Gissurarson: Iceland Treated Best by Swedes

Prof. Gissurarson giving his talk. Photo: Ann-Kari Edenius.

Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Director of Academic Research, gave a paper at a morning seminar conducted by the Ratio think tank in Stockholm, Sweden, Thursday 9 April 2015. The paper was about Swedish-Icelandic relations through the centuries. Professor Gissurarson pointed out the little-known fact that Iceland was in a personal union with Sweden, and neither with Norway nor Denmark, in 1355–1364 under King Magnus smek who had been driven out of Norway. In 1814, when Sweden received Norway after the Napoleonic Wars, as a substitute for Finland, the King and his ministers did not want with it Iceland or the other old Norwegian dependencies in the North Atlantic. Professor Gissurarson recalled that the first leader of the liberal-conservative Independence Party in Iceland, Prime Minister Jon Thorlaksson, was much influenced by renowned Swedish economist Gustav Cassel. The history of Nordic liberalism remains to a large extent untold, the Professor submitted. The success of the Nordic countries was not least because of economic freedom in late 19th and early 20th Century and a strong tradition of the rule of law, rather than because of redistribution imposed by Social Democrats.

Professor Gissurarson also discussed the 2008 Icelandic bank collapse where the Swedes behaved better than the other Nordic countries by providing liquidity to Swedish banks owned by Icelanders, whereas both the Norwegian and Finnish authorities forced a “fire sale” of Icelandic bank assets to local businessmen. Sweden had however, and unfortunately, supported the United Kingdom in the Icesave dispute in 2008–13. This was mostly evidence of the fact that the smaller nations in the European Union such as Sweden did not have much scope for independent decision-making. They had to follow the dominant nations such as the United Kingdom, Germany or France.

It could be argued, Professor Gissurarson added, that the Swedes had reached a reasonable conclusion in 1814 when they decided that Iceland did not belong to continental Europe. While the Icelanders should remain friends with the Swedes, the Germans and other European nations, they ought to forge closer political relations with the North Atlantic nations, Norway, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. His lecture formed a part of the joint RNH-AECR project on “Europe, Iceland and the Future of Capitalism”.

Stockholm Slides by Gissurarson

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