The President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson gave a guest lecture at the University of Helsinki

The Nordic countries should be proud of their world-famous welfare model, but be careful not to misuse history. This was the message in the lecture given by the President of Iceland Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson at the University of Helsinki on 16 May.

The lecture was part of the President’s state visit to Finland. In his lecture, President Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson highlighted the Nordic countries’ successes in international comparisons, but also described the challenge of integrating his presidency and his former profession of history professor.

“As head of state you must be a unifying force, positive and inspiring. You must praise your country and its history. Some even feel you should present your country’s history in the most favourable light possible. But that is not what a historian is supposed to do. As a scholar, you must adopt a critical stance towards your field.”

President Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson illustrated his argument using examples from Icelandic heroic legends. He also touched upon how criticising the military leader and statesman C.G.E. Mannerheim has been difficult and labelled unpatriotic in Finland, something that only began to change in the 2000s.

“We should allow ourselves to be inspired by history, but history must not be used for nationalistic purposes. It is through critical examination that we discover its contradictory and controversial aspects, and it is precisely those aspects that make history interesting.”