through the university level and is compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16. In the 1995 school year 29,221 pupils were enrolled in primary schools, 30,253 students attended secondary and vocational schools, and 7386 were enrolled in higher institutions. The leading institution of higher education is the University of Iceland (1911), in Reykjavík. The country also has a technical college and colleges of agriculture and music as well as teacher-training schools.
|Iceland||Defence||Back to Top|
Military branches: no regular armed forces; Police, Coast Guard; note - Iceland's defense is provided by the US-manned Icelandic Defense Force (IDF) headquartered at Keflavik
Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 71,241 (2001 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service: males age 15-49: 62,704 (2001 est.)
|Iceland||International Disputes||Back to Top|
Rockall continental shelf dispute involving Denmark and the UK (Ireland and the UK have signed a boundary agreement in the Rockall area); dispute with Denmark over the Faroe Islands fisheries median line boundary within 200 NM; disputes with Denmark, the UK, and Ireland over the Faroe Islands continental shelf boundary outside 200 NM
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