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Useful Notes: Iceland

So "Cold" from all the "Ice"
— Iceland's heading from The Onion's Our Dumb World

It's an island. With less ice than you would expect.

Iceland (Icelandic: Lýðveldið Ísland) is the westernmost country in Europe (politically, at any rate; for geography see below). Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a geological faultline, Iceland has a lot of volcanoes and new islands pop up from time to time (e.g. see the isle of Surtsey, a classic study in ecology). On account of its placement on the Ridge, it is therefore technically both in Europe and North America (or rather the Eurasian and North American geological plates), with the capital Reykjavik being on the North American side. One particular volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, erupted in the summer of 2010, causing a massive ash cloud that essentially closed most of Europe's airspace.

It and Norway were the most developed nations in the world in 2007. Iceland is a member of NATO, but not of The European Union (it has EFTA membership, the next closest thing).

Medieval Iceland was renowned for its storytelling culture, and most of the famous Norse sagas (including the Eddas, our best source of Norse mythology) were written there in the forms we know them today.

First settled in 874, Iceland ended up as part of Norway in the mid 13th century, then went to Denmark in the 16th century (after the dissolution of the Kalmar Union). When Denmark fell to the Germans in 1940, the island was cut off and decided to act independently. The British invaded, believing that they would stop the Germans going after it (they weren't planning to do so). The Icelandic government protested, but resigned themselves to cooperating after the British promised compensation and a withdrawal after the war. As British forces were needed elsewhere, occupation was handed over to the United States. There were more U.S. forces (40,000) than adult male locals, and many of the former married the local women.

U.S. forces left in 1946, but returned in 1951, two years after Iceland joined NATO.

Iceland was of vital strategic and economic importance to NATO. A stopping point for shorter-ranged aircraft travelling the Atlantic (it is also a divert point for transatlantic flights), Iceland lacked the capacity to defend itself- the British invasion had been done with fewer than 1,000 men. If the Warsaw Pact took over the place, it would provide them with Tu-22M "Backfire" coverage of a good part of the North Atlantic, causing major problems for convoys bringing supplies and troops across the Atlantic.

The United States set up a Naval Air Station at Keflavík Airport, which was a base for U.S. interceptors, like the F-15. The civilian terminal was in the middle of the airbase, meaning that travellers had to go through military checkpoints, until the terminal was re-sited in 1987. This base stayed open until 2006. Keflavík is now a solely civilian-run airport, but military flights do use it. The other NATO air forces now provide air defence on Iceland on a rotational basis. The airport can take the Space Shuttle.

Iceland is by far the largest nation on Earth which has no standing army (the next ones being Panama and Costa Rica). However, it has some special police forces and a capable coast guard with a small air unit that can act as an impromptu defence force. Other than that, most of the defence in a time of crisis would be up to Norway and other NATO countries. During a short period of the 19th century, there was also a small Icelandic garrison of the Danish royal army.

The majority of the electricity in Iceland is generated through Hydro Power, with the rest being geothermal. Iceland is a one of the leading nations in the usage of renewable power and plans to completely phase out carbon fuels by 2050. Or so the politicos claim...

Got into a few disagreements with the UK in 1958, 1972-1973 and 1975-1976 about exactly where its territorial waters were - this was important, as said waters are rich in cod. The UK claimed that the waters were international, so they could fish there. Iceland said they couldn't, because it was their territorial waters. The Royal Navy was sent in to protect the British trawlers and the whole fracas was dignified with the name "The Cod Wars". One shot - possibly a blank - was fired during the three Cod Wars. Of course Iceland won... by threatening to close the NATO base at Keflavík unless the British backed down.

Also, Reykjavík's where Reagan and Gorbachev met in October 1986 to continue ultimately failed discussions about scaling down their European missile arsenals. You might get extra points on your Cold War quizzes if you mention that.

Suffered a large scale banking collapse and a drop in the value of its currency in 2008. This led to an odd situation where money and Vendor Trash earned in EVE Online was worth more than their real currency (CCP Games is based in Iceland and the game's currency has the same code, ISK, as Iceland's krónur). The collapse was sufficiently bad that Iceland applied to the IMF for currency stabilization (something that rich countries haven't done on a large scale in quite some time) and applied to the EU for membership (before, Icelanders hadn't decided they needed it). The banking collapse affected the UK, where a lot of councils had banked with Icelandic banks.

However, the EU membership bid seems doomed since only one party supports it (and not whole-heartedly at that) and also because the question will have to be decided in a referendum, and polls show that as of now, about 70% of the population is against it.

Famous Icelanders

  • Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former president (1980-1996), the first democratically elected female head of state (also a single mother and cancer survivor).
  • Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the first openly homosexual head of government.
  • The 80's Alternative Rock band The Sugarcubes.
    • Their lead singer, Björk has subsequently had a very successful career as an experimental singer and musician, and is the best selling Icelandic artist of all time.
  • Ethereal post-rock band Sigur Rós
  • Hera Hjartardóttir, known more commonly as Hera, a singer-songwriter who was born in Reykjavik but moved to New Zealand when she was 13
  • Of Monsters And Men
  • Snorri Sturluson, medieval chieftain, poet and historian who composed the Prose Edda and Heimskringla.
  • Eythora Thorsdóttir, senior international elite artistic gymnast (b. 1998), who currently competes for the Netherlands.

Iceland in fiction

The Icelandic flag
Like all other Nordic countries, the flag reuses the Dannebrog flag of Denmark, while adding unique touches. Blue, white and red symbolize the mountains, ice caps and volcanoes, respectively.

HungaryImageSource/MapsIndia
Faroe IslandsUsefulNotes/EuropeNorway

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