Main article: History of Iceland
Iceland was first settled by Scandinavians, mainly Norwegians, and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th century. It boasts the world's longest running parliament, Al■ingi, which was established in 930.
Iceland remained independent for over 300 years, and was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark, formally as a Norwegian crown colony until 1814 when the united kingdoms of Denmark and Norway were separated by the treaty of Kiel, and Iceland was kept by Denmark as a dependency. Limited home rule was granted by the Danish government in 1874, and protectorate like independence and sovereignty over domestic matters followed in 1918, foreign relations and defense remained in the authority of the Danish and the Danish king remained the sovereign of the nation until 1944, when the current republic was founded.
Main article: Politics of Iceland
Iceland's parliament, Al■ingi, was originally founded in 930 and it has operated since then in several different forms except for a 45 year period in the 19th century. It has 63 members, each of whom is elected by the population every four years. The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat, figurehead and head of state. The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with his cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government. The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Al■ingi; however, this process is usually conducted by the leaders of the political parties, who decide what parties will form the cabinet and how the seats are distributed (under the condition that it has a majority support in Al■ingi). Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet himself. This has only happened once, in 1942, and that was actually before the republic was founded, although the regent, Sveinn Bj÷rnsson, who had been appointed in 1941, later went on to become the country's first president. The governments of Iceland have almost always been coalitions with two or more parties involved, since a single political party has rarely received a majority of seats in Al■ingi. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president are disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions suggest otherwise.
The president is elected every four years (last 2004), the cabinet is elected every four years (last 2003) and town council elections are held every four years too (last 2002).
Main article: Municipalities of Iceland
There are 104 municipalities in Iceland that govern most local matters like schools, transportation and zoning.
Main article: Counties of Iceland
The 23 counties are mostly a historic division. Today Iceland is split up between 26 Magistrates that are the highest authority over the local police (except in ReykjavÝk where there is a special office of police commissioner) and carry out administrative functions such as declaring bankruptcy and marrying people outside of the church.
Iceland is split up into eight district court jurisdictions. According to a United Nations document on Iceland:
List of District Courts
Main article: Constituencies of Iceland
Until 2003, the constituencies for the parliament elections were the same as the district court jurisdictions but by an amendment to the constitution they were changed so that today there are only 6 constituencies. The change was made in order to balance the weight of different districts of the country since a vote cast in the sparsely populated areas around the country would count much more than a vote cast in the ReykjavÝk city area. The imbalance between districts has been reduced by the new system but it still exists.
Iceland is located on a geological hot spot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It has many active volcanoes, notably the Hekla, and around 10% of the island is glaciated. Iceland has many geysers (itself an Icelandic word) and the widespread availability of geothermal power means residents of most towns have hot water and home heat for a low price. (See also: Volcanoes of Iceland) Electricity is generally very cheap because of the many rivers and waterfalls which are also used for the generation of electrical power. (See also: Rivers of Iceland, Waterfalls of Iceland, Lakes of Iceland)
The island itself has many fjords along the coastline, where also most cities are situated, because the island's interior, the Highlands of Iceland are an uninhabitable desert. The main towns are the capital ReykjavÝk, KeflavÝk, where the national airport is situated, and Akureyri. The island of GrÝmsey, on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland. (See also: Fjords of Iceland)
Main article: Economy of Iceland
The economy depends heavily on the fishing industry, which provides over 60% of export earnings and employs 8% of the work force. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant hydro-electric and geothermal power), Iceland's economy is vulnerable to changing world fish prices. The economy remains sensitive to declining fish stocks as well as to drops in world prices for its main exports: fish and fish products, aluminum, and ferrosilicon.
The center-right government plans to continue its policies of reducing the budget and current account deficits, limiting foreign borrowing, containing inflation, revising agricultural and fishing policies, diversifying the economy, and privatizing state-owned industries. The government remains opposed to EU membership, primarily because of Icelanders' concern about losing control over their fishing resources.
Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, and new developments in software production, biotechnology, and financial services are taking place. The tourism sector is also expanding, with the recent trends in ecotourism and whale-watching. Growth slowed between 2000 and 2002, but the economy expanded by 4% in 2003 and is expected to grow by over 5% in 2004.
Main article: Demographics of Iceland
The isolated location of Iceland has resulted in limited immigration and limited genetic inflow in its human population over hundreds of years. The resulting genetic similarity is being exploited today for genetic studies.
Main article: Culture of Iceland