AB Annual Meeting

From left: Thordis Edwald, Jonas Sigurgeirsson, Karitas Kvaran, Armann Thorvaldsson, Hannes H. Gissurarson, Kjartan Gunnarsson, Sigridur Snaevarr, Baldur Gudlaugsson, and Rosa Gudbjartsdottor.

The Public Book Club, Almenna bokafelagid, AB, held its annual general meeting on 26 May 2023. AB was founded on 17 June 1955 in order to counter the disproportionate influence of the communist-dominated book club Language and Culture, Mal og menning, supported by Soviet money, the notorious ‘Russian Gold’. AB is now a publishing company rather than a book club, however. AB’s Director, Jonas Sigurgeirsson, gave a report about last year for the other shareholders, Kjartan Gunnarsson, Baldur Gudlaugsson, and Armann Thorvaldsson. Also present was the Academic Adviser to AB, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson. One of the most-discussed books published by AB in 2022 was A Banker’s Reckoning (Uppgjor bankamanns) by Larus Welding who was Director of Glitnir Bank when the Icelandic banking sector collapsed in October 2008. He describes the collapse, and the long and brutal criminal investigations to which he was subsequently subjected. The other book was The Impeachment Case Against Geir H. Haarde (Landsdomsmalid) by Hannes H. Gissurarson who argues that the process was deeply flawed by which Haarde, Prime Minister at the time of the bank collapse, was indicted and ultimately acquitted of anything except an alleged minor formal lapse (not putting the impending bank collapse on the agenda of government meetings). Even that conviction which did not entail any punishment, and with the state being ordered to bear all the costs of the process, was based on very weak legal grounds. Gissurarson has written in English a summary of the book which has been published in parts 1, 2 and 3 in the European Conservative.

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Finance Minister Receives Conference Speakers

From left: Robert Tyler, Heidar Gudjonsson, His Excellency Bjarni Benediktsson, Dr. Barbara Kolm, Her Excellency Gabriela von Habsburg. In the background can be seen Dean Stefan Hrafn Jonsson of the School of Social Sciences and Professors Stephen Macedo and Ragnar Arnason.

After the conference held by the University of Iceland on 12 May 2023 because of the retirement of Hannes H. Gissurarson, Professor of Politics, who turned seventy in February, His Excellency Bjarni Benediktsson, now Finance Minister and previously Prime Minister, invited the speakers and some other guests to dinner at the official Minister’s House, Radherrabustadurinn, in Tjarnargata. This had been the residence of Icelandic prime ministers from 1906 to 1942, but was now used for special receptions and meetings. In his welcoming remarks Minister Benediktsson said that Professor Gissurarson had been an inspiration to himself and many others of his generation and no less to younger generations. He gave a toast to Gissurarson. The Professor recalled in his response that one of his friends, Sir Antony Fisher, had always asked people to raise their glasses ‘To Peace and Low Taxes’. This was his favourite toast.

From left: Dr. Stefania Oskarsdottir, Professor Ragnar Arnason, Dr. Neela Winkelmann, Professor Stephen Macedo, Her Excellency Barbara von Habsburg, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, Dr. Barbara Kolm (half-hidden), Kjartan Gunnarsson (standing) and Her Excellency Sigridur Andersen, former Minister of Justice.

During dinner, three friends of Professor Gissurarson gave short speeches. Independent investor Kjartan Gunnarsson, former Executive Director of the Independence Party, recalled that the two of them had been fighting for freedom in Iceland for more than fifty years. They had even been convicted together for operating an illegal radio station in 1984, in protest against the government monopoly on broadcasting. Dr. Barbara Kolm, Director of the Hayek Institute in Vienna, said that Professor Gissurarson had not only been an inspiration to young Icelanders, but also to young people in Europe, North America and South America where he had lectured, not least on themes from his excellent recent book, Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers, available online. Dr. Tom Palmer, Vice-President for International Affairs at Atlas Network, said he had first met Professor Gissurarson at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Cambridge in 1984 and that he had soon discovered that he was not only a loyal friend, but also an able spokesman for classical liberal ideas. In his response, Gissurarson said that he was only retiring from the University of Iceland, but certainly not from his scholarly research, writing and lecturing whic he enjoyed. When he turned seventy, he had not considered himself to have aged: he had just matured. In fact, age was an issue of mind over matter. If one didn’t mind, then it didn’t matter.


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Conference after Gissurarson’s Retirement

On 12 May 2023, the University of Iceland held a well-attended international conference on the occasion of the retirement of Hannes H. Gissurarson, Professor of Politics, who turned seventy in February. The very diverse topics chosen reflected his many interests.

Professors Thrainn Eggertsson and Bruce Caldwell and His Excellency Bjarni Benediktsson.

Professor Stefan Hrafn Jonsson, Dean of the School of Social Sciences, chaired the former session. Dr. Barbara Kolm, Director of the Hayek Institute in Vienna and Vice-Chairman of the Board of the Austrian Central Bank, spoke about how to obtain sound money after the demise of the gold standard in early twentieth century. She recalled Carl Menger’s explanation of money as spontaneously developing, and suggested that Friedrich von Hayek’s idea of competing currencies, public and private, could be a possibility. Economics Professor Bruce Caldwell of Duke University discussed his recent first volume of a biography of Hayek—chosen by the Economist as one of the best books of 2022. He said that many things he had come across in the archives had surprised him, for example how openly and lightly the young Hayek described his experiences in America in letters to his parents and the tension in the 1930s between him and his mother about Austrian politics. The first volume ends in 1950 with Hayek’s dramatic divorce and resignation from his Professorship at the London School of Economics. His Excellency Bjarni Benediktsson, Iceland’s Finance Minister and Leader of the Independence Party, described the 2008 bank collapse in Iceland and how the country had quickly recovered, not least as a result of two important decisions: instead of government bailing out the banks in 2008, depositors became priority claimants on the estates of the banks which went into resolution; and if other foreign creditors were later to receive in foreign currencies their shares of the bank estates, they had to accept substantial discounts on their claims.

Among the 160 guests were Baldur Gudlaugsson, former Permanent Secretary in the Finance Ministry, His Excellency Einar K. Gudfinnsson, former Speaker of Parliament, and His Excellency Sigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson, former Prime Minister.

Her Excellency Gabriela von Habsburg, the former Ambassador of Georgia to Germany, gave an account of a small country at the other end of Europe, Georgia, which regained her independence in 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Numerous times, Russia has tried to destabilise Georgia and now she controls around 20 per cent of Georgian territory. The economic reforms under the Sakaashvili governments in 2004–2013, designed mainly by Kakha Bendukidze, were a huge success, but unfortunately after that Georgian politicians, encouraged by Putin in Moscow and local oligarchs, have partly returned to their old bad ways, while opposition to these politicians is growing. Economics Professor Thrainn Eggertsson of the University of Iceland observed that an historic experiment was now being conducted in Asia. It was the attempt of Chinese President Xi to combine economic growth and autocratic rule, using sophisticated new technology to monitor and control his subjects. This large-scale experiment might fail, but if it succeeded, liberal democracies would find themselves in trouble. Politics Professor Stephen Macedo of Princeton University expressed his concern about the polarisation of American politics and the lack of civil discourse. Freedom of thought was being threatened from both right and left.

Churchill 1941 in Iceland, a crucial outpost in the war on the North Atlantic.

Dr. Stefania Oskarsdottir, Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Iceland, chaired the latter session. History Professor Thor Whitehead of the University of Iceland described the extraordinary situation in which Iceland found herself in the spring of 1941. The government of Winston Churchill in the United Kingdom desperately needed the British forces occupying Iceland for other purposes, while United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt was quite willing to take over the island’s military protection. But Roosevelt had to obtain the consent of the initially reluctant Icelanders and therefore he accepted almost all their demands, including a lucrative trade deal and the eventual recognition of a republic. This was the first, and crucial, step by the United States into the war. Dr. Neela Winkelmann, former Director of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, described the history and aims of the Platform which was formally established in 2011, after a 2009 resolution in the European Parliament about the necessity to keep alive the memory of the many victims of totalitarianism in Europe, Stalin’s communism and Hitler’s national socialism. Yana Hrynko, Curator of the Holodomor Museum in Kyiv, recalled the Great Famine in the Soviet Union in 1932–1933 which hit Ukraine particularly hard. It was a deliberate act of imposing collectivisation upon the farmers and their families. Holodomor means killing by starvation. Now Russia was waging a brutal war against Ukraine, trying again to suppress the Ukrainian people.

Dr. Stefania Oskarsdottir and Dean Stefan Hrafn Jonsson give Professor Gissurarson flowers and a fare-well present from the School of Social Sciences.

Economics Professor Ragnar Arnason of the University of Iceland explained the main conclusion of natural resource economics: that open access to a resource, say a forest, an oil well, or a fishing ground, would lead to its over-utilisation unless rules and institutions were developed that somehow limited access. The Icelanders had limited access to the fertile fishing grounds within their EEZ, Exclusive Economic Zone, by a system of ITQs, Individual Transferable Quotas, so that the Icelandic fisheries were both sustainable and profitable. There was however enormous waste found in world fisheries, the Sunken Billions. Dr. Tom G. Palmer, Vice-President of International Affairs at the Atlas Network, an umbrella organisation for hundreds of free-market institutes around the world, discussed the strategy of liberty in this uncertain age. He pointed out that now liberal democracy seemed to be retreating in the world, against the forces of populism and authoritarianism, even against new forms of totalitarianism. Populism, with its creation of artificial enemies within or outside countries, was a great threat. Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson made a few closing remarks, received a gift from the School of Social Sciences, and invited the audience to a reception on the premises.

Station Two, the private television station, was at the conference and interviewed Professor Gissurarson:

Thjodmal, a magazine of current affairs, is going to publish the papers given at the conference, and a recording of it will soon be put on Youtube. Among foreign guests attending the conference were the Norwegian poet and painter Öde Nerdrum (who grew up in Reykjavik as the son of painter Odd Nerdrum), Maksymilian Woroszylo, leader of the young conservatives in Luxembourg, German film maker Andreas Jürgens, Britt Schier, Manager of the Austrian Economics Centre in Vienna, and Robert Tyler, Senior Advisor at the Brussels think tank New Direction.

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Parliament Speaker Receives Foreign Guests

On 12 May 2023 His Excellency Birgir Armannsson, Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament, received the foreign speakers and guests at an international conference held the same day by the University of Iceland on the occasion of the retirement of Hannes H. Gissurarson, Professor of Politics, who turned seventy in February. The Speaker recalled that the Icelandic Parliament, Althingi, was established in 930 and is thus one of the oldest legal assemblies in the world still existing. Althingi originally convened once each summer at Thingvellir, about 45 km from Reykjavik, but it was in 1844 moved to Reykjavik. For her first three hundred years, Iceland was an independent Commonwealth, but in 1262 the Icelanders became subjects of the Norwegian and later (in 1380) the Danish king. The Speaker told the guests about the peaceful Icelandic struggle for independence led by historian Jon Sigurdsson whose statue stands in front of Parliament House. The struggle ended with the Danes granting sovereignty to Iceland on 1 December 1918, although the country remained in a personal union with the Danish king until 1944. The Speaker also provided a short overview of Icelandic politics and the composition and policies of the present government, a coalition between the centre-right Independence Party, the rural-based Progressive Party and the Left Greens.

First row from left: Britt Schier, Dr. Barbara Kolm, Her Exc. Gabriela von Habsburg, His Exc. Speaker Armannsson, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, Maksymilian Woroszylo. Second Row: Professor Stephen Macedo, Professor Bruce Caldwell, Yana Hrynko, Dr. Neela Winkelmann, Leslie Caldwell. Third row: Dr. Tom Palmer, Robert Tyler.

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Foreign Minister Receives Conference Speakers

From left: Hrynko, Kolm, the Foreign Minister, von Habsburg, and Winkelmann.

On 12 May 2023, Iceland’s Foreign Minister, Her Excellency Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir, gave a lunch for four female leaders from abroad who were in Iceland to speak at an international conference held the same day by the University of Iceland on the occasion of the retirement of Hannes H. Gissurarson, Professor of Politics, who turned seventy in February. They were Yana Hrynko, Curator of the Holodomor Museum in Kyiv, Dr. Barbara Kolm, Director of the Hayek Institute in Vienna, Her Excellency Gabriela von Habsburg, former Ambassador of Georgia to Germany, and Dr. Neela Winkelmann, former Director of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience. Also present at the meeting was Martin Eyjolfsson, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister Gylfadottir discussed with her guests the forthcoming summit of European leaders in Reykjavik on 16 May and the present war between Russia and Ukraine in which all five Nordic countries firmly support Ukraine. Iceland was in 1949 a founding member state of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and has a Defence Treaty with the United States. She strongly supports the membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO. Iceland is also a member state of EEA, the European Economic Area, with Norway and Liechtenstein, and, to all practical purposes, with Switzerland, and then with all the EU member states. She is also a member state of the Nordic Council, an important forum for Nordic cooperation and voluntary integration.


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Iceland’s President Receives Conference Speakers

Her Excellency Gabriela von Habsburg, Dr. Barbara Kolm, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, Myrkvi D. Cox and the President.

The President of Iceland, His Excellency Dr. Gudni Th. Johannesson, received on 11 May the speakers and foreign guests at an international conference held the day after by the University of Iceland on the occasion of the retirement of Hannes H. Gissurarson, Professor of Politics, who turned seventy in February. In his welcoming address, the President praised three books by the Professor, the 1992 biography of Jon Thorlaksson, an Icelandic engineer, entrepreneur and politician, a 2010 dictionary of quotations and the 2020 book on Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers, the first one being the Icelandic chronicler Snorri Sturluson. Indeed, the President’s residence, Bessastadir, had belonged to Snorri: it was seized by the Norwegian king in 1241, after Snorri had been assassinated as the king’s enemy. The President showed the guests around Bessastadir, including the basement where excavations are being done. He said that probably Jon Hreggvidsson, a famous protagonist in Halldor Laxness’ Iceland’s Bell, had been kept there as a prisoner when Bessastadir was the residence of the Danish governor of Iceland. In early 19th century, a school had been based at Bessastadir, and one of the pupils had been the romantic poet Jonas Hallgrimsson who had revived and purified the Icelandic language.

After the President’s reception the guests joined the annual dinner of RSE, the Icelandic Institute of Social and Economic Affairs, led by Economics Professor Ragnar Arnason and entrepreneur Heidar Gudjonsson. There, Bruce Caldwell gave a talk about his recent biography of Friedrich A. von Hayek—one of the best books of 2022 according to the Economist. The dinner was held in the new Parliament Hotel, looking out on the statue of Jon Sigurdsson in front of Parliament House, and Gudjonsson gave a toast to Jon Sigurdsson who was a true classical liberal as the excerpts from his work Gudjonsson read out clearly showed.

From left: Professor Thor Whitehead, Professor Thrainn Eggertsson, Dr. Barbara Kolm, Her Excellency Gabriela von Habsburg, Maksymilian Woroszylo, Andreas Jürgens, Professor Stephen Macedo, the President, Myrkvi D. Cox, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, Robert Tyler, Professor Bruce Caldwell, Lukas Schweiger, Leslie Caldwell, Dr. Tom Palmer, and Öde Nerdrum.

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