This article is about the history of Icelandic nationality.
1 Icelandic constitution
Norway and Denmark
3 Nationalist movements in Iceland
4 Nationality laws
6.2 Health care
7 Women's rights
8 Freedom of speech and religion
10 Icelandic resistance to American involvement
12 Nordic Council
13 Membership of the European Union
14 Passports and visas
In 930 AD, the constitution of
Iceland was instituted which made
Iceland a self-governing country with a people’s assembly called the
Althing (alþingi). The
Althing represented the people and met once a
year to make laws and judge important cases. Matters of lesser
importance were dealt with by local spring assemblies, regulated by
local chiefs. The
Althing was an important part of Icelandic culture
and would be integral in their struggle to become an independent
Norway and Denmark
Iceland swore allegiance to the king of Norway, and in 1380
was under the rule of the newly united kingdom of
Norway and Denmark.
Althing continued to control the national politics
Iceland due to the indifference of the monarch to its remote
population. In 1660,
Denmark became an absolutist state and the power
Althing was diminished significantly. It now held mainly
judicial functions, without any legislative power, but was finally
abolished in 1800.
Nationalist movements in Iceland
The nationalist movement in
Iceland sprang from the romantic literary
ideas of the Enlightenment such that nationalistic ideas were
originally expressed in the literature of the period and were only
later to be involved in the political events of the country.
The abolition of the
Althing was a shock to the identity of Iceland.
It had not only served as a legislative and judicial body but also had
brought the Icelandic communities together annually which served as a
unifying force in society. It had become an important part of
Icelandic culture and tradition. In 1843, the
Althing was successfully
re-established as an advisory board to the Danish government, which
was a great victory for Icelandic nationalism after what the Althing
had come to symbolize for the community.
In 1851, the
Althing proposed a separate constitution for Iceland,
which resulted in the attempt of the Danish representatives to end the
meeting, to the protest of the Icelanders. This was Iceland's first
national conflict with
Denmark in the political domain.
Iceland was still part of the Danish kingdom; however, by
this point in time nationalists had managed to pass a law allowing
Iceland to trade with all nations (1854) and had liberalized its
election laws (1857).
Iceland as such had control over much of its own
affairs, although still under Danish rule.
A demand for their own constitution, giving legislative power to the
Althing was granted in 1874, giving
Iceland control of all internal
affairs and in 1903 an Icelandic cabinet minister replaced the Danish
governors. By 1918
Iceland became a sovereign state in union
with Denmark, and in 1944
Iceland was declared a sovereign
Importance was placed on the idea that the new nation must be based on
Icelandic ideas, and not imported ones from Europe. The traditions
of the Icelandic people were to be used to guide the new republic,
which hoped to develop independently from Europe, with emphasis on its
distinctive culture and history.
Main article: Icelandic nationality law
Ancestry is considered by
Icelandic nationality law
Icelandic nationality law to be the
important factor in attaining citizenship, rather than place of birth.
Therefore, one is not an Icelandic citizen just by being born in
Iceland, but must be born of Icelandic parents.
In the late 19th century
Iceland was faced with a series of natural
disasters that forced one fifth of the population to emigrate to North
America by 1914. The volcanic eruption of Askja left the North East of
Iceland covered in ash, where the largest number of people were forced
to leave the country. Poor harvests, due to harsh winters and cold
summers, throughout the country also forced large populations to leave
Iceland. Those descendants born outside of Iceland, or who acquired
citizenship from the country they emigrated to would lose their
Icelandic citizenship. Before 2003, dual citizenship was not
permitted, therefore naturalizing in a foreign country would mean
losing your Icelandic citizenship. Those people who lost their
citizenship in this manner, however, were given the chance to reclaim
Icelandic citizenship after 2003, but only until July 1, 2007. At
present, those born outside of
Iceland will lose their Icelandic
citizenship by age twenty two if they do not live in
this time or do not apply to retain their citizenship. They do not
need to give up their citizenship in their country of residence.
Public education is funded by the Icelandic government and is
compulsory for students fifteen years and younger. Education is free
for all citizens from the primary to the university level providing
all citizens with the right to education. Children of refugees can
be enrolled in public school after residing in the country for three
months, providing education as a right not only for all citizens but
also for all children in the country.
Prenatal and infant medical care is provided without cost to all
citizens, while health care for children is highly subsidized.
Refugees also have access to the health care services provided by the
state. Law provides the right of access to health care for all
people who have been residing in the country for six months,
regardless of nationality. Hospitalisation is free of charge, as well
as long term care of the sick or elderly. Medication and treatment
outside of hospitals requires the payment of specific fees, which are
regulated by law.
In Iceland, women hold equal rights as men under judicial and family
law. Men, however, are still paid more than women working in the same
field. The Icelandic government helps to finance a variety of
organizations and facilities to help women that are victims of
violence. This aid is not restricted to citizens alone, but is open to
all women, including immigrants who suffer from abuse. With regards
to political representation, in 2005, there were 23 women sitting in
parliament out of 63 seats, and 4 women in the cabinet, which has 12
members. 2 out of the 9 Supreme Court members were women so that in
government office, women hold roughly one third of the seats.
Freedom of speech and religion
Freedom of speech is provided for by law, but public slander based on
religion, race, nationality, sexual orientation or skin color is
illegal and punishable by fines and imprisonment.
Citizens, therefore, are provided the right to free speech, as long as
it does not endanger or demean other people. The right to peaceful
assembly and associations are also protected by the constitution, as
well as freedom of religion. However, Lutheranism, the state religion,
is provided with more funding than other religions and more priority
in school curricula.
The main obligation to the state in
Iceland is paying taxes. Anyone
who lives in
Iceland for six months or longer is considered a resident
and is, therefore, subject to the states income taxes, as well as
municipal taxes. This applies for both citizens and non-citizens. All
permanent residents over the age of sixteen are considered taxpayers
and are provided a tax card, which is used to calculate their
contributions. If someone is planning on leaving the country, they
must submit their tax return one month before their departure.
Icelandic resistance to American involvement
Iceland joined the UN and as such became more involved in
international affairs. Due to its strategic location for
Trans-Atlantic flights, the United States took an interest in
establishing an airbase in Keflavík, for the needs of post war
occupation of Germany.
Keflavík was located only 50 kilometers from
the capital, Reykjavík, and as such there was fear that Icelandic
culture would be compromised by this base. The attempts to
establish a 99-year control of this base by the Americans were met
with great political outcry, as many saw this base as selling Iceland
and its independence.
In 1954, the American Defense Force were given permission to operate
the first television station in Iceland. This station was intended for
use by the American base only, but by 1959, there were already
concerns since Icelandic citizens were able to receive the television
signals. By 1964 the resistance to this station increased as many
intellectuals feared that exposure to American television would be
destructive to Icelandic language and culture as children became more
influenced by American media. Politically it was seen as
opposition to Icelandic sovereignty to allow a foreign country to
operate an influential television station in Iceland, especially since
it was in a foreign language. The American television station, as well
as radio station, were therefore confined to the base and Icelandic
radio stations and television stations became more numerous.
In 1956, a curfew was placed on the American servicemen requiring them
to be in their base by ten o'clock, as a way to prevent their presence
in the capital. American presence was seen as a threat to
Icelandic culture and independence.
Icelandic culture plays an important part in the national identity of
the country and as such there have been several attempts to preserve
it. One of the most important parts of this traditional culture are
its sagas, which were passed down from the early Viking settlement of
the island, and hold a strong significance towards national
identity. In 1946, Halldor Laxness's novel Atom Station, the theme
was of American presence damaging the culture in the south as compared
to the pure saga culture of the north, as well as the use of Iceland
as a base for an atomic war.
Althing was also viewed as a part of Icelandic culture due to its
long tradition in
Iceland and its use as a unifying force for the
citizens of the country, as well as its status as the oldest
parliament in the world.
Another aspect of culture held dear by many Icelanders is their
history of non violence and neutrality. The idea of
Iceland as an
unarmed nation with no military force became a tradition which shaped
the idea the population held about itself. It was this
pacifism which stopped
Iceland from joining the
United Nations in
1944, and although it made contributions to the Allies, it would not
declare war. When it did join the UN in 1946, the terms were that
there would be no military bases in the country. The importance
placed on pacifism was a significant part of Icelandic national
Iceland decided to join
NATO in 1949, it resulted in a
riot outside the
Althing as this decision broke the historical
tradition of neutrality that was viewed as important to Icelandic
Language was also an important factor in Icelandic nationality, where
an emphasis was placed on making laws in their native language. A
common language served as a unifying factor for Icelanders, as well as
a way to distinguish themselves from the Danish and the laws of
Denmark. The modern Icelandic language is very similar to that of
the Middle Ages, not having changed drastically, making it a source of
historical continuity and part of an ongoing perception of the
nation. There has also been an attempt since the seventeenth
century to keep the language free from influence of foreign words,
which continued as a means to reassert independence. Foreign words
were associated with foreign domination, creating a need to preserve
the Icelandic language in while under Danish rule. New vocabulary
brought in by the Danish or through Christianity, therefore, were
originally met with distrust, and seen as a threat to their autonomy.
A national flag was also essential to the image of
Iceland as an
independent nation, asserting its distinctiveness from Denmark.
Iceland became part of the Nordic Council,an organization
between Iceland, Norway, Finland,
Sweden which consists of
a governing body and five national secretariats, that meet annually
and is attended by parliament members of the five countries. The
council does not have any formal authority, but instead serves as an
advisory council to the various governments.
Sweden gave the right to vote in local elections to
foreigners from countries within the Nordic Council.
the same right in 1977, followed by
Norway in 1978 and
1981. In 1986.
Iceland also granted members of the
Nordic Council the
right to vote in local elections but only after 3 years of residence
in the country. Therefore, Icelandic citizens were given the right
to vote in local elections in all other countries who were part of the
Nordic Council by 1981, providing its citizens with some political
rights if they emigrated to these countries, even if they had not
become citizens. Also after, three years, non-citizens in Iceland
could vote if they came from a Nordic Country.
Membership of the European Union
Since May 2006,
Iceland has opened its borders to workers that are
part of the European Union, who are now able to enter
the need of a work permit. These workers are permitted to stay in
Iceland for six months while looking for a job but once a job is
found, the employer must inform the Directorate of Labour of the
employment of a foreigner. Because of this policy, the population of
Iceland has risen from 1.4% in 1985 to almost 7% in
These workers are paid the same as the Icelandic population in jobs
with fixed rates, but in jobs such as trades, they are commonly paid
less. These foreigners are mostly males looking for employment, and
64% of the recent immigrants work in construction.
Preference is given to EU members over non-Europeans and therefore it
is more difficult for non-Europeans to find work in
employers must prove that the job was advertised in the EU before a
work permit can be given to a non-European. This causes a problems for
non-Europeans already residing in Iceland, who are faced with more
difficulty when attempting to bring family into the country.
Non-Europeans must find jobs for their family members before they
would be allowed to enter the country, and since preference is given
to members of the European Union, finding jobs becomes more
Passports and visas
Nordic Country members do not require any form of travel document or
work permit to enter the country and are also provided the right to
Iceland for more than six months by providing a Nordic
change of residence certificate.
Citizens of countries from the EU also do not require a visa and are
able to stay in
Iceland for six months while looking for work. They
must prove, however, that they have the means to support themselves
while looking for work in the country or while studying.
Members of countries outside of the EU and Nordic Countries, however,
require a passport to enter the country, and if they intend to find
employment they also require a visa. When applying for residence the
person must provide proof that they have health insurance and have the
means to support themselves, as well as proof of a place of residence
for their stay in Iceland. They must also provide their criminal
record, proving they are not a criminal, before they will be permitted
in the country. It is, therefore, more difficult for members
outside of the EU and the Nordic Countries to gain entrance into
^ a b c Hastrup (1998), p. 40
^ a b c Hastrup (1998), p. 44
^ Grondal (1971), p. 19
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^ Thorhallson (2004), p. 131
^ Valgeir Thorvaldsson. "Why emigrate?". Icelandic Emigration Center.
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^ a b Grondal (1971), p. 13
^ Corgan (2002), p. 55
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