Iceland -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Iceland
Capital City: Reykjavik
Languages: Icelandic (official)
Official Currency: Krona
Religions: Evangelical Lutheran, others
Population: 301 931 (2008)
Land Area: 100,250 sq km
Landforms: It's largely an arctic desert punctuated by mountains, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, volcanoes and waterfalls. Most of the vegetation and agricultural
areas are in the lowlands close to the coastline. Its most distinctive features are the glaciers. They cover over 11,922 sq. km (4,600 sq. mi) or 11. 5% of the total area of the country. During the past few decades, however, they've markedly thinned and retreated owing to a milder climate.
By far the largest of the glaciers is the Vatnajokull
in southeast Iceland, with an area of 8,400 sq. km (3,240 sq. mi), it's equal
in size to all the glaciers on the European mainland put together. It reaches
a thickness of 1 km (3000 ft.)
Highest Point: Oraefajokull (2,199 meters)
Land Divisions: 23 counties, 14 independent towns.
Iceland -- History --
The Island is found in VIII century by the Irishmen. From IX century Norwegian Vikings (Normans) settle here. In X-XIII century feudal relations are developed. In 1262- 64 Iceland is conquered by Norway, together with which it passes to Denmark in 1380. In the beginning of XX century capitalistic relations are established. The consolidation of the liberation movement forces Denmark to acknowledge its sovereignty in the form of union (1918). During World War II Iceland is occupied by English (1940) and by American armies (1941). In 1944 with referendum the Danish- Icelandic union is invalidated and on 17th June the same year Iceland is declared a republic. In 1949 it joins NATO. In 1951 a bilateral agreement for defence with the USA is made and American armies settle in Iceland. Iceland is a member of EU (1946).
̉he new republic became a charter member of NATO in 1949 and signed a treaty with the United States in 1951 to take responsibility for the defence of Iceland. Today the US continues to operate a military base in Keflavik based on this agreement, but Iceland has no armed forces of its own. The economy of Iceland remained dependant of fisheries in the post-war decades and the country has had several clashes with its neighbours over this vital resource, most notably the Cod Wars with the British. The economy has become more diverse recently owing to large investments in heavy industry such as aluminium smelting and deregulation and privatization in the financial sector. Iceland is a member of the Common market of the European Union through the EEA agreement but has never applied for membership of the EU itself. If Iceland were to join the EU they would have to share the fishing waters near Iceland and that is still a complicated issue for their economy.
Iceland -- Economy --
Iceland is among the ten richest countries in the world based on GDP per capita at purchasing power parity. The economy historically depended heavily on the fishing industry, which still provides almost 40% of export earnings and employs 8% of the work force. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant hydro-electric and geothermal power), Iceland's economy is vulnerable to changing world fish prices. The economy remains sensitive to declining fish stocks as well as to drops in world prices for its main material exports: fish and fish products, aluminium, and ferrosilicon. Although the Icelandic economy still relies heavily on fishing it is constantly becoming less important as the travel industry and other service industries, the technology industry, energy intensive industries and various other industries grow.
The centre-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 privatising 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 slowed between 2000 and 2002, but the economy expanded by 4.3% in 2003 and grew by 6.2% in 2004. The unemployment rate of 1.8% (3rd quarter of 2005) is among the lowest in the European Economic Area.
Over 99% of the country's electricity is produced from hydropower and geothermal energy.
Iceland -- Culture --
Some famous Icelanders include alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, its singer Bjork; artist collective GusGus; avant-garde rock band Sigur Ros; and novelist Halldor Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. Although raised and educated in Scotland, TV presenter Magnus Magnusson was born in Reykjavik.
Iceland's literacy rate is among the highest in the world, and a love of literature, art, chess, and other intellectual pursuits is widespread.
An important key to understanding Icelanders and their culture (and which differentiates them from many contemporary Nordic peoples) is the high importance they place on the traits of independence and self-reliance. Icelanders are proud of their Viking heritage and Icelandic language. Modern Icelandic remains close to the Old Norse spoken in the Viking Age.
Icelandic society and culture is very "woman friendly", with many women in leadership positions in government and business. Women retain their names after marriage, since Icelanders generally do not use surnames but patronyms or matronyms.
One of the most popular activities in Iceland is visiting the geothermal spas and pools that can be found all around the country. They are popular with tourists as well.
Iceland -- Political system, law and government --
The modern parliament, called "Althing", was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish king. It was widely seen as a reestablishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. It currently has 63 members, each of whom is elected by the population every four years. The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat, figurehead and head of state. The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with the cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government. The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Althing. However, this process is usually conducted by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how its seats are to be distributed (under the condition that it has a majority support in Althing). Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet himself. This has never happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 the regent of the country (Sveinn Bjornsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941) did appoint a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Bjornsson in fact became the country's first president in 1944. The governments of Iceland have almost always been coalitions with two or more parties involved, due to the fact that no single political party has received a majority of seats in Althing in the republic period. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president are disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions suggest differently.
The president is elected every four years, the cabinet is elected every four years and town council elections are held every four years.