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Monday, November 23, 2009

Revolution 1809

Just got back from a wonderful weekend in Reykjavik, at the conference Byltingin 1809 (Revolution 1809), celebrating the 200th anniversary of that revolution and its wayward hero Jørgen Jørgensen (or Jörundur in Icelandic; Jorgen Jorgenson in English).  What a guy!  I won't go on and on about the story here, but here's the background on my website.

The conference was a heroic achievement in itself, conceived and beautifully organised by the historian Anna Agnarsdóttir, who managed to make it happen at a time when things in Iceland are far from easy (though not quite as bad as 200 years ago, when Icelanders were starving and living on moss scraped off the rocks).

For me the biggest thrill - apart from eating putrefied shark at Anna's very merry dinner party, and watching the morning sun over the north Atlantic - was being able to look at the rows of people in the conference hall and think: Wow, not only do all these people know exactly who Jørgensen is (a rare thrill for me) - they like him enough to give up their Saturday for him!

Jørgensen had a rough time in Icelandic history for many years. People know of him, it's true, but they have never taken his revolution seriously. Yet he did set out to reform schools and health care, abolish crippling debts, establish the country's neutrality in the Napoleonic wars, and restore Iceland's lost ancient parliament.  That all sounds pretty serious to me.  And maybe this conference will be the start of a new way of looking at him.


Jane Bakewell said...

Pretty impressive achievements - a few other countries could do with someone like him now. Let's hope he will become a newly restored hero figure...and everyone will want to read about his life.

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