Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sautjándi júní

Tomorrow is the Icelandic national holiday, the 17th of June. It is a day usually marked by rain but occasionally the best weather the atmosphere has to offer. At the moment it looks like we are in for the latter. This is a good thing since the day is celebrated with parades and outdoorsy things that cannot be shifted inside if it rains (at least not the parades).

National holidays are annual events, commemorating the country in question, be they republics or sovereign nations. Having looked it up it appears that there is no general rule regarding how the date is chosen although the date of the declaration independence is commonly used, as is the birth date of someone important to the country, a ruler or a major player on its road to independence. The most unusual relationship I found was that used to choose the national holiday of a country named Palau, which I admit I had no idea existed. The people of Palau chose the 9th of July to honor the first “nuclear-free” constitution in the world, in 1981. Oddly enough, despite high aspirations the nuclear-free people of Palau had to drop the nuclear-free bit from their constitution a mere 13 years later, in order to become an associated state to the US. They did not change the date of their national holiday though.

Here we go by the latter category, the 17th of June is the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879) who fought (with pen and paper) for our independence from Denmark in the 19th century. He did not live to see this happen as we only became an independent republic in 1944 but he is considered paramount to it happening nonetheless through his relentless attempts at regaining our self-government lost in 1262.

Many of the things we do to celebrate are similar to what is done in other countries, the outdoor parade for example, coupled with endless balloons and marching bands. We do have one thing associated with this date that does not exist elsewhere, namely “fjallkonan” or the mountain woman. This character dresses up in traditional costume and is supposed to be the female incarnation of the country. The mountain woman takes the podium in a speech-a-thon held in every town and city (=Reykjavík as it is actually the only city in Iceland) and recites a poem about Iceland. The woman chosen to play the part is usually an actress in the case of Reykjavík, while smaller regions choose a young local woman to make the day complete. A friend of mine was once chosen to be “fjallkonan” here in Seltjarnarnes and I remember how proud I was of her and how beautiful she looked in the full headgear. I also remember how hard she said it was to keep her balance and how much we sympathized with rhinoceroses that have similar apparatus attached permanently to their forehead.

So tomorrow numerous young women all over the country will walk onto outdoor stages and recite the poem they are studying and practicing as I type. The rest of us will listen and then parade, flag in one hand and hopefully no umbrella in the other. The day will be the same as its predecessors, in most respects but for one. Tomorrow the European Union will begin processing our application to enter the EU, a most unfortunate choice of days considering that there are 364 others to choose from. Opinions differ greatly regarding whether or not we should have applied and the numerous polls taken have never shown a pro majority which will be required when the country votes for or against entry at some point in the near future. The two sides, for and against, are regularly in the media portraying their propaganda and nobody really knows what is to be gained, or lost, if anything. I am still waiting for someone to present a good reason for joining, I don’t buy into the “nation amongst nations” or “logical step” reasoning. However, if and when, a sensible case is presented, I and other skeptics will hopefully be open-minded enough to make the right decision. Should it come to this, the most difficult thing to overcome will be the nationalistic feelings that are likely to cloud one’s judgment. As well meant as such emotions may be they a country is truly represented by people, not politicians/rulers, flags, allegiances or borders.

But whatever the outcome of this untimely application, I’m willing to bet they won’t schedule the vote to take place on the 17th of June.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Choosing Iceland's Independence Day to begin the consideration of the country's application into the European Union is more than unfortunate, it's insensitive and crass. But since the EU seems to be more about economics than protection, it isn't a surprise than no one noticed, or cared, that independence and co-dependence are mutually exclusive.

    It wasn't easy for the colonies in what became the United States to agree to form that "perfect union". Cotton and tobacco growers in the south had nothing in common with the more diverse economies of the colonies in the north. They shared a language and a common history yet there were moments that did not bode well for a unified country emerging. Part of their determination may have arisen from the fact that they couldn't go back to being colonies of England. If they did, most of the leaders would have been hanged as traitors.

    Iceland doesn't have such dire consequences hanging (no pun intended) on its decision but recent news suggest that Germany, Greece, and Spain might well be rethinking their decision to share in the common currency.

    Independence Days, for all nations, seem to be the one day in the 365 when politics are put aside and the country is united. Enjoy your Independence Day and many more to come.

  2. Ah! Syttende juni - our languages do have something in common :D

    I hope you had a happy Independence Day.