90 years ago the League of Nations decided that the Åland Islands would continue under Finnish sovereignty, but it was also guaranteed that the islands would be an autonomous, demilitarized and monolingual territory. This decision shattered the hopes of many an Ålandish, an estimated 96% of the population had signed a petition for re-unification with Sweden in January 1918. Sweden and Finland were not able to solve the political crisis that followed, and thus it was the international community that solved the conflict.
What is the situation now?
The autonomy has been extended and nowadays the local government deals with most internal matter. Åland also has a special status within the European Union. (Here it might be worth mentioning that Åland has its own referendum on accession to the union).
Wikipedia tells us that according to Protocol 2 (on the Åland Islands) of the Finnish accession treaty, “While most EU law applies to Åland it is outside the VAT area and is exempt from common rules in relation to turnover taxes, excise duties and indirect taxation. There are also restrictions on the freedom of movement of people and services, the right of establishment, and the purchase or holding of real estate in Åland”.
Basically, Åland is trying to maintain the territory “Ålandish” by the use of two principal tools – language and something called “hembygdsrätt” (“home region rights”), i.e. restrictions for foreigners (also from other EU countries) to acquire and hold real property or to provide certain services on the island.
As mentioned above, Åland is monolingual, meaning that everything is in Swedish. Apart from language classes, all schools are in Swedish, too.
Recently it is mainly the language issue that has been causing problems with Finland, where the status of the Swedish language has declined. Few people would actually strive for independence, and most “Ålanders” feel Finnish when it comes to sports However, it must be said that culture and traditions are very different between Finland and Åland – I would go as far as to say that the “general mentality” is different, too. It is equally true that most people in Åland speak very poor Finnish (if they speak it at all – it’s an optional language in school), but usually it has less to do with negative feelings towards the Finns than with uncertainty and fear of speaking in a foreign language.
The following tune is a traditional Scandinavian songs that is generally considered to be of Ålandish origin.