On June 17 in 1944 Iceland gained independence from Denmark at last. The day was one of festivities, a day on which my maternal grandmother was among the young joyous dancers who performed for the thousands of people attending the first or National Day celebrations.
The celebration took place nowhere else but in the very cradle of independence, where Alþingi, – Iceland’s parliament – was born in 930 AD, at Þingvellir. That day, the legislative powers of the Icelandic parliament were reclaimed.
Since 1944, Iceland has been on a learning curve. The questions the nation continues to face are multilayered, and each layer thickened with more questions of identity and an obscure search for a place in a world so enormous that in comparison the tiny population of Iceland remains naught but an arrondissement in Paris.
As the smallest child in the playground it’s hard to catch the attention of all the big kids playing for power. And perhaps it’s this sense of smallness which sometimes bites us in the foot.
But for most parts, little Iceland has grown up with the passage of life, and, as a youngster schooled by life’s ups and downs, sometimes humiliated and at other times praised for brilliance and even courage.
In these years that have passed since 1944, much has happened to this isolated nation in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, far away from the European mainland.
The landscape of our little island is a combination of rough highland terrains, glacial ice and steep mountains. The beaches are black and the surf violent, a contrast to the inviting light brown pristine beaches commonly found in sunnier regions of Europe and stroked by gentle waves.
Sand black as coal and imposing rock formation – some shaped like a fortress and others an impressive colosseum - are the courtesy of the volcanic power that gave birth to our island from a trembling earth millennia ago.
The people of Iceland, natives to this land or people who have made it their home, are without a doubt shaped by the rough weather and intimate relations with nature. The source that is the spirit of the land is hard to escape.
Their sense of belonging in this strange society, where rash motivation is sometimes the very heartbeat that pulls us out of the sandpit, may stem from attachment to fond memories, love for the language or the unbreakable bonds of tight-knitted families.
The sandpit is the enduring national pride that sometimes takes on a foul shape and let’s out a bit of a stink. Irrationality sometimes turns us into obnoxious five-years-olds to whom the home-made skyr - stirred by mommy and daddy, and mixed with milk and a dash of sugar - is better than all dairy products in whole wide world.
And sure, skyr is pretty good.
But even though Icelanders sometimes think the grass is greener in the land named after ice, most of us manage to pull our heads out of the sand and see the bigger picture. The people that impress me are the people who have the courage to take a look within themselves and rewrite the future on a blank piece of paper.
The bank crisis of 2008 was a case of a sandpit. Most of us were a little too afraid to think what might happen if the bubble would burst. Some kept resisting that the dark economic clouds were simply by-passers and posed no threat to Iceland’s fast-growing economy.
But then the bank system crashed as the trail of domino chips fell one after another, from across the grand ocean and all the way to little Iceland. The dark clouds blocked the horizon from view and the future was unknown.
In post-crisis Iceland, politics and political debates have become intolerable, food prices keep increasing—take-away sometimes proves cheaper than a trip to the grocer’s—and petrol prices remain hostile to the wallet.
Many people, who saw their mortgages skyrocket, or who felt their sense of justice was being violated, have had a hard time putting the past where it belongs – behind us.
But throughout, despite angry voices and call for a justice, many chose to rise above the fallen domino chips and looked out into the world – within and to the distant lands beyond the horizon – to redefine and rewrite life.
Bank employees became artists, university students savvy computer wizards, and family and friends came first. The world of art was even given a majestic home in the Harpa concert and conference center.
The future is no longer hiding behind dark clouds. The future is the rising sun - bathing in a flame of red and orange - in the horizon.
The youth that is Iceland is beginning to realize that size doesn’t matter. What matters now is to find the spirit inhabiting this strange exotic land, and to continue to tap into the wild-spirited dreamer who is driven by innovation, creativity and the courage.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org