Monday, December 01, 2014

A Modest Declaration of Independence

It was on the first day of December in 1918 that a small gathering of dignitaries and citizens assembled in front of Stjórnarráðhúsið (Government House) in Reykjavík to observe Iceland's formal declaration of sovereignty as a nation — an event known since then as Fullveldisdagurinn (Sovereignty Day or Independence Day). It was a pretty modest affair for the rebirth of a self-governing nation.

While 1944 is generally recognized as the year of Iceland's independence, and while June 17th is appropriately recognized as the country's National Day, that latter year and day marked the beginning of the Republic of Iceland — it was already an independent country. The achievement of Icelandic independence was a 99-year process that began with the reestablishment of the Alþing (Althing) in 1845 and culminated in the declaration of the Republic in 1944, but there were several other milestones along the way: the granting of a Constitution in 1874, Home Rule in 1904, and the recognition of Iceland's sovereignty in 1918.

In 1918, identical bills were introduced in the Danish Folketing and the Icelandic Alþing, the two countries' respective parliaments, which opened with the words: "Denmark and Iceland are free and autonomous nations, united under the same King." After both legislative bodies passed the bill, it was confirmed by a referendum of the Icelandic people on October 19, 1918. The ceremony declaring Iceland a sovereign and independent country on December 1st was a modest affair, owing to the impact of three natural calamities that year — the economic consequences of an unusually harsh winter the year before, the 24-day eruption of Mount Katla beginning on October 12, and the deadly influenza pandemic commonly known as the Spanish Flu. However modest it may have been, this day is a momentous one in the history of Iceland.

Fullveldisdagurinn 1918 – A solemn gathering in front of Stjórnarráðhúsið (Government House) on December 1, 1918, when Iceland's sovereignty as a nation was formally declared.