New Year and New President PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Iceland Review   
Monday, 09 January 2012 11:23

julianabjornsdottir_dl President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced on New Years Day that he will be stepping down from office in July 2012.

The truth is I am relieved. I can’t say I have held him in high esteem during his long-sitting presidency. My hope is that our new president will be a non-political figure whose role will be that of an international ambassador.

As a child, I looked up to the president. It was a she, and her name was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She was not just a president who took her role as a cultural ambassador seriously but also one that was apolitical and for that she earned the respect of leaders around the world.


Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. Photo by Geir Ólafsson.

She was a president during the 1980s, an era that was not free of conservative views of what it means to be a woman. She defied the gender roles as a single mother of a daughter and a representative from the world of arts.

When I was a young girl in the eighties and early nineties, she was the one who defined the limitless possibilities of modern women.

I know quite a few women whose early years were shaped by the precedence she set and were inspired by her professional and personal achievements in their adulthood.

I am one of these women.

She herself was free of pretense and a true representative of the culture far in the North Atlantic Ocean.

If my memory serves me right, an esteemed professor at the University of Iceland once said he came to Iceland in part because of her charisma as a cultural ambassador. He has been an established resident of Iceland for years and years now.

How is that for a legacy?

This woman, who spoke French, English and a Scandinavian language or two, defined the role of a president to me.

I doubt anyone will follow in her footstep but I can think of a few who could certainly do the role justice with their fine characters.

The most important role of a president to me is to be an apolitical figure. After what has been going on with the Icesave-nonsense—which how I choose to refer the whole affair these days—I am even more adamant in my belief that the role must be one of a pacifist, whose involvement is merely that of an ambassador in political affairs, if that.

Mr. Grímsson’s involvement in the Icesave-nonsense made me suspicious of his political motives.

As a former politician he should have been more cautious in handling the whole affair. A national referendum was certainly not required following the successful negotiation the second time around.

But I have no interest in debating Icesave. As an Icelander my ears have been bombarded by the horrid term and I do not need the third round of debates in the media and parliament.

Another quality a good president must possess is language skills. In this environment at least one of the five Scandinavian languages is required in addition to at least one of the Latin languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian), German and English. These days, an Eastern European language such as Polish seems appropriate as well.

A deep understanding and knowledge of local and international history and culture is essential. How can one be a good representative of a nation that prides itself of being well-rounded in terms of education and worldly affairs, without the sufficient knowledge of countries and culture?

It’s a tricky business to be a president and the ability to be neutral in the presence of ambiguous political figures is a required skill.

Having strong opinions and distributing them in an appropriate manner is not a fault on its own, but when a president takes an aggressive stand in his or her relationships with nations to whom communications are essential, a strong opinion becomes a fault.

The capacity to be direct and share one’s opinion in a diplomatic manner is a rare quality to find, and in particular do I find the lack thereof a fault in our local politicians.

To sum it up, I propose we find ourselves a president that is apolitical, well-rounded in history, culture and languages, and knowledgeable about current affairs.

One of the proposed candidates is a former reporter, documentary film maker and pilot, Ómar Ragnarsson.

I am not sure where he stands in terms of language skills but I do know he is a man of his word and as an advocate for environmentalism he possesses a much-needed ideology in this day and age.

New Year and New President (JB)

Ómar Ragnarsson. Photo by Páll Kjartansson.

A candidate, who I know would serve the nation’s best interests, and whose resume is one of a successful diplomat with decades of experience as an ambassador among others, is Sigríður Snævarr.

I have had the honor of meeting her in person during the time she served as Iceland’s Ambassador to France in 2003.

Her openness and willingness to be of assistance to a poor photography student in Paris came as a surprise as I would not have expected such a high-level government representative to take the time to sit down with me for a photo session and then let me observe her at work in the Parisian headquarters of UNESCO.

In an embassy party I attended upon her personal invitation, I observed a woman who was the heart of the party. She is charming in person, well connected in the world of arts, and a cultural woman who possesses all the qualities of the perfect diplomat.

A well-spoken and linguistically superior, she would be an asset for a nation in search of an identity in the middle of a supposed economic recovery.

I am not entirely neutral in my final recommendation. The candidate in question is my sister, whom I prefer to keep anonymous, as I did not consult her prior to writing this column.

She has been an inspiration to me. Her disposition to life and professional ambition and success in her chosen field is admirable.

She has worked in the field of human resources for almost a decade and as such possesses well-rounded management skills born out of experience.

And her special talent?

She is eloquent in her speech and her special gift to recognize and recite verse after verse of Icelandic poetry is rare.

Whoever succeeds Mr. Grímsson will hopefully be a worthy candidate whose intentions are born out of the desire to be the head of an egalitarian society where the promotion of culture and language prevails over political interference.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated on Monday, 09 January 2012 15:29

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