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Åland’s Autonomy – The Background

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As far back as we know the people of Åland have spoken Swedish and had a culture that is similar to that in Sweden. Åland was also a part of the Swedish kingdom, enjoying periods of relative independence, up until the war of 1808-09, when Sweden was forced to relinquish Finland and Åland to Russia. As a result, Åland became part of the Grand Duchy of Finland.

When the Russian Empire began to fall apart in 1917 representatives of Åland’s municipalities held a secret meeting at the Åland Folk High School, where they decided to seek reunification with their Swedish motherland. A delegation presented this request, which was backed by a mass petition signed by an overwhelming majority of the local adult population, to the Swedish King and Government.

In December 1917 Finland declared itself an independent republic, referring to the same principle of popular self-determination as had been invoked by the Ålanders in support of their claim for reunification with Sweden. Yet Finland was not prepared to meet the Ålanders’ demands, and instead offered a form of internal self-government. The Finnish Parliament adopted a law regulating the proposed autonomy, but the Ålandic representatives rejected the initiative.

Due to the international character of what had now become known as the Åland Islands Question, the issue was referred to the newly formed League of Nations. In June 1921 the League’s Council presented a compromise decision which offered something to each of the three parties to the conflict, Finland, Sweden and Åland. Finland was granted sovereignty over Åland, but was placed under an obligation to guarantee to the population of the Islands their Swedish culture, language, local customs and the system of self government that Finland had offered Åland in 1920. The decision was supplemented with an agreement between Finland and Sweden on how the guarantees were to be realised. The League also decided that a treaty governing Åland’s demilitarisation and neutralisation should be drawn up to ensure that the Islands would never become a military threat to Sweden.

In 1922, after the 1920 Autonomy Act had been supplemented with a number of provisions relating to voting rights and the acquisition of land, the first elections to the Parliament of Åland were held. The landsting, as it was known at the time, convened for its first session on 9 June, and this day is now celebrated in commemoration of Åland’s autonomy. The Autonomy Act has since been completely revised on two occasions, in 1951 and 1993.

Julius Sundblom was a journalist and politician that had a central role in the Åland Islands Question. A statue of Sundblom can be found by the town square in Mariehamn.
The page was last updated on 28.06.2013 kl 19:12