Published January 28, 2015
In a better, more entertaining world than ours, the Order of the Falcon would be Iceland’s premier superhero group, featuring Captain Fisherman, Doctor Feminfist, and Sterkálfur, the World’s Strongest Elf. In our reality, the Order of the Falcon is the medal that the Icelandic State bestows on whomever it pleases. It has been in the news lately because in mid-December the President gave the Prime Minister the Grand Cross of the Order of the Falcon.
That last phrase still sounds like it’s out of a comic book.
It was done almost in secret. No press releases were sent out, no photos were taken, in fact the media did not learn about it until someone noticed that his name, and that of the Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament, had been added to the list of recipients on the President’s website. When the media revealed this, it caused an uproar.
Why? Politicians are always giving each other stuff like that. They’re like friendship bracelets for grown-ups.
Things did not improve for the current Prime Minister when it came out that the previous Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, had refused the Order of the Falcon three times. This reminded people why they liked her in the first place (her principled refusal to be given a piece of shiny metal) and also why she lost popularity during her time in office (her principled refusal to let the media know she had refused the piece of shiny metal).
Ah, so people are upset that the current Prime Minister didn’t refuse the sparkly thing?
Sort of. But as both the President’s Office and one of the Prime Minister’s assistants pointed out, it is traditional that a Prime Minister be awarded the Grand Cross. Most people serving in the office since the founding of the Order of the Falcon in 1921 have received it. However, after the 2008 financial crash, the public has become a lot more critical of politicians, so things that were once tolerated now cause outrage.
Isn’t the point of politicians in a democracy to be a target for the public’s dissatisfaction with society?
That and to provide employment for people who make medals. Though to be fair to politicians, they do take care of a lot of the boring stuff that makes a society function, for instance by deciding who should be recognized publicly for their good works. That is the popular side of the Order of the Falcon. People like that individuals who have dedicated their life to the arts, charity, or the benefit of society for limited rewards, are given a token of appreciation. What causes anger is when people are given shiny bits of metal for attaining a particular political office, or doing their job as a bureaucrat or a businessman. Their salary should be compensation enough, without them being given something called a Knight’s Cross.
But why does an army-free state like Iceland want to give people something called the Knight’s Cross?
That is only lowest level of the Order of the Falcon. The others are, in ascending order of sparkliness: Commander’s Cross, Commander’s Cross with Star, and Grand Cross. These can be given to anyone. However, the final and highest grade can only be given to heads of state, and that is the Chain with the Grand Cross Breast Star, which does resemble the name of some medieval torture implement. The reason for these ridiculous sounding titles is that the Order of the Falcon was established when Iceland was a kingdom.
Iceland had kings? I bet they had crazy unpronounceable names like King Hjörlúðvík and Þórvígbrandlákur.
The Kingdom of Iceland had only one king, Christian X. Despite the name, he was not a bi-religious follower of Malcolm X, but the tenth king of that name to rule Denmark. In 1918 Iceland gained sovereignty over its internal affairs, but retained the Danish king as head of state. Christian X felt that a new kingdom needed its own set of sparkly friendship bracelets, so he established the Order of the Falcon, as the heraldic symbol of the King of Iceland was a gyrfalcon, which is native to Iceland.
Why does the Order of the Falcon still exist if Iceland is no longer a kingdom?
When Iceland became a republic in 1944, the role of the president was modelled on the king. In fact, the first president had previously served as the king’s regent in Iceland. So along with other functions, the president became the Grand Master of the Order of the Falcon. And secret leader of a group of superheroes who protect Iceland against supervillains and alien invasions.