National Day of Iceland
June 17 2003
Address by David Oddsson, Prime Minister of Iceland
on National Day, June 17 2003
on National Day, June 17 2003
On May 10 this year the people of Iceland delivered a verdict which will presumably remain in effect for the next four years as to which individuals will occupy the 63 seats in the historic building here to our south. Such a great effort is never put into any other seating arrangements, since this is of paramount importance. And just over a month later the Government's policy statement has been drawn up and approved and parliament is operative again. Even though everything has now fallen quiet again such an astonishingly short time after these conflicts, there was much talk and racking of respected brains in the days following the election, as is only natural. Pundits asked each other whether the election campaign had been dull or entertaining. This is difficult to answer for all concerned. After all, this is not necessarily the most important question of all, although it is a telling comment on the spirit of the age, where entertainment value tends to be the main criterion. More important is the question whether the election campaign proved useful for the voters. Did the electioneering, and in particular the election result, provide comprehensive guidance to rely on for the next four years? Some people have maintained that this election delivered a clear message! Did it really? Were politicians sent clear messages about economic issues or taxation or housing? Debates about fisheries were prominent in the election campaign, but can anyone seriously claim that they were clear or sensible? Admittedly the party that made these issues in particular into a "crusade against a useless fisheries management system" doubled its following, but still only won four seats and is the smallest party in parliament. What is the message behind that? Who knows? One thing is beyond dispute, however. The Government held office decisively, although one of the two coalition parties lost some support.
That message was reasonably clear, at least, and has already been acted upon. It is quite exceptional for the same coalition to continue after an election. When the current Government parties decided to continue their coalition after the election in 1999 it was the first time this had happened since the Government of Reconstruction, as it was called [1959-71]. Parties which join forces in government still remain political opponents. Trust and integrity are put firmly to the test in long coalitions.
It is undeniably worth pondering how disjointed and unfocused the debate on issues was in the recent election campaign. No single party can be blamed for that. A few months before the election the political parties tried to reach an agreement on reducing the deluge of advertising and all the superficiality and ostentation that accompanies it. Such an agreement could not be reached, conceivably because of the late stage at which the attempt began. It is important to do better next time around and consider such an arrangement in good time, since the voters are entitled to see things change.
But the spring which has just passed was memorable for much more than electioneering. There were no spring snows on the windows this time around and the cold howling wind did not put in an appearance. Unusually prolonged good weather, without a relapse into winter and late snow, has brought joy to plants and man alike. It is a sheer delight to watch the plants bursting into life and the displays put on by the trees at the moment. All this calls to mind Sturla Þórðarson's description of the year 1217, when there "was fine farming weather in the country. That summer was so good that in many parts of the country the berry plants bore fruit twice and wild birds laid two nests of eggs." And the nice thing is that the good weather now has a suitable place to make its presence felt. The interest and dedication that Icelanders have shown in undertaking all kinds of cultivation and forestation under tough conditions in recent decades have produced rich results. Patience and obstinacy have been rewarded. And when the world is as mild as it has been this spring, there are impressive areas of vegetation, gardens, shelter belts and woodlands to welcome it. Success breeds determination, and now is an ideal time to make a special effort by cultivating, planting and fostering vegetation and nature.
However, ornate trees and dells do more than please the eye when nature is in bloom. They may serve as a reminder to us of other unrelated things. Firm trees with proud crowns do not grow and flourish unless their foundation and roots, which are nonetheless hidden, are powerful and active. The leaves that stretch skywards and draw their energy from the sun are one condition for a tree to grow and flourish, and the roots are the other. The same applies to our country and the nation that inhabits it. The history and soul, language and feelings, and not least the determination, selflessness and strength of mind of the many people who made their contributions without ever doubting them are the roots on which Iceland today and its worldly success rest. It is healthy for us all to think of this on precisely this special day which pays tribute to the never-ending struggle for independence. It may well be that the 63 members of parliament who constitute the Althing were not given too clear a message in the recent election. But that does not alter the fact that they face many tasks and have ample duties to perform. There will be fierce disputes over individual issues, priorities and focuses. But it should be beyond dispute that the tasks concerned with ensuring the independence and security of our nation must surely remain high on the agenda, if not at the very top.
We all know that a nation that loses its freedom has few good options to chose from. Fortunately we cannot identify any single threat to our freedom or existence at present. While this is a welcome situation, it does not entitle us to relax our guard. Our security needs to be as well safeguarded as possible, otherwise the nation will not be completely at its ease, successful as it may be in diverse fields. We do not all pay expensive fire insurance because we actually expect a conflagration or see an arsonist lurking in the distance. In fact, the probability is that most of us ought to be able to sleep quite soundly without such insurance. But this is not enough for us as individuals, nor as a nation. It is not safe enough. There is too much at stake. The threats in our part of the world have fortunately diminished, yet there is no country in the region that feels confident of being without real defences that can respond quickly to unexpected danger.
I have recently exchanged letters with George Bush, the President of the United States of America, about matters concerned with this point. This correspondence has been conducted on both frank and friendly terms. I have had the opportunity in recent years to watch the President from close quarters as he discusses such issues in the NATO forum and I consider that he has done this well and shown a good understanding of the fundamentals at stake. I venture to trust that our countries, which have been close friends for so long, will have the good fortune to find a fair resolution to the issues that are now under discussion. On the basis of the aforementioned correspondence it has now been decided that representatives of our countries will meet in Iceland in the near future to examine the options that are available and of course Iceland's main viewpoints concerning the minimum defence capability that every nation must insist on in these times just like any others.
We rejoice at the fine weather. And although we know from experience that the weather is ever-changeable, we do not need to fear this any more than the branch of Icelandic birch that the poet addressed with the words:
You need not fear, my birch, the colder days:
you can turn darkness and the rocks and screes
to a leafy cape that in the morning breeze
lifts in trembling homage to the heaven's rays.
Fellow Icelanders near and far, I wish you all a happy National Day.