Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was in Berlin this evening, answering questions posed by Andrea Fischer (former Minister of Health from the Green Party and candidate for local mayor in one of the boroughs here) about her life. The occasion was the publication of the German translation of "Frau Präsident", a biography of the life of the first freely elected female president in the world. Halldór Guðmundsson, an Icelandic writer who used to lead the largest publishing house in Iceland, Mál og menning, did an excellent job of translating.
She spoke of the Icelandic women's strike in 1975, and the search for a female candidate for the presidency in 1980. She was then head of a local theater company, having formerly worked as a modern language teacher in school. People were joking - Vigdís, you do it! What made her decide to run was a long telegram she got from a fishing boat kindly requesting her to please run for president. She said: When the fishermen ask you to do something in Iceland, you listen!
She was elected, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the taz on my way over to the States, although the article never appeared because the revolution broke out in Danzig and revolution was much more important than wimmin's stuff. Anyway - it turned out that she is the godmother of the friend I was staying with, so I not only got to interview her in her presidential office but also visited Bessastaðir, the official residence. I interviewed her 20 years later when she was in Berlin after leaving office - she was reelected 4 times - for Nordeuropaforum.
She refuses to talk politics - deftly avoiding Andrea Fischer's questions about the kreppa and other remotely political topics. Fisher remarked over wine that she didn't even start into her questions about whether Iceland wants to join the EU, as it was clear that she would get no answer, but a charming smile and another story.
She spoke at length about identity and language, and language being the glue that holds society together. The only mildly political statement was: "They can take away everything from you except the language in which you think."
Afterwards she signed copies of the biography, having each person sit down with her, tell her a bit about them, have them write out their name, and then she wrote a dedication in each book. Sure, I stood in line, too. Spoke with the consul from Bremerhaven, and got my autogramm - and I very proud that I managed the whole thing in Icelandic.
This is going to be a great year - Iceland is the partner country of the Frankfurt Book Fair, they already have a web site up (Fabulous Iceland) and are churning out German translations by the boatload.