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Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

Assumed office 
1 August 1996
Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson
Halldór Ásgrímsson
Geir Haarde
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
Preceded by Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

In office
28 September 1988 – 30 April 1991
Preceded by Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson
Succeeded by Friðrik Sophusson

Born 14 May 1943 (1943-05-14) (age 66)
Ísafjörður, Iceland
Political party Independent former People's Alliance
Spouse(s) Guðrún Katrín Þorbergsdóttir (1974-1998),
Dorrit Moussaieff (2003)
Residence Bessastaðir, Álftanes
Alma mater University of Manchester
University of Iceland
Profession Professor
Religion Lutheran

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (Olafur ragnar grimsson.ogg ˈouːlavʏr ˈraknar ˈkrimsɔn ) (born 14 May 1943) is the fifth and current President of Iceland.[1] He has served as President since 1996; he was re-elected unopposed in 2000, re-elected for a third term in 2004, and re-elected unopposed for a fourth term in 2008. He has served the longest as a left-wing president in the history of Iceland.


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]

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]

As member of the Althing, Ólafur was among the most controversial politicians in Iceland.[citation needed] Originally elected as President from a field of four candidates with 42% of the total votes, Ólafur has from the outset been a controversial figure in the office of President,[citation needed][2] an office that has mainly ceremonial functions meant to symbolise national unity and bears little responsibility for government affairs.

President of Iceland

Ólafur with then 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.


Veto on media law

He is the first president to use the authorization given in the 26th article of the Icelandic constitution to veto a law from Alþingi, in which case the law in question would be put to a national 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 veto 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.

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 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]

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.” [8]

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,[9] organized by the Louise Blouin Foundation,[10] 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.[1] Guðrún Katrín was very popular in Iceland, and her charisma is often mentioned as one of the reasons her husband was elected. She died from 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.


Ólafur was hospitalized in Reykjavík on 6 October 2008 for an angioplasty procedure. This was announced on 9 October, with his spokesman saying that he was "recovering and has resumed most activities".[11]


Political offices
Preceded by
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir
President of Iceland
1996 – present
Preceded by
Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson
Minister of Finance
1988 – 1991
Succeeded by
Friðrik Sophusson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Svavar Gestsson
Leader of the People's Alliance
1987 – 1995
Succeeded by
Margrét Frímannsdóttir

Simple English

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