Iceland

The Republic of Iceland was established 17 June, 1944. Learn more about the history and geography of this country.
Grades:
6 |
7 |
8
Map of Iceland
Map of Iceland
Republic of Iceland

National name: Lydveldid Island

President: Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (2004)

Prime Minister: Johanna Sigurdardottir (2009)

Current government officials

Land area: 38,707 sq mi (100,251 sq km); total area: 39,768 sq mi (103,000 sq km)1

Population (2008 est.): 304,367 (growth rate: 0.7%); birth rate: 13.5/1000; infant mortality rate: 3.2/1000; life expectancy: 80.5; density per sq km: 3

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Reykjavik, 184,200 (metro. area), 114,800 (city proper)

Monetary unit: Icelandic króna

Languages: Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German widely spoken

Ethnicity/race: homogeneous mixture of Norse/Celtic descendants 94%, population of foreign origin 6%

Religions: Lutheran Church of Iceland 85.5%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.1%, Roman Catholic Church 2%, Hafnarfjorour Free Church 1.5%, other Christian 2.7%, other or unspecified 3.8%, unaffiliated 2.4% (2004)

National Holiday: Independence Day, June 17

Literacy rate: 99% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $11.89 billion; per capita $39,400. Real growth rate: 1.8%. Inflation: 4.1%. Unemployment: 2.1%. Arable land: 0.07%. Agriculture: potatoes, green vegetables; mutton, dairy products; fish. Labor force: 180,000; agriculture, fishing and fish processing 5.1%, industry 23%, services 71.4% (2005). Industries: fish processing; aluminum smelting, ferrosilicon production; geothermal power, tourism. Natural resources: fish, hydropower, geothermal power, diatomite. Exports: $4.569 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.): fish and fish products 70%, aluminum, animal products, ferrosilicon, diatomite. Imports: $5.777 billion (2007 est.): machinery and equipment, petroleum products, foodstuffs, textiles. Major trading partners: UK, Germany, Netherlands, U.S., China, Spain, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden, Japan (2006).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 193,700 (2006); mobile cellular: 328,500 (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 3, FM about 70 (including repeaters), shortwave 1 (1998). Television broadcast stations: 14 (plus 156 low-power repeaters) (1997). Internet hosts: 270,942 (2007). Internet users: 194,000 (2006).

Transportation: Railways: 0 km. Highways: total: 13,028 km; paved: 4,241 km; unpaved: 8,787 km (2005). Ports and harbors: Grundartangi, Hafnarfjordur, Hornafjordhur, Reykjavik, Seydhisfjordhur. Airports: 99 (2007).

International disputes: Iceland disputes Denmark's alignment of the Faroe Islands' fisheries median line; Iceland, the UK, and Ireland dispute Denmark's claim that the Faroe Islands' continental shelf extends beyond 200 nm.

1. Including some offshore islands.
Flag of Iceland

Geography

Iceland, an island about the size of Kentucky, lies in the north Atlantic Ocean east of Greenland and just touches the Arctic Circle. It is one of the most volcanic regions in the world. More than 13% is covered by snowfields and glaciers, and most of the people live in the 7% of the island that is made up of fertile coastland. The Gulf Stream keeps Iceland's climate milder than one would expect from an island near the Arctic Circle.

Government

Constitutional republic.

History

The earliest inhabitants of Iceland were Irish hermits, who left the island upon the arrival of the pagan Norse people in the late 9th century. A constitution drawn up c. 930 created a form of democracy and provided for an Althing, the world's oldest practicing legislative assembly. The island's early history was preserved in the Icelandic sagas of the 13th century.

In 1262–1264, Iceland came under Norwegian rule and passed to ultimate Danish control through the unification of the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (the Kalmar Union) in 1397.

In 1874, Icelanders obtained their own constitution, and in 1918, Denmark recognized Iceland, via the Act of Union, as a separate state with unlimited sovereignty. It remained, however, nominally under the Danish monarchy.

During the German occupation of Denmark in World War II, British, then American, troops occupied Iceland and used it for a strategic air base. While officially neutral, Iceland cooperated with the Allies throughout the conflict. On June 17, 1944, after a popular referendum, the Althing proclaimed Iceland an independent republic.

Iceland Elects the World's First Female Chief of State

The country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 and subsequently received an American air force base in 1951. In 1970, it was admitted to the European Free Trade Association. Iceland unilaterally extended its territorial fishing limit from 3 to 200 nautical miles in 1972, precipitating a dispute with the UK known as the “cod wars,” which ended in 1976 when the UK recognized the new limits. In 1980, the Icelanders elected a woman to the office of the presidency, the first elected female chief of state (i.e., president as distinct from prime minister) in the world. After the recession of the early 1990s, Iceland's economy rebounded.

At the International Whaling Commission meeting in July 2001, Iceland refused to agree to the continuation of the moratorium on commercial whaling that had been in effect since 1986. In 2003, after a 14-year lull, the country began hunting whales for scientific research.

In May 2003, David Oddsson was reelected, making him the longest-serving prime minister in Europe. In 2004, in a prearranged agreement made between the two parties of the coalition government, Oddsson and Foreign Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson switched positions. In June 2006 Ásgrímsson resigned as prime minister after his party did badly in local elections. Economic troubles were cited as the main reason for the Progressive Party's poor showing. Geir Haarde, leader of Iceland's largest political party, the Independence Party, became prime minister and announced the implementation of more fiscally conservative measures.

On October 9, 2008, amidst international stock market turmoil, the Icelandic stock exchange suspended trading and the government decided to nationalize three major banks. In November 2008, the IMF extended a $2 billion rescue package to Iceland to help its battered currency and stock market. Despite the aid, the financial crisis continued into 2009, prompting demonstrations against the government. Prime Minister Geir Haarde resigned on January 26, 2009, causing the collapse of Iceland's government. On February 1, 2009, Johanna Sigurdardottir was sworn in as the new prime minister, becoming Iceland's first female prime minister and the modern world's first openly gay head of government.

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