Wednesday, 21 June 2017

ALAND ISLANDS: Quiet Demilitarised Aland Islands

The Aland Islands or Aland are an archipelago at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea belonging to Finland. It is autonomous, demilitarised and is the only monolingually Swedish-speaking region in Finland. It is the smallest region of Finland, constituting 0.49% of its land area and 0.50% of its population.

Aland comprises Fasta Aland on which 90% of the population resides and a further 6,500 skerries and islands to its east. Fasta Aland is separated from the coast of Sweden by 38 kilometres (24 mi) of open water to the west. In the east, the Aland archipelago is contiguous with the Finnish Archipelago Sea. Aland's only land border is located on the uninhabited skerry of Market, which it shares with Sweden.

Aland's autonomous status means that those provincial powers normally exercised by representatives of the central Finnish government are largely exercised by its own government.

The autonomous status of the islands was affirmed by a decision made by the League of Nations in 1921 following the Aland crisis. It was reaffirmed within the treaty admitting Finland to the European Union. By law, Aland is politically neutral and entirely demilitarised, and residents are exempt from conscription to the Finnish Defence Forces.

The islands were granted extensive autonomy by the Parliament of Finland in the Act on the Autonomy of Aland of 1920, which was later replaced by new legislation by the same name in 1951 and 1991. Aland remains exclusively Swedish-speaking by this act.

In connection with Finland's admission to the European Union, a protocol was signed concerning the Aland Islands that stipulates, among other things, that provisions of the European Community Treaty shall not force a change of the existing restrictions for foreigners i.e., persons who do not enjoy "home region rights" (hembygdsatt) in Aland, to acquire and hold real property or to provide certain services.

Aland's original name was in the Proto-Norse language *Ahvaland which means "Land of Water". In Swedish, this first developed into Áland and eventually into Aland, literally "river land"—even though rivers are not a prominent feature of Aland's geography. The Finnish and Estonian names of the island, Ahvenanmaa and Ahvenamaa ("perch land"), are seen to preserve another form of the old name.

Another theory suggests that the Finnish Ahvenanmaa would be the original name of the archipelago, from which the Swedish Aland derives.

The official name, Landskapet Aland, means "the Region of Aland"; landskap is cognate to English "landscape".

Members of the Neolithic Comb Ceramic culture started settling the islands some 7000 years ago, after the islands had begun to re-emerge from the sea after being pushed down by the weight of the continental ice of the latest ice age. Two neolithic cultures met on Aland: Comb Ceramic culture and later Pit-Comb Ware culture which spread from the west.

Stone Age and Bronze Age people found food by hunting seals and birds, fishing, and gathering plants. They also started early agriculture. In the Iron Age contacts to Scandinavia were increasing. From the Viking age there are over 380 documented burial sites and six castle ruins.

In the 1200s, Finland was incorporated into the Swedish Empire.The Aland Islands formed part of the territory ceded to Russia by Sweden under the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in September 1809. As a result, they became part of the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland.

During this process, Sweden failed to secure a provision that the islands not be fortified. The issue was important not only for Sweden but also for the United Kingdom, which was concerned that a military presence on the islands could threaten Britain's military and commercial interests.

In 1832, Russia started to fortify the islands with the great fortress of Bomarsund. A combined British and French force of warships and marines captured and destroyed the fortress in 1854 as part of the campaign in the Baltic during the Crimean War. The 1856 Treaty of Paris demilitarised the entire Aland archipelago.

During the Finnish Civil War, in 1918, Swedish troops intervened as a peacekeeping force between the Russian troops stationed on the islands and "White" and "Red" Finnish troops who came from Finland over the frozen sea. Historians point out that Sweden may have in reality planned to occupy the islands. Within weeks, the Swedish troops gave way to German troops who occupied Aland by request of the "White" (conservative) Senate of Finland.

After 1917 the residents of the islands worked towards having them ceded to Sweden. In 1919 a petition for secession from Finland and integration with Sweden was signed by 96.4% of the voters on the islands, with over 95% in favour.Swedish nationalist sentiments had grown strong particularly as a result of the anti-Swedish tendencies in Finland and Finnish nationalism fueled by Finland's struggle to retain its autonomy and resistance against Russification.

The conflict between the Swedish-speaking minority and the Finnish-speaking majority on the mainland, prominent in Finnish politics since the 1840s, contributed to the apprehension of the Aland population about its future in Finland.

Finland, however, declined to cede the islands and instead offered them an autonomous status. Nevertheless, the residents did not approve the offer, and the dispute over the islands was submitted to the League of Nations. The latter decided that Finland should retain sovereignty over the province but that the Aland Islands should be made an autonomous territory.

Thus Finland was obliged to ensure the residents of the Aland Islands the right to maintain the Swedish language, as well as their own culture and local traditions. At the same time, an international treaty established the neutral status of Aland, prohibiting the placing of military installations or forces on the islands.

The combination of disappointment about insufficient support from Sweden in the League of Nations, Swedish disrespect for Aland's demilitarised status in the 1930s, and some feelings of a shared destiny with Finland during and after World War II has changed the islanders' perception of Aland's relation to Finland from "a Swedish province in Finnish possession" to "an autonomous part of Finland".

The islanders enjoyed safety at sea during World War II, as their merchant fleet sailed for both the Allied countries and Germany. Consequently, Åland shipping was not generally attacked as each side rarely knew which cargo was being carried to whom.

Finland marked the 150th anniversary of demilitarisation of the Aland Islands by issuing a high-value commemorative coin, the €5 150th Anniversary of

Demilitarisation of Aland Islands commemorative coin, minted in 2006. The obverse depicts a pine tree, very typical in the Aland Islands. The reverse design features a boat's stern and rudder, with a dove perched on the tiller, a symbol of 150 years of peace.

The Aland Islands are governed according to the Act on the Autonomy of Aland and international treaties. These laws guarantee the islands' autonomy from Finland, which has ultimate sovereignty over them, as well as a demilitarised status. The Government of Aland, or Landskapsregering, answers to the Parliament of Aland, or Lagting, in accordance with the principles of parliamentarism.

land has its own flag, has issued its own postage stamps since 1984, runs its own police force, and is an associate member of the Nordic Council. Since 2005 the Aland Islands also have had their own airline, Air Aland.

The islands are demilitarised, and the population is exempt from conscription. Although Aland's autonomy preceded the creation of the regions of Finland, the autonomous government of Aland also has responsibility for the functions undertaken by Finland's regional councils.

Aland is a member of the Small European Postal Administration Cooperation. The islands are considered a separate "nation" for amateur radio purposes and have their own call sign prefix granted by Finland, OH0 OF0 and OG0,last character is zero.

The Aland Islands are guaranteed representation in the Finnish parliament, to which they elect one representative. Aland also has a different system of political parties from the mainland.

Home schooling, which was effectively banned in Sweden in 2011, is allowed by the Finnish government. Due to the islands' proximity to Sweden and because the islands are Swedish speaking, a number of Swedish homeschooling families have moved from the Swedish mainland to Aland, including Jonas Himmelstrand, the chairman of the Swedish association for homeschooling.

The State Department of Aland represents the Finnish central government and performs many administrative duties. It has a somewhat different function from the other Regional Administrative Agencies, owing to its autonomy. Prior to 2010, the state administration was handled by the Aland State Provincial Office.

Aland has its own postal administration but still uses the Finnish five-digit postal code system, using the number range 22000-22999, with the prefix AX. The lowest numbered postal code is for the capital Mariehamn, AX 22100, and the highest AX 22950 for Jurmo.

Municipalities of Aland

Brändö (478)
Eckerö (961)
Finström (2,538)
Föglö (495)
Geta (493)
Hammarland (1,526)
Jomala (4,321)
Kumlinge (244)
Kökar (343)
Lemland (1,849)
Lumparland (397)
Mariehamn (11,459)
Saltvik (1,808)
Sottunga (104)
Sund (1,037)
Vårdö (448)

The Aland Islands occupy a position of strategic importance, as they command one of the entrances to the port of Stockholm, as well as the approaches to the Gulf of Bothnia, in addition to being situated near the Gulf of Finland.

The Aland archipelago includes nearly three hundred habitable islands, of which about eighty are inhabited; the remainder are merely some 6,200 skerries and desolate rocks. The archipelago is connected to Aboland archipelago in the east the archipelago adjacent to the southwest coast of Finland. Together they form the Archipelago Sea. To West from Aland is Sea of Aland and to North the Bothnian Sea.

The surface of the islands is generally rocky and the soil thin due to glacial stripping at the end of the most recent ice age.There are several harbours.

The islands' landmass occupies a total area of 1,527 square kilometres (590 sq mi). Ninety percent of the population live on Fasta Aland, which is also the site of the capital town of Mariehamn. Fasta Aland is the largest island in the archipelago. Its area is difficult to estimate due to its irregular shape and coastline, but estimates range from 740 square kilometres to 879 square kilometres to over 1,010 square kilometres, depending on what is included or excluded.

During the Aland crisis, the parties sought support from different maps of the islands. On the Swedish map, the most densely populated main island dominated, and many skerries were left out. On the Finnish map, many smaller islands or skerries were, for technical reasons, given a slightly exaggerated size.

The Swedish map made the islands appear to be closer to the mainland of Sweden than to Finland; the Finnish map stressed the continuity of the archipelago between the main island and mainland Finland, while a greater gap appeared between the islands and the archipelago on the Swedish side. One consequence is the often repeated number of "over 6,000" skerries that was given authority by the outcome of the arbitration.

Aland has a humid continental climate that is influenced by its maritime position, especially in summer. While summers are cooler than on both the Swedish and Finnish mainland, winters see little difference to the adjacent parts of Sweden and are only narrowly milder than in mainland Finland.

Aland's economy is heavily dominated by shipping, trade and tourism. Shipping represents about 40% of the economy, with several international carriers owned and operated off Aland. Most companies aside from shipping are small, with fewer than ten employees. Farming and fishing are important in combination with the food industry.

A few high-profile technology companies contribute to a prosperous economy. Wind power is rapidly developing, aiming at reversing the direction in the cables to the mainland in coming years. In December 2011 wind power accounted for 31.48% of Åland's total electricity usage.

The main ports are Mariehamn (south), Berghamn (west) and Långnäs on the eastern shore of the Main Island.

Mariehamn was the base for the last large oceanic commercial sailing ships in the world. Their final tasks were bringing Australian wheat to Great Britain, on which Aland shipowner Gustaf Erikson kept going until after WW2, 1947 being his last year.

The ships latterly made only one round-trip from South Australia to Britain per year, (the grain race), after each marathon voyage going back to Mariehamn to lay up for a few months. The ship Pommern, now a museum in Mariehamn, was one of these last vessels.

The abolition of tax-free sales on ferry boats travelling between destinations within the European Union made Finland demand an exception for the Aland Islands on the European Union value added tax rules. The exception allows for maintained tax-free sales on the ferries between Sweden and Finland provided they stop at Mariehamn or Langnas and at the airport, but has also made Aland a different tax-zone, meaning that tariffs must be levied on goods brought to the islands.

Unemployment was 3.9% in January 2014

The Finnish State collects taxes, duties and fees also in Aland. In return, the Finnish Government places a sum of money at the disposal of the Aland Parliament. The sum is 0.45% of total Government income, excluding Government loans. If the sum paid to the Finnish state exceedes 0.5%, then any amount above that will go back to the Parliament of Aland as "diligence money". In 2010, the amount of taxes paid by Aland Islanders was 0.65% of the total taxes paid in Finland.

According to Eurostat, in 2006 Aland was the 20th wealthiest of the EU's 268 regions, and the wealthiest in Finland, with a GDP per inhabitant 47% above the EU mean.

While the official currency is the Euro, the Swedish krona is unofficially accepted by most businesses in Aland.

Most inhabitants speak Swedish the sole official language as their first language: 90.2% in 2009, while 5.0% spoke Finnish. The language of instruction in publicly financed schools is Swedish In the rest of Finland, bilingual municipalities provide schooling both in Finnish and in Swedish.

The issue of the ethnicity of the Alanders, and the correct linguistic classification of their language, remains somewhat sensitive and controversial. They may be considered either ethnic Swedes or Swedish-speaking Finns, but their language is closer to the Upplandska dialect of Sweden than to Finland Swedish.

Regional citizenship or the right of domicile (hembygdsratt) is a prerequisite for voting, standing as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly, or owning and holding real estate situated in unplanned areas of Aland.

The majority of the population, 75.9%, belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. The Aland islands contain Finland's oldest Christian churches, including St. Olaf's Church, Jomala, which dating from the late 13th century is likely to be the oldest in Finland. The Aland Islands' largest church is the Church of St. George in Sund, dating from shortly after.

Aland competes in the biennial Island Games, which it hosted in 1991 and 2009.

Aland United and IFK Mariehamn are the islands' leading football clubs.

Aland Stags are the islands' only Rugby Union club.