To Be Icelandic, That Is A Question - The Reykjavik Grapevine

To Be Icelandic, That Is A Question

To Be Icelandic, That Is A Question

Published February 16, 2010

A new question has arisen in Iceland. It goes something like this: What does it mean to be Icelandic? Or better: What are Icelanders made of? What is their true nature? Indeed a very basic, stupid question that gives way to many answers, spun up of homemade topics and creative generalisations about nations.
Now, I said NEW question and I said ARISEN. The question is of course not new and it has resurfaced rather than arisen after the financial collapse. Every nation about to become a nation or wanting to be one, or having recently become one, ponders this question relentlessly. Nations without states define themselves over and over in the battle for independence, and so did Iceland. The twentieth century saw the publication of a fundamental book in Icelandic thought, a book revolving around questions of this sort: Icelandic Culture by Sigurður Norðdal, Volume I. There were supposed to be more volumes but they were never published, nor written. Why? For many reasons, but as time went by and 1944 faded into the past, the question will have seemed less and less relevant. Author Guðbergur Bergsson gave some brilliant suggestions on more negative and ironic notes before the matter was finally put to sleep and people turned to pondering on the wonders of the rich in recent years.
The thing became self-evident (and two folded): Icelanders were a fierce nation with innovative Viking spirit, conquering the business world with their natural skills for battle, a mentality moulded by harsh nature over the centuries. And so on. More or less the empty phrases president Ólafur Ragnar and his merry Vikings were using in their shameless exploit of Icelanders’ national pride. Those jingles had no relation to the topics Icelanders most commonly used about themselves in previous times, that they were modest (bragging was a mortal sin), hard working, honest and content, serious and prone to literature and tradition. They had become Viking superheroes.
Now, for those who did not believe that, the question was put to sleep by its complete opposite: What a load of utter crap, non-believers would think, what stupid arrogance, how completely boring and superficial, what misuse of history by the few and rich for the many and stupid. Icelanders as a nation are really just a bunch of arrogant hick bastards.
Either way, the matter is dead. End of subject. No need to think about it anymore.
Now you see it rising. What does it mean to be Icelandic? The complex of tiny nations comes out in force with that question again, scrutinizing the international media to see how others see it—and not always liking it. Criminals and terrorists, thieves, reckless, risk-taking and irresponsible? Neigh! We are not like that! Nobody wants to see themselves like that, obviously. Try something else on for size. How about romantic elf-believers, can that go? Oppressed minority? Could we be modest and kind? (Ehrm… well). Readers? Searchers? Naive, cunning? Easily deceived or passionate? Foxes or bears, wolves or chicken? Revolutionaries? Home-educated economists or environmentally aware ecologists? Mental slaves or lone rangers? Angry crowd or intellectual elite? The possibilities are endless. The matter is open for debate. 

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