Sveinn Björnsson (b. 1881- d.1952) was Iceland's very first president. Born in Copenhagen to Icelandic parents Sveinn became a lawyer and member of Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, and was known to the Icelandic public as minister.
Just after the birth of the Republic of Iceland in 1944, Sveinn was elected president by the parliament. His first term was only one year as the people of Iceland were to elect their president directly for the first time ever in 1945.
He was, as expected, re-elected in 1945 and again in 1949 without opposition. Sveinn was also co-founder of numerous important businesses and institutions in Iceland, such as Eimskipafélag Íslands (‘The Icelandic Steamship Company,’ which is the oldest shipping company in the country and as of today a large company operating globally), insurance company Sjóvátryggingafélag Íslands and the Icelandic Red Cross.
He was married to a Danish woman and while he was busy fighting for Iceland’s independence, one of his sons, Björn Sv. Björnsson, joined the Nazi’s SS.
Sveinn Björnsson died in office in Reykjavík in January 1952.
He was succeeded by Ásgeir Ásgeirsson (b.1894 – d. 1972). Ásgeir was a theologian and teacher. He rose from president of Alþingi to Minister of Finance, Prime Minister of Iceland, and ultimately elected president in 1952. He was married to the daughter of the former bishop of Iceland and served until 1968.
After that, Dr. Kristján Eldjárn (b.1916 – d. 1982) assumed office. Unlike his predecessors, Kristján was not a politician but first and foremost an archaeologist working as teacher and curator of the National Museum. In the late 1960s he was the host of an educational TV series on the then new Icelandic state television (RÚV), in which he showed the audience some museum’s artifacts and explained their historical context. These programs became quite popular and made Kristján a well known and widely respected popular figure.
Partly thanks to his popularity, he became the third President of Iceland and stayed in office for three terms until 1980 when he decided not to run another campaign as he wanted to devote his remaining years entirely to continuing his lifelong academic work. He must have done a good job as the Icelandic people today are still very fond of President Kristján.
By the way, Kristján’s son is Þórarinn Eldjárn, one of the most popular writers in the country.
Kristján Eldjárn’s successor Vigdís Finnbogadóttir is probably the most famous of the Icelandic presidents. One of the reasons for her popularity is that Vigdís (b. 1930) was both Iceland’s and Europe’s first female president reportedly the world’s first democratically elected female head of state.
I guess what attracts people to Vigdís is that she was easy to identify with. Having studied French and history of theater she worked as teacher, tour guide and artistic director of the Reykjavík Theater Company for many years. The divorcee later became a working single mother when she adopted a child in 1972.
Vigdís narrowly won the presidential elections in 1980 with 33.6 percent of the national vote, over three male opponents. She was subsequently re-elected three times, unopposed in 1984 and 1992, but with about 95 percent of the votes cast in 1988. During her presidency, Vigdís fought hard for women's rights and thanks to her significant role, gender equality in Iceland is among the highest in the world. She retired in 1996 but remains extraordinarily popular and adored by the Icelandic people.
A survey conducted in 2005 named Vigdís the most influential Icelandic politician of all time, beating the current president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. I’m not surprised by that. Vigdís is Iceland’s national treasure and don’t even think about saying anything bad about her in public!
Well, Vigdís’ successor in office is still Ólafur Ragnar, the fifth president of Iceland. He has been in office for almost 17 years, having been re-elected in 2012. The long term of office is amazing. As a comparison, in my native country Germany one can be president for a maximum of two five-year terms. Also, the Germans don’t elect their president themselves.
In 2016 Iceland will elect its 6th president. I wonder who it will be...
Katharina Hauptmann - Katha.firstname.lastname@example.org