Happy Sovereignty Day, Iceland!

Photo: Þorvaldur Örn Kristmundsson

Today marks the 98th anniversary of the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union, which recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign State, separate from Denmark, and constituted a further step in Iceland’s journey towards full independence.

Iceland had secured home rule from their Danish colonial overlords back in 1904, having received a constitution and legislative powers for the home parliament (‘Alþingi’) a few decades earlier.

The new Act of Union entered into force on 1 December 1918. It meant that Iceland was now a fully sovereign country, but freely associated to Denmark in a personal union with the Danish monarch (then King Christian X). The ‘new’ country was known as the Kingdom of Iceland.

Iceland remained in a personal union with King Christian X ...

Iceland remained in a personal union with King Christian X of Denmark after the country gained full sovereignty in 1918. Photo: Wikipedia/Artist Knud Larsen (1865-1922)

Iceland got its own national flag and Alþingi gained full legislative powers, although Denmark retained control of Iceland’s foreign affairs and national defence.

Written into the text of the Act was that the deal would be reviewed in 1940 and that the Act could be scrapped three years later if no new agreement was reached.

A student from the North Iceland town of Akureyri ringing ...

A student from the North Iceland town of Akureyri ringing the 'Iceland Bell' in celebration of Sovereignty Day last year. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Skapti Hallgrímsson

Crucially, by the time 1940 arrived, Denmark was under Nazi occupation and all contacts between Iceland and Denmark were therefore severed. Denmark was still occupied after the three-year deadline for renewing the Act of Union was up, and Iceland temporarily took control of its foreign affairs.

In May 1944, over 95% of the electorate voted in a referendum to end the union with Denmark completely and make Iceland a republic, which it remains to this day.

Iceland's parliament in 1903, when the country had home rule ...

Iceland's parliament in 1903, when the country had home rule from Denmark. Photo: Magnús Ólafsson

It took some time before 1 December began to be celebrated by Icelanders as ‘Sovereignty Day’, and the day was not officially known as such until Iceland became a republic in 1944.

While Icelanders rarely go in for specific celebratory events for ‘Sovereignty Day’, it is a date they cherish as a crucial one in their struggle for independence and in the establishment of the modern Republic of Iceland.

Icelandic students laying a wreath at the grave of Jón ...

Icelandic students laying a wreath at the grave of Jón Siguðsson, the father of the Icelandic independence movement, on 1 December last year. Photo: Jim Smart

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