Hoppa yfir valmynd
Prime Minister's Office

Dinner for Diplomats at Bessastaðir

Address by Prime Minister Davíð Oddssonat a Dinner for Diplomats
at Bessastaðir 15th of March 2002

It is a genuine pleasure for me to be able to thank our host, the President of Iceland, on behalf of all of us who are attending this fine gathering. It is a tradition for the President to invite ambassadors and Icelandic political leaders here to spend the evening together. And while this gathering obeys certain rules, there is only a single rule that governs the food, drink and entertainment here: it is the finest available and the hospitality is in a class of its own. That is not to say that accepting an invitation to this noble residence is completely free of problems, because it is not so long ago that the guests literally had to fight their way in through the door in a howling storm, an evening that was so memorable that it even overshadows the fine reception that greeted us indoors.

In fact much has happened since we last sat down to dinner here. The attacks on the US, an act of warfare without warning against civilians, shook the whole world and put international relations in a new and unfamiliar position. A watershed was reached in international affairs and much that seemed to be a fact of modern life had to be completely rethought. The threat fostered new attitudes. New lines were drawn defining previously unknown boundaries. The sovereignty of states and nations is still honoured, but an exception has now been made to that principle, whereby the international community presented an ultimatum to countries that provided a safe haven for the thugs who endangered other nations' security. And it is some consolation after that great tragedy, that the new world order created completely new opportunities for reinforcing stability and dispelling suspicion between nations. Thus a good foundation is now thought to be in place for finding constructive channels for cooperation between NATO and Russia. An important step in this direction is expected to be taken at the NATO meeting in Reykjavík in May, and the final goal attained at the Alliance's summit in the autumn.

Iceland is hardly the sort of place that could ever be considered right in the centre of things. It wants to be self-sufficient in most respects.

Nonetheless, it has been proven time and again that the most efficient arrangement is to cooperate with others on fulfilling the demands that
people today make towards their quality of life. Free trade and faith in international markets create the modern conditions for national self-sufficiency. The concept is as valid as ever, although it has acquired a new meaning. Isolation, controls, restrictions and trade barriers are neither the easiest nor the proper way for a nation to be self-sufficient; in fact the contrary is true. But this does not mean that people should forget their special situation or distinctive characteristics, and even less so, in our case, that they should think badly about everything that happens to be Icelandic. Just because a patriot loves and admires all things Icelandic, he is not automatically entitled to refuse to love and respect other nations and to avoid wide-reaching relations with them. Nor does he need to be any less of an internationalist even if he never abandons his noble feelings towards his mother country. As a poet once said:
"I'll talk to the Emperor of China at home
and maybe even the Pope in Rome.
But whether I win by it, or lose,
I'll wear my best Icelandic shoes."

This was written by Halldór Laxness in 1919, when the Nobel Laureate-to-be was aged only 17. Halldór Laxness later met many people on a par with the Emperor of China and entered into exchanges with the Pope in Rome, and he won by it all, since he never earned any ill-gotten success by taking off his best Icelandic shoes. Iceland can hardly have given birth to a greater cosmopolitan than Halldór Laxness, but on his grand tour through life he wore shoes from back home and was never ashamed of that. Although the world enchanted him, he never forgot the place that had equipped him on his way there. We are all delighted that his widow, Auður Laxness, who devoted her life to the Nobel Laureate and ensured him the peace and comfort to work in, is with us here tonight as the centenary of her husband's birth draws near.

Mr. President,
We thank you again for this invitation and your hospitality. Let us rise from our seats to drink a toast to you and to the Icelandic nation.

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