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Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

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Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
Ólafur in 2011
5th President of Iceland
In office
1 August 1996 – 1 August 2016
Prime MinisterDavíð Oddsson
Halldór Ásgrímsson
Geir Haarde
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson
Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson
Preceded byVigdís Finnbogadóttir
Succeeded byGuðni Th. Jóhannesson
Minister of Finance
In office
28 September 1988 – 30 April 1991
Prime MinisterSteingrímur Hermannsson
Preceded byJón Baldvin Hannibalsson
Succeeded byFriðrik Klemenz Sophusson
Member of the Parliament for Reykjavík
In office
20 April 1991 – 1 August 1996
In office
25 June 1978 – 23 April 1983
Personal details
Born (1943-05-14) 14 May 1943 (age 81)
Ísafjörður, Kingdom of Iceland
Political party
  • (m. 1974; died 1998)
  • (m. 2003)
Alma materUniversity of Manchester

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (Icelandic: [ˈouːlavʏr ˈraknar ˈkrimsɔn] ; born 14 May 1943) is an Icelandic politician who was the fifth president of Iceland from 1996 to 2016.[1] He was previously a member of the Icelandic Parliament for the People's Alliance and served as Minister of Finance from 1988 to 1991.

Since the end of his presidency, Ólafur has been serving as Chairman of the Arctic Circle, a non-profit organization,[2] and as Chairman of the International Renewable Energy Agency's Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation.[3]

Early life[edit]

Ólafur was born in Ísafjörður, the son of barber Grímur Kristgeirsson and housewife Svanhildur Ólafsdóttir Hjartar. He matriculated from Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík in 1962. From 1962 to 1970 he studied at the University of Manchester, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and political science in 1965 and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in political science in 1970, thus becoming the first Icelander to earn a PhD in this field.[4] 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[edit]

As part of the left-wing People's Alliance, Ólafur was a Member of Althing for Reykjavík from 1978 to 1983. During this time, from 1980 to 1983, he was Chairman of the People's Alliance parliamentary group. 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.[1] From 1981 to 1984, he was also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, serving again briefly from 1995 to 1996.[5] 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.

Ólafur was chairman and later President of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) from 1984 to 1990, serving on their council until 1996. In 1986, he received the Indira Gandhi Prize on behalf of the PGA.[5] 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.[6] As Minister of Finance, he "was subjected to the idea that the rating agencies were the golden judges of financial health."[7] He was re-elected as a Member of Althing for Reykjanes from 1991 to 1996.

Presidency (1996–2016)[edit]

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

1996 election[edit]

In the 1996 presidential election, he was elected with 41.4% of the votes cast.[8]

Re-election 2004[edit]

In the 2004 presidential election, Ólafur was re-elected with 85.6% of the valid votes cast, but that election also saw a record number of empty/invalid ballots (21.2%) and an exceptionally low turnout of 62.9% (usually 80–90%), both of which have been interpreted as dissent with the president's decision not to sign a controversial 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[edit]

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.[9]

Crisis of 2008 statements[edit]

In the aftermath of the 2008–2011 Icelandic financial crisis, Ólafur criticized 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". He praised Norway and the Faroe Islands for their swift decision to grant major loans to Iceland. He also said Iceland should rather invite Russia to use the Keflavík Air Base. According to the memo, an "amazed and smiling" Russian ambassador said Russia did not have any need for this. Ólafur also criticised the International Monetary Fund for the system's flaws and for its mistreatment of Iceland. He said it was part of Icelandic political mentality to "fight alone" rather than being threatened into submission, 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 underlined that the President of Iceland has no political power and that no other government official had presented similar points of view "to the same degree".[10][11][12] The Danish ambassador to Iceland, Lasse Reimann, confirmed to the daily Politiken that the lunch had taken place, but declined to discuss on the President's comments.[13]

On 5 January 2010, the President of Iceland vetoed a measure of the Icelandic government to repay 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).[14] 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 repay (in installments over a period of years) the governments of Britain and the Netherlands. In a referendum held on 9 April 2011, Icelanders rejected for a second time a proposal to pay $5 billion to Britain and the Netherlands.[15][16] Nearly 60% of Icelanders rejected the proposal put forward by the government.[17] The President's veto was thus upheld by the people.

Ólafur during the WEF 2013

2012 election[edit]

Ólafur Ragnar announced on 4 March 2012, that he would be seeking a fifth term as the President of Iceland in the 2012 presidential election.[18] He received 52.78% of votes cast in the election, which took place on 30 June.

2016 election and Panama Papers controversy[edit]

In a statement to the country on 1 January 2016, Ólafur Ragnar announced that he would not run in the 2016 presidential election, wanting "to transfer the responsibilities of the president onto other shoulders".[19] He later withdrew the statement and decided in April to run again,[20] citing political unrest after the fallout of the Panama Papers leak, which implicated Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and led to his resignation after large anti-government protests.[21] After Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Davíð Oddsson announced their candidacies, he again changed his mind and on 9 May declared he would not run.[22]

Reykjavik Grapevine and the news site Kjarninn revealed that Ólafur Ragnar's wife, Dorrit Moussaieff, had connections to an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. Ólafur Ragnar had denied any personal or family ties to companies in tax havens. The company was owned by the parents of Dorrit. According to Kjarninn, the company, Lasca Finance, was in operation from 1999 to 2005. The financial statements of Moussaieff Jewelers Limited show it received almost £7 million (US$10.2 million or €9.1 million) in interest payments from Lasca in 2000–2005.

Views on current global issues[edit]

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."[23]

Ólafur has expressed concern that Saudi Arabian financing of a Reykjavík mosque will fuel radical Islam in Iceland, and said that he was, "shocked to the point of paralysis" when he learned the government of Saudi Arabia had decided to interfere in Icelandic religious life by donating one million US dollars for the mosque.[24]

Awards and decorations[edit]

National honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson coat of arms as a knight of the Swedish Order of the Seraphim

Other achievements[edit]

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson during his visit to The Doon School in India, seen here with the school's headmaster Peter McLaughlin

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. 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, Ólafur has participated in the Global Creative Leadership Summit,[28] organized by the Louise Blouin Foundation,[29] 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.

On 15 April 2013, at the National Press Club in Washington, he announced the formation of the Arctic Circle, an organization to facilitate dialogue among political and business leaders, environmental experts, scientists, indigenous representatives, and other international stakeholders to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice. [citation needed]


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][30] Guðrún Katrín was a popular figure in Iceland, and was mourned nationwide when she died of 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 saying that he was "recovering and has resumed most activities".[31]



  1. ^ a b c d L Official CV Archived 23 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "About the Arctic Circle - Board". Arctic Circle. Archived from the original on 2 October 2020. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  3. ^ "New Geopolitics: Commission on the Global Consequences of Renewable Energy Transformation". /newsroom/pressreleases/2018/Apr/New-Geopolitics-Commission-on-the-Global-Consequences-of-Renewable-Energy-Transformation. 18 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson". President of Iceland. Archived from the original on 10 April 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  5. ^ a b "President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson" (PDF). United Nations. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  6. ^ "Fyrri ráðherrar | Fjármálaráðuneytið". 25 March 2010. Archived from the original on 25 March 2010.
  7. ^ Reid, Stuart (February 2014). "Iceland's Saga: A Conversation With Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  8. ^ "Úrslit í forsetakosningum" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 September 2012.
  9. ^ "President of Iceland sworn in for fourth time", Xinhua (People's Daily Online), 3 August 2008.
  10. ^ Alf Skjeseth: Inviterer Russland Archived 4 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Klassekampen, 12 November 2008 (in Norwegian)
  11. ^ Iceland: Denmark has turned its back, Politiken, 12 November 2008
  12. ^ Russia invited to Iceland's airbase Archived 7 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine, barentsobserver.com, 12 November 2008
  13. ^ Michael Bech: Dansk ambassadør følte islandsk vrede, Politiken, 12 November 2008 (in Danish)
  14. ^ Michael Bech: EFTA: Iceland must pay Icesave Archived 15 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine, IceNews, 27 May 2010
  15. ^ Icelanders Again Reject Icesave Debt Deal, www.nytimes.com, 10 April 2011
  16. ^ Iceland says Icesave dispute to be solved in court, Reuters, 10 April 2011
  17. ^ Icesave Referendum: First Numbers Archived 29 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Iceland Review, 9 April 2011
  18. ^ Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson runs for a fifth term as President Archived 2 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, [1], 4.Mar 2012
  19. ^ "Iceland's president not seeking re-election after 20 years". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 1 January 2016. Archived from the original on 1 January 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  20. ^ "Ólafur Ragnar to run for re-election". Iceland Monitor. Morgunblaðið. 18 April 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  21. ^ "Panama Papers: Iceland PM Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson steps down". BBC News. 4 April 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  22. ^ "Ólafur Ragnar hættur við framboð". www.mbl.is.
  23. ^ Iceland's president: Our most pressing problems are interlinked 2009 Global Creative Leadership Summit.
  24. ^ "President of Iceland fears Saudi Arabian funding of Reykjavík Mosque will fuel Muslim extremism in Iceland". 24 November 2015.
  25. ^ "The President of Iceland Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and wife Dorrit". 15 April 2015.
  26. ^ "President of the Republic of Slovenia > Slovenian President on a state visit to the Republic of Iceland".
  27. ^ "Stock Photo - Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson (R), his wife Dorrit Moussaieff (C), Queen Sonja of Norway (2ndL-R), King Olaf of Norway (2ndR) and other guests attend the Te Deum".
  28. ^ "Default Page | Global Creative Leadership Summit". Creativeleadershipsummit.org. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  29. ^ "Louise Blouin Foundation – Home". Ltbfoundation.org. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  30. ^ "Guðrún KatrÃn Îorbergsdóttir". English.forseti.is. Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  31. ^ "Iceland president briefly hospitalised for heart problem: office" Archived 7 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine, AFP, 9 October 2008.
  32. ^ "Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson". Retrieved 7 January 2016.
Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of Iceland
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the People's Alliance
Succeeded by