Vol 2 1998 - Article

Iceland, Greenland and Lapland - Scandinavian afterthoughts

K.J. Anderson

When addressing Scandinavia it seems, more often than not, as though Iceland, Greenland, and Lapland are simply forgotten in the broad scheme of things. In this essay I will address how similar these three regions are, not only to each other, but also to the other so called Scandinavian entities - those being Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland - and discuss whether or not the three in doubt should be included in the generalised grouping under the said title 'Scandinavia'..

In answering this question we have to first ask ourselves what, whether it be in regards to the region or its people, constitutes a Scandinavian nation. Is it a cultural phenomenon? Historic? Does being Scandinavian mean that you have to prescribe to certain beliefs and laws? Would it be fair to say that a nation, or region, can only belong to the geographical position that it lies in? Despite all of this rhetoric, however, for the purpose of this essay, I shall concentrate on the social, historical, and political links that I feel tie all seven in question together and make them undeniably Scandinavian.

Historically Lapland, Iceland, and Greenland will forever be linked to the other nations. Iceland and Greenland share a Viking heritage with Norway and Denmark, while Lapland, by its very geographical position, is also inextricably linked with the nations she spans across.<1> Similarities between all of the Scandinavian regions can also be found in areas other than history. Politically all are democracies, this is true even of Lapland (as we will see later on in this essay), with living standards the envy of the Western Democratic world Another link is that of religion in which the majority of their individual populations are fundamentally Protestant.<2> Such similarities as these impact on the culture of the populations and make them what they are, that being Scandinavian without question.

Individually the regions appear, both externally and internally, to epitomise what we have come to know as Scandinavia. From the physical features of mountains, snow and granite, right through to the climate, many features are typical of all seven. Making this statement is not to say that the regions, or their populations, are not individuals with their own culture and heritage, rather it is simply to further exemplify the so called 'Scandinavian-ness' of all of the regions..

Iceland, out of the three possibly questionable entities, is perhaps the most Scandinavian of all. While sharing a Viking history with other nations, it is also fair to say that Iceland has remained remarkably true to the more contemporary model of Scandinavian politics. Their non gender bias upholding of true democracy saw that women were given the vote in 1911 and, further adding distinction to Icelandic non-sexist society, they were the first nation in the world to elect a female Prime Minister in June 1980.<3>

Though there seem to be some discrepancies as to when Iceland actually gained her independence, it is well established that she had gained autonomy from Denmark and declared herself a Republic by May 1944. Further giving strength to her Scandinavian links, many of the artistes of the land were inspired by the 'struggle', and Twentieth Century poets such as David Stefansson and Tomas Gudmundsson became established names. It is worth noting here, I think, that throughout the period Iceland was devoid of independence (approx. 1260 - Nineteenth Century), 'hardly any literary prose was written' if at all.

Further establishing the cultural link of the population to Scandinavia, Collier's Encyclopedia describes the population of Iceland as being:

Perhaps setting up Iceland as a nation to idolise, Collier's Encyclopedia then goes on to add to the pure Scandinavian legend of Iceland by describing Icelandic society today as having 'virtually no poverty' with 'less class distinction than in any other country in the world'.

It is my belief that events in the middle of the Twentieth Century, such as the 'Cold War'<5> with Great Britain did much to strengthen Iceland's membership in Scandinavia. As Tony Griffiths writes in his work, Scandinavia, previously:

Several skirmishes erupted as a result of this ignored and forgotten little nation extending their fishing zone. Both Britain and Iceland fired at fishing vessels but it seemed that the involvement of the British Royal Navy was the last straw in both consolidating Iceland's position in the region and provoking the other entities to not only claim but also leap to the protection of one of their own as 'Scandinavians were enraged at Britain's bullying tactics.'

The middle of the Twentieth Century was also a time, as mentioned previously, for Iceland to grow culturally.<6> This national cultural revival saw that the National Theatre was opened and that an Icelandic Symphony Orchestra was established. Today Iceland is still a nation with a small population - approximately 232,000 in 1984 according to the National Registry - but size does not hinder the nation as they are still able to make an impact on the world scene when they choose to do so. The diminutive pop star, Bjork, a regular chart topper with phenomenal success and Halldor Kiljan Laxness, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955, are proof enough of the success in different fields Icelanders have been able to achieve from the mid-1900s onwards.<7>

Greenland, cited as the largest island on this planet, is another nation which has inherited the Norwegian and Danish Viking history. It may well be said that the links between Greenland and Iceland, if not the rest of Scandinavia, are innumerable. The so called 'sagas' are an extremely important part of documenting the Greenlandic past, as they are, indeed, for the likes of Iceland as well (it is in Iceland that the saga originated).<8> Many of the Greenlandic sagas were written in the Thirteenth Century by anonymous authors. While Eric the Red discovered Greenland in approximately 968, Mary McCririck often writes of him in her work, A History of Iceland, Eleven Centuries, 874-1974 AD. McCririck seems keen to establish links between Greenland and Iceland at the very least and later writes, '...In the early centuries there was much coming and going on the seas between Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. That Greenland was in close touch with Europe is proved by graves c 1400 whose occupants were found buried as Christians in the fine dresses of their contemporaries in western Europe... If this is not enough to convince one of the 'authenticity' of Greenland's links to Scandinavia, then it will do us well to remember that Greenland is still very much 'owned' by Denmark. This alone should be enough to render the island Scandinavian despite, or perhaps in spite, the fact it was granted home rule in 1979. Scandinavian links can also be demonstrated through the small and largely literate population of the island.<9> While retaining democracy, Greenland, unlike the remainder of Scandinavia, however, has been subject to claims of ownership from the United States of America - the claims, which, for the most part, came as a result of the geographical position of Greenland, ceased in 1917. In 1985 Greenland decided to go alone and was successful in their complete withdrawal from the European Community. It is this act, combined with the various elements of history mentioned previously, which saw Greenland manifest itself into a solely Scandinavian entity.

From my research it appears that Lapland, out of all three doubtful entities, is perhaps the most neglected in studies of Scandinavia. It seems that little has been written (in, or, at least, translated into English) about the region which spans across three of the nominal Scandinavian nations - those being Norway, Sweden, and Finland, - as well as Russia. While statistics are relatively hard to come by, it is believed that there are some 30,000 Lapps living throughout the northern stretch of Scandinavia, 20,0000 of whom live in Norway.<l0>

Despite the majority of Lapps inhabiting Norway, they have been, traditionally, treated as an inferior minority in that particular nation, at least, but the Twentieth Century has given rise to a 'Lappish movement' - a political and ethical struggle with some semblance to nationalism. However, despite these somewhat 'positive' moves, this does not mean that Lapps have automatically incurred a sense of national, or even self, pride. Harold Eidheim writes in Aspects of the Lappish Minority Situation that:

According to Colliers Encyclopedia, Lapland is 'more an ethnic than a geographic region'. Culturally, it seems, many of the Lapps today remain true to their heritage but no longer are they representative of the nomadic 'tribes' they were some time ago. From all accounts, and despite the difficulties presented by a nomadic lifestyle, the Lapps are today, and were almost a century ago, well educated. Indeed, as early as 1899 Paul DuChaillu wrote in Land of the Midnight Sun that, 'Honour is due to Sweden and Norway for their long and earnest endeavours to carry education to their remotest and most thinly inhabited region.'

Politically the Lapps are very much a part of Scandinavia, enjoying unrestricted movement' across four nations and being a part of the population of their choice. From 1953 there were inter-Nordic Lapp conferences every three years and, in 1956, the Nordic Lapp Council was formed ensuring that the needs of the Lapps were, at the very least, addressed. And, despite their position lying above the Artic Circle, when one takes into account that Lapland spans across three intrinsically Scandinavian nations, combined with the fact that Norwegian Lapps, who according to Encarta. are referred to as 'Finns' in Norway, have spent a considerable amount of time trying to assimilate, it must be said that Lapland is very much a Scandinavian entity.

In all, it must be said that I believe all three regions taken into consideration are nothing other than Scandinavian. We turn again, turn to the question asked earlier of what exactly constitutes a Scandinavian nation or region. If, for example, the term 'Scandinavia' is purely a geographical sentiment, such as Europe' or 'Asia', then it may well be argued that the three regions are more 'Nordic' or 'Acetic' than 'Scandinavian'. This line of thought is all well and fine until you take into account other somewhat contradictory nations, such as Australia, New Zealand, and Britain, into account. The first two are very much 'Asian' geographically but remain, albeit arguably, 'European' both culturally and politically - hence with the invention of the term 'Australasian'. The 'British Question' in regard to their involvement in the European Community, and whether or not the nation should be accepted as 'European', is another example of the complexities of national/ethnic grouping and the nature of geopolitics.

From this line of argument it can be construed that Iceland, Greenland, and Lapland may well be considered Scandinavian. However, geography is far from the only methodology used to determine the regional allegiance of a nation.


Collier's Encyclopedia, Bahr L.S. (editorial director) and Johnston, B. (ed-in-chief), P. F. Collier Inc NY (first published 1950, these editions 1992) vol.8- Denmark-pp. 100-117, vol.9 - Finland - pp.710-722, vol.11 -Greenland-pp. 435438, vol.12- Iceland - pp.460-469, Icelandic Literature - pp.470472, vol.14 - Lapland - pp.323-324, vol.17 - Norway-v - pp.661-678, vol.20 - Scandinavia - pp.470-471, vol.21 - Sweden - pp.680-691.
Chronicle of the 20th Century, Ross, J. (ed-in-Chief), Chronicle Australia Pty Ltd, Victoria. 1990. Jacques Legrand SA International Publishing, Paris for World English Rights.
Derry, T.K., A History of Scandinavia - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1979.
Du chaillu, P., The Land of the Midnight Sun: Summer and Winter Journey through Sweden, Norway, Lapland, and Northern Finland, George Niemes Limited, London, 1899, pp.103-128,431-470, 511-548. .
Eidheim, H., Aspects of the Lappish Minority Situation, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1971. .
Encarta 96 Encyclopedia, Microsoft (R) Encarta (R) 96 Encyclopedia (c) 1993-1995Microsoft Corporation. Funk and Wagnalls Corporation .
Griffiths, T., Scandinavia, Wakefield Press, South Australia, 1991 (revised 1993).
McCririck, A History of Iceland - Eleven Centuries, 874-1974 AD, published by the author, 1984..


1 According to Collier's Encyclopedia, Vikings arrived in Greenland and Iceland in 984 and 874 respectively. It is noted, however, that the first inhabitants in Iceland were believed to be Irish monks. The colonial-type settlement of the two islands by Denmark and Norway has led to claims of ownership by these latter two, particularly over Greenland (Iceland was pretty much an established 'part' of Denmark). As per the Chronicle of the 20th Century, p. 427, in April 1933 the International Court in The Hague settled the dispute by declaring that Greenland belonged to Denmark, not Norway. This was quite an interesting turn of events when one takes into consideration that Norwegian explorer, Erik the Red, was the first known person to 'discover' the island.
2 While it is true to say that no religion is discriminated against in any of the Scandinavian regions, a large majority of Scandinavian people are Protestants with the Lutheran Church being the most predominate. In all of the nations the so-called 'State church' is either Lutheran or Evangelical Lutheran and, once again according to Collier's Encyclopedia, in Norway a massive 92 per cent of the population belongs to the Church of Norway. The majority of Lapps are also Lutheran, although those living in the Kola region (in Russia) are generally Russian Orthodox.
3 This information was found in all of the referenced texts. I think it is quite important to note that there seems not to be an awful lot of gender, sexual, or racial differation in any of the Scandinavian entities - a point that Professor Griffiths enjoys making ('men cutting up cucumber for children's sandwiches and women shovelling snow') in his lectures.
4 While it is true to say that Scandinavian people in all regions are, predominantly, of Scandinavian descent, the Celfic influence on the populafion must also be noted. Both Collier's and McCririck write of this phenomenon in their individual works.
4' Many Celts were also taken as slaves to Iceland where Celfic personal names, nicknames, and place names are relafively common and where research on blood groups has revealed stronger links with Celfic than with Norwegian people. The actual extent of Celfic influence on the outlook and literature of the Icelanders is much debated, but the first settlers have been described as 'a New Nordic people seeking new cultural and social paths...' (McCririck, p. 3).
5 The so called 'Cod War' was basically a dispute over fishing houndaries which grew out of proportion when the British Government made their decision to involve their navy. This is, admittedly, a rather simplistic view of the 'battle' which raged from the 1950s to 70s (approximately) but the simple nature of the above statement serves to show exactly how much the British Government over reacted. Yes, the Icelanders had extended their fishing limits to 12 miles, and, yes, Iceland was refusing to allow foreign vessels into the region but armoured ships against fishing vessels? Thankfiilly diplomacy, albeit arguably, won out (after several trips to The Hague) and the Brits agreed to abide by the limits in 1961. The 'War' resumed, however, in the 1970s when, in a rather inflammatory move, the Icelanders extended their fishing limits to 50 miles from their coastline. In 1975 Iceland chose to extend their fishing zone to 200 miles and 1976 saw the tiny island stop diplomatic relafions with Britain.
6 The reason I have spoken of an Icelandic nafional culture revival is due to the fact that Iceland literally belonged to Denmark for several centuries. Any form of colonialism is bound to stifle the culture of the native people in some way and this is just as true of the Icelandic experience as of any other.
7 The two artistes mentioned here are but two of the incredibly talented people Iceland has produced. While being fair to say that many Icelanders have not 'broken into' the world scene, it is just as true to say that, when they do, they certainly do it with style and are among the very best in the world. .
8 The sagas are basically the epic stories of Iceland detailing the lives of the many pioneering families of the island. They are important as they reveal to the reader many aspects of 'ancient' Icelandic culture and tradition that may not otherwise be known (eg a personal insight rather than simply guessing after an ancient preserved body has been found encased in ice).
9 Education is an important and valued part of society in all Scandinavian entities. So much so, that there is almost no illiteracy in any of the seven mentioned throughout this essay. Not only is full literacy promoted in the national language, through compulsory schooling, but literacy in other languages is highly encouraged. As an example, my Finnish penfriend is fluent in many languages other than Finnish, English and Italian being only two in a long list. .
10 The figures I have used come, specifically, from Collier's Encyclopedia, but similar numbers are given in other publications such as Griffiths' Scandinavia.