Iceland’s Citizens Reflect on 100 Years of Independence

2018 was the year that Iceland celebrated 100 years of independence. Last year I got an idea: Why not create a book where there would be photos of Icelanders born from 1918 to 2018 – one for each year. The idea became a reality and is called ‘Reflections of a Century. Icelanders 1918-2018: Portraits of a Nation’. Written in both Icelandic and English, the book gives you a cross-section of the Icelandic population, and allows you learn more about their way of life. Ranging from the current Prime Minster to Miss Iceland 2017, there is someone for everyone…

On December 1st 1918, Iceland became a free and sovereign state when the Union Treaty with Denmark came into effect – a day that by many is seen as one of the most important landmarks in Iceland’s campaign for self-determination, which had then been in progress for nearly a century.


Iceland 100 Years of Independence


Among the participants are well known Icelanders like the former president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, athletes like the football player Hermann Hreiðarsson and artists like the tenor singer Kristján Jóhansson. One true European favourite is the musician Gréta Salóme Stefánsdóttir who participated in the Eurovision Song Contest twice, as well as designer Hendrikka Waage, and Miss Iceland 2017.


Iceland 100 Years of Independence


The oldest participant is Ásta Jórunn Guðmundsdóttir, and her answer reflects how Icelandic children played in 1925, and how she misses seeing fruit trees growing in the countryside.


“Iceland is simply my country. I have visited various countries and I have never wanted to live anywhere else. I was raised on the farm Snartastaðir in the valley Lundareykjadalur. I had a house with sheep and cows just outside the family farm. I loved to travel and my favorite place has always been Þórsmörk. So much tranquility and nature is beautiful. The only thing we are missing on the trees here in Iceland is fruits. I would love to have fruit trees here but I guess it is too cold for that.“


Iceland 100 Years of Independence


“Iceland is our historic homeland which advanced the saga of how throughout these 100 years a small nation of farmers and fishermen archived global excellence in many fields; became a model in the utilization of clean energy and research on melting glaciers – both crucial in the fight against changes in the Earth’s climate; developed in the same period a society inspired by democracy, equality, welfare and respect for a nature which is unique in the world.“ – Former President and Founder of Arctic Circle, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson


And Bjarni Dagur Garðarsson said: “Iceland is where I live. The ocean is big and stormy. In the ocean there are whales. Iceland has no dangerous flies. We have mountains and many books.“ It’s true there are no dangerous flies in Iceland – not even a single mosquito. We have on the other hand for example the Icelandic horse and the Icelandic dog (which they say thinks it is a man). But yes, we have many books – don’t forget the old Icelandic Sagas – and this book is one of the newer ones.

Time does pass, and since last spring, three of the participants in the book have died. A lovely old man and two lovely old ladies whom I met and interviewed. All of them told me what Iceland meant to them in a vivid way and it was a pleasure meeting them as well as listening to them. God bless their memories.


Iceland 100 Years of Independence


Like already mentioned, all the participants – except the youngest ones –  answered only one question about what Iceland means to them, a very simply but all telling answer. Their answers reflect the Icelandic nation through a century – a century on the island in the North Atlantic where the golden plover sings it’s most beautiful song during the bright summer nights, and where the northern lights dance in the sky during long, dark winter nights. Ég elska þig, Ísland.


Photos: Friðþjófur Helgason

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