1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Iceland

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ICELAND (see 14.227[1]). Since the beginning of the 20th century there has been considerable development in the affairs of Iceland, and especially in its political position, in respect of which an exceedingly important change has taken place. Instead of being as formerly (in accordance with the Danish Act of Jan. 2 1871) regarded as a territory with a wide measure of home rule, forming “an inseparable part of the state of Denmark,” Iceland, since 1918, has been recognized as a separate kingdom, with unlimited sovereignty, in personal union with Denmark. According to the Act of Union (Nov. 30 1918), passed both by the Icelandic and the Danish Parliament, and in Iceland confirmed by a plebiscite, there are no real joint affairs; Denmark, however, provisionally till 1940, takes charge of the foreign affairs of Iceland as its mandatory in concert with a deputy appointed by the Icelandic Government. For the same period Danish citizens resident in Iceland and Icelandic citizens resident in Denmark enjoy in every respect equal rights with the citizens born and residing in each of these two states; they also have equal rights of fishing within the territorial waters of both states without regard to their place of residence. Other affairs of common import to the two states, such as communications, trade, the customs, navigation, mail services, telegraphs, etc., are to be arranged by agreement or treaty between the Governments of Iceland and Denmark. Iceland has issued a declaration of perpetual neutrality and of having no military or naval flag. On the other hand, Iceland, since 1915, has had its own merchant flag; this shows a white Greek cross, inside of which is another in red on a blue ground. Also, in 1918, it acquired national arms of its own, bearing the four guardian spirits of the country as described in Snorri Sturlason's Heimskringla, viz., a dragon, a vulture, a bull and a giant. As to diplomatic representation, Iceland has had, since 1920, a legation in Copenhagen, and is moreover entitled to establish legations or consulates at places where none have been appointed by Denmark; Icelandic attachés may also be appointed at existing Danish legations, which normally act on behalf of both Denmark and Iceland. In Iceland Denmark has a legation; Norway a consul-general and six vice-consuls; Sweden has four vice-consuls and has besides resolved to appoint either a legation or a consul-general; Great Britain a consul and four vice-consuls; France a consul and five vice-consuls; Holland two vice-consuls and Germany a consul; Russia, Belgium and Italy one vice-consul each.

According to the new constitution (1920) the king shares the legislative power with the Parliament, the Althing, an assembly of 42 members, of whom 36 are elected for a period of four years in separate electoral districts, where every man and woman (including servants) is entitled to vote at the age of 25; the remaining 6 (formerly nominated by the king) are elected for a period of eight years by proportional election in the whole country regarded as one constituency; in this case, however, the electoral right is limited to voters who have attained the age of 35. The Althing meets every year and sits in two divisions, the Upper and the Lower House; but in case of dissension it can assemble as a joint Parliament, in which disagreements are decided by qualified (in financial affairs by simple) majority. The Upper House consists of 14 members, the 6 members elected by the whole country and 8 elected by the other representatives out of their own body. The Lower House consists of the remaining 28 members. The Cabinet consists of three ministers, a premier and two secretaries of state, who in every respect (not only, as formerly, for the maintenance of the constitution) are responsible as well to the king as to the Althing. There is (since 1904) no governor-general, although the prime minister to some extent also acts as such, but every legislative act passed by the Althing, as well as many administrative measures, the more important appointments, etc., must be sent to the king in Copenhagen to be confirmed and signed by him; an Icelandic private secretary (not connected with the above-mentioned legation) is appointed for his assistance in such affairs. In the organization of the judicial power an important change has also taken place: appeals to the Danish supreme court in Copenhagen can no longer be made, Iceland having (since 1920) its own supreme court, consisting of five members; in consequence of this the former superior court in Reykjavik has been abolished, and appeals from the sheriff courts lie directly to the supreme court. Iceland also has its own university in Reykjavik (since 1911), consisting of four faculties: divinity, law, medicine and philosophy (including philology and history). Not only the Danish but also the French and the German Governments have appointed lecturers of their own to give lectures on their respective languages and literatures in the university of Iceland; and a similar step was contemplated in 1921 on the part of the United States. Among other improvements in education, the establishment of a teachers' seminary and of several other schools may be mentioned.

In almost every other respect Iceland in this period made constant and rapid progress. The total pop. increased from 78,000 in 1901 to 95,000 in 1921, about 43% living in towns and trading stations. There were in 1921 seven towns with chartered privileges, with a total pop. of 30,000, and 34 trading stations with from 100 to 1,000 inhabitants each. The pop. of Reykjavik, the capital, increased from 6,700 in 1901 to 18,000 in 1921. The financial budget of the Icelandic State had for the financial period of 1918-9 advanced to 27 million krónur (£1,500,000) from only 1½ million krónur in 1904-5, and deposits in the savings banks to 40 million krónur from only 2 million in 1900. Commercial transactions (import and export) had in 1918 advanced to a value of 78 million krónur from only 15 million in 1900. The fishing trade had been considerably improved by the introduction of new methods (especially steam trawlers and motor cutters), and the export of fish products had in 1915 increased to 67,000 tons from 28,000 in 1900. The cultivation of the soil is also constantly improving, though in a smaller degree, and dairy farming after the Danish method has been introduced, by which the production of butter has been greatly improved. Some woollen factories have been established, but capital is lacking to provide as many as are needed. In its innumerable waterfalls (the greatest and most accessible estimated to represent about 4 million horsepower) Iceland is in possession of almost inexhaustible motive-power, and it was to be expected that considerable industries might grow up in Iceland in the near future, both Danish and Norwegian companies with extensive capital having already petitioned the Althing for concessions to utilize some of the greater falls. Up to 1921, however, the water-power had only been used to produce electric light in some of the towns. Communications are constantly developing, and driving roads have been made in almost every district; bridges have also been constructed over most of the rivers (while a scheme for the construction of a railway was under consideration in 1921). A telegraph cable to Shetland was opened in 1906 and telegraph and telephone lines inland have been extended practically throughout the whole country. In 1917 a wireless telegraph station was erected in Reykjavik. The lighthouse system is yearly improving, and at Reykjavik a modern harbour with quays and cranes has been built. In 1914 Iceland acquired its own steamship company, which in 1921 controlled six mail steamers. A lunatic asylum and a sanatorium for tuberculosis (at the cost of the State), together with some minor infirmaries, have been established. From 1912 onwards there came into force a system of complete prohibition of the import and making of any liquor containing more than 2¼% of alcohol, with the exception of medical requirements and denaturalized spirits for industrial use.

See Dansk-Islandsk Forbundslov (1918); Stjórnarskrá konungsríkisins Ísland (1920); Statistique de l'Islande, Nos. 1-25; Starfskrá Íslands (1917); Valtýr Gudmundsson, Island am Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts (1904); P. Herrmann, Island, das Land und das Volk (1914).

(V. G.)

  1. These figures indicate the volume and page number of the previous article