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Lunch in honour of the President of India

Address by the Prime Minister of Iceland, Halldórs Ásgrímssonar, at a lunch in honour of the President of India - Þingvellir, May 31 2005.

Mr. President, distinguished guests.

Welcome to Þingvellir.

I hope that you have enjoyed your sightseeing in the sun, not so generous to us in these parts of the world as in yours. You have no doubt learned much about the area and how dear to our hearts this place is and the key part it played in the most important events in our history. Geographically speaking it is also of interest and I hope that the experience gained and knowledge accumulated in the area of geology in Iceland can benefit India in a way expressed by you during this important visit, Mr. President.

India and Iceland. Our two nations are almost as wide a part as possible - in many conventional senses. What we do share, however, is the strong sense and tradition of democracy.

India being the largest democracy and the second most populous country in the world. Iceland being one of the world’s smallest democracies and one of the most sparsely populated.

Iceland proudly claims the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established here in Þingvellir in 930. And the name literally means parliament planes. Iceland was independent for over 300 years, but then ruled by first Norway and then Denmark. Iceland became independent in 1944 and India not much later in 1947. As in India the forces of nature have played a big part in our history. Volcano eruptions in the past had shattering effects on the economy and more than once caused widespread famine. The devastating affects of the tsunami is fresh in our minds and still haunt us. We have a common task, to try to understand the ways of nature better and to predict its ways. Icelandic scientists have come a long way in the predictions of seismologic and volcanic activities, as you, Mr. President, has acknowledged.

Lets look back to one of the historic events that took place in Þingvellir.

In the summer of 1000 there was turmoil in the young society as the Parliament was split into two radically opposed groups: pagans and Christians. Each faction had its own Law Speaker and refused to acknowledge the laws of the other side. It was agreed that Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, the pagan Law Speaker, should decide which religion all Icelanders should follow. He lay down on the ground, and spread a cloak over his head, so that no man spoke with him and thought things over. As you, Mr. President, have so splendidly put it: “Thinking is progress. Non-thinking is stagnation of the individual, organisation and the country. Thinking leads to action”. And Þorgeir’s thinking led to action and to progress. The day after men went to the Hill of Laws (Lögberg, where you have just been), and then Þorgeir bade them be silent and listen, and spoke thus: "It seems to me as though our matters were come to a deadlock, if we are not all to have one and the same law; for if there be a breaking a sunder of the laws, then there will be a breaking a sunder of the peace, and we shall never be able to live in the land. "This is the beginning of our laws," he said, "that all men shall be Christian here in the land, and believe in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but leave off all idol- worship, not expose children to perish, and not eat horseflesh. It shall be outlawry if such things are proved openly against any man; but if these things are done by stealth, then it shall be blameless."
A wise compromise so the peace could prevail. We have indeed always held those in high esteem who have sought the path of peace and not the least for that reason have Icelanders been great admirers of Mahatma Gandhi and his courage and wisdom which freed the Indian people. His philosophy not only of non-violence but also of religious tolerance is just as relevant and important today as it was in his days. Gandhi said, "Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit." Few men in their lifetime touched so many as he did. I would therefore very much welcome the idea of honouring his memory in Iceland in some way - as a symbol of India’s and Iceland’s ties and mutual respect.

You, Mr. President, have been inspiring in your talks in Iceland on the possibilities of closer co-operation between our two countries, however, far apart they may be. I welcome your ideas and I am certain that we will see our trade and ties grow stronger in the future. In this context I want to welcome the idea that we look into the issue of opening embassies in our respective countries. With growing relations and trade we may need to have representations to promote these and advance further.

Let me welcome you all once more and express my wish that your visit will be the first of many to come.

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