>Many of the readers of this blog will know that Friday is the Queen of Denmark’s 70th birthday, but it should not be forgotten that another Nordic female leader also celebrates a major anniversary this week. Tomorrow is the 80th birthday of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the former President of Iceland who also holds a place in world history as the first democratically elected female head of state.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was educated in France, Denmark and Iceland and at the time she was asked to run for president she was the artistic director of a theatre as well as lecturing in French literature at the University in Reykjavik.
She won a narrow victory in the presidential election of 1980, receiving 33.6 % of the votes and thereby defeating three other (male) candidates. She ran unopposed for re-election in 1984 and 1992, and when challenged for the presidency in 1988 she received 95 % of the votes.
To the regret of her people she chose not to run for a fifth term and stood down in August 1996. Her successor, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, has in recent years taken the Icelandic presidency in a more political direction, but he has also had the ungrateful task of presiding over the ruin of his country in the wake of the financial crisis.
President Vigdís, as she is universally known in Iceland, where first names are more important than surnames, remains active and as a goodwill ambassador of UNESCO she is particularly dedicated to the preservation of languages.
I remember seeing her a few years ago in the middle of the Frederikke Square at the University of Oslo, standing serenely with her eyes closed enjoying the spring sunshine, still looking decades younger than her eighty years.