Today we have a presidential election here in Iceland and I am running.
I am running for President of Iceland!
I am running because the President can act as a channel for new ideas and new approaches – and after the events of recent years and days, we really need new approaches.
We live in interesting times and in a creative moment in history – where the foundations of our language, our nature and our democracy are all at an important turning point. We are at a moment in history where we can define paths that will lead us far into the future.
The President of Iceland can connect people, bring groups together and raise important issues. The President of Iceland can refer passed legislation to a national referendum, he or she is our spokesperson abroad, and is strictly speaking the only person in Iceland who is directly elected.
The President can bring together opposing voice and help them find common ground, but he or she must have a clear vision and a strong voice.
If every generation has left something great behind, what should we try to accomplish? What could we do together acting as one?
Here are three ideas that I believe might be big ideas for our future.
In recent years, our highlands have been threatened by plans of massive development. For various reasons, the most extreme plans have not materialised and this vast unspoiled wilderness remains intact.
I believe a National Park of the Central Highlands to be one of the important ideas that we could make a reality. This National Park would establish the importance and value of nature in its own right. The central highlands are the core of Iceland’s image, a part of our identity, and thus enrich each and every one of us. A 40,000 km2 National Park would send a striking message to the world, where nature is under threat everywhere.
Environmental issues are, and will remain, by far the largest challenge of the 21st century. If the earth is to support all of our children, we need to rethink and redesign almost the whole of the 20th century. Such changes are vital but they are not a negative thing – they will be the basis for all development in all fields in the near and distant future.
As a fishing nation, we are dependent on the ocean. To my mind, the President of Iceland should be able to provide a valuable voice in matters of ocean protection. A child who grows up in Iceland should be crazy about fish. Whether whales will be edible in the future is probably a more relevant question than whether they are hunted.
If my grandchild reaches the same age as my grandmother did, they will still be alive in the year 2120. 1924 to 2120 – that is the period that belongs to us. That is the time we can touch with our bare hands – the time of those we already know and love and the time of those we will know and love. We need to learn to think in longer time periods than quarterly accounts or political terms of office. This is why environmental issues are among the most significant concerns of the President of Iceland.
Parity, equal rights and equal opportunity are essential if we are to call ourselves a nation. I sat in on the 2010 National Constitutional Forum, where 1,000 randomly selected Icelanders came together and discussed their values and vision of the future. It gave me hope, because this cross-section of the nation was a lovely group of people who could talk to each other.
The general public was given a voice and we demonstrated that democracy is a creative, constantly evolving process. The meeting was meant to be followed by a new social contract and constitutional text for our society. This was a unique experiment that raised worldwide interest.
It is important for the new constitution to be completed. We need a new social contract and the process is still valid, though it has been bruised. The new constitution must be based on the National Constitutional Forum, on new ideas of how a constitution can come from the people, not something merely handed down from above.
Over the past ten years, while taking part in projects related to creative writing, I have met over 20,000 school children here in Iceland and abroad. I often ask them whether they speak other languages than Icelandic and in every single class, one or more of them has raised a hand, and they name all kinds of languages.
Those who cultivate their mother tongue understand the importance of language in its own right. The Icelandic language and other mother tongues need an advocate. We need to ensure that the children carry the torch and learn to love language, otherwise it will be lost in one generation.
Iceland must be a land of opportunity for the children that come to live here. Statistics show that many of them are having trouble. If we take good care we will gain strong individuals with deep roots in distant cultures. If we fall asleep on the job, many children might lose their mother tongue without learning Icelandic. Languages are the key to the world and the President can keep this topic in play.
Nature, democracy and culture – three words that encompass the whole spectrum of issues relevant to the office of President of Iceland.
What can our generation do?
- We should found a Central Highland National Park, the core of our nature.
- We should complete the new constitution, the basis of our democracy.
- We should embrace our mother tongues, the channel for our thoughts and cultures.