Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson [ˈouːlavʏr ˈraknar ˈkrimsɔn]  is the fifth and current President of Iceland.

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Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson [ˈouːlavʏr ˈraknar ˈkrimsɔn] ( listen) (born 14 May 1943) is the fifth and current President of Iceland.[1] He has served as President since 1996; he was unopposed in 2000, re-elected for a third term in 2004, re-elected unopposed for a fourth term in 2008 and re-elected for a record fifth term in 2012. He is the longest running President in Icelandic history, and his lengthy run is the reason behind a proposed amendment to the constitution proposing a maximum of three terms per president.

Early life

Ólafur was born in Ísafjörður, Iceland. From 1962 to 1970, he studied economics and political science at the University of Manchester; in 1970 he was the first person from Iceland to earn a PhD in political science. He became a lecturer in political science at the University of Iceland in 1970, then a Professor of Political Science at the same university in 1973. He was the University's first Professor of Political Science.[1]

In 1984, with three other left-wing intellectuals, he took part in a debate with economist Milton Friedman, who was in Iceland to give a lecture on the "tyranny of the status quo" at the University of Iceland.

Political career

As part of the left-wing People's Alliance, Ólafur was a Member of Althing for Reykjavík from 1978 to 1983; during this time he was Chairman of the People's Alliance parliamentary group from 1980 to 1983. Subsequently, he was Chairman of the People's Alliance executive committee from 1983 to 1987; additionally, from 1983 to 1985 he was editor of a newspaper, Þjóðviljinn. From 1987 to 1995, he was Leader of the People's Alliance; during this time, he served as Minister of Finance from 1988 to 1991 and as a Member of Althing for Reykjanes from 1991 to 1996.[1]

President of Iceland

Ólafur with President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on 19 April 2002.

In the 1996 presidential election, he was elected with 41.4% of the votes.

Refusal to sign media law

He is the first president to use the authorization given in the 26th article of the Icelandic constitution to put a law from Alþingi in to a referendum. He did that on 2 June 2004 to a law about the mass media. His decision remains controversial with politicians and legal scholars alike. Some consider the refusing to sign as "an attack" on Alþingi and parliamentary sovereignty and lawyers debate whether article 26 is actually valid. No national referendum was ever held about the controversial media law as the government withdrew the law before a referendum could be held.

The law set to create a government-controlled media committee to control freedom of speech.[2]

Re-election 2004

In the 2004 presidential election, Ólafur was re-elected with 67.5% of the votes cast (down from over 95% in the only other time an incumbent has been contested), but that election also saw a record number of empty ballots (21.2%) and an exceptionally low turnout of 63% (usually 80–90%), both of which have been interpreted as dissent with the president's decision to not sign the media law. Since then, the issue of a constitutional amendment to revoke the veto power of the president has been raised by the Independence Party. Some have also wanted to rest that power with the people themselves, who could then force referendums to be held on laws by – for instance – collecting a certain number of signatures.

Re-election 2008

On 1 January 2008, in his new year's address, Ólafur announced his intention to seek a fourth term in office later in 2008. Because there was no challenger, he was automatically re-elected and sworn in for another term on 1 August 2008.[3]

Crisis of 2008 statements

In the aftermath of the 2008–2012 Icelandic financial crisis, Ólafur has criticised other countries for lack of help to Iceland.

In early November, the President attended a traditional informal lunch with all ambassadors to Iceland, held by the senior Danish ambassador. According to a confidential memo from the Norwegian embassy, quoted in the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen, the President said: "The North Atlantic is important to Scandinavia, the US and Britain. This is a fact these countries now seem to ignore. Then, Iceland should rather get some new friends". However, he praised Norway and the Faroes for their swift decisions to grant major loans to Iceland. He also said Iceland should rather invite Russia to use the Keflavík Air Base. According to the memo, the offer was turned down by an "amazed and smiling" Russian ambassador who said Russia did not have any need for this. Ólafur also criticised the International Monetary Fund for the system's flaws and for their bad treatment of Iceland. He said it was part of Icelandic political mentality to "fight alone" rather than being threatened to submit, and that he expected Iceland to overcome the crisis sooner than the US and Britain by showing initiative and international activity in new fields. The memo, however, underlines that the President of Iceland has no political power and that no government official has presented similar points of view "to the same degree".[4][5][6]

The Danish ambassador to Iceland, Lasse Reimann, confirmed to the daily Politiken that the lunch had taken place, but declined to comment on the President's speech.[7]

On 5 January 2010 the President of Iceland vetoed a measure of the Icelandic government to pay the governments of Britain and the Netherlands for their bailouts of customers of private Icelandic banks (no such bailout was required under Icelandic law, though on 26 May 2010 the EFTA found it was required by the terms of Iceland's membership of the EEA).[8] The President's veto was upheld by the people of Iceland when they voted upon the measure in March 2010. This dispute is known as Icesave dispute.

On 20 February 2011 the President of Iceland again vetoed an effort by the Icelandic government to pay (over a period of years) money to the governments of Britain and the Netherlands. In a referendum, which was held on 9 April 2011, Icelanders rejected for a second time a proposal to pay $5 billion to Britain and the Netherlands.[9][10] Nearly 60% of Icelanders rejected the proposal put forward by the government.[11] The President's veto was upheld by the people and the government now needs to find a way to solve this issue.[12]

2012 election

Ólafur Ragnar announced on March 4, 2012 that he would be seeking a fifth term as the President of Iceland in the 2012 presidential election.[13] Election took place on June 30, 2012 and Ólafur received 52.78% of votes cast.

Views on current global issues

Ólafur has identified the 2009 financial crisis, the need for a green energy revolution, and climate change as the three most pressing issues in today's world. Declaring these three problems to be interconnected, he has said, "None of these three crises can be solved without solving the other."[14]

Other achievements

In recent years the President has been outspoken on the issues of renewable energy and global climate change. He initiated a Global Roundtable on Climate Change with the participation of a large group of companies and individual opinion leaders. President Ólafur strongly advocates the use of geothermal energy, which is renewable, economically viable and reliable resource, as proven convincingly by the case of Iceland.

In relation to his efforts on these issues, President Ólafur has participated in the Global Creative Leadership Summit,[15] organized by the Louise Blouin Foundation,[16] in 2007 and 2008. He was also awarded the Louise T Blouin Award for Creative and Cultural Achievement. In 2008, as a delegate at the Summit he delivered the Keynote Speech on Climate Change versus Globalization.


He married Guðrún Katrín Þorbergsdóttir in 1974, who gave birth to twin daughters the following year, Guðrún Tinna, a graduate in Business Studies, and Svanhildur Dalla, a graduate both in Political Science and Law.[1][17] Guðrún Katrín was a popular figure in Iceland, and the country mourned when she passed away after a fight with leukaemia in 1998.

Ólafur's second marriage was to Israeli-born Dorrit Moussaieff, to whom he became engaged in May 2000. The wedding took place on his 60th birthday, 14 May 2003, in a private ceremony held at the presidential residence.

They have a dog, Sámur, who is named after the dog of Gunnar of Hlíðarendi, one of the main characters in the Icelandic family saga Njála.


Ólafur was hospitalized in Reykjavík on 6 October 2008 for an angioplasty procedure. This was announced on 9 October, with his saying that he was "recovering and has resumed most activities".[18]