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The Åland Islands or Landskapet Åland, is an autonomous, demilitarized and unilingually Swedish province of Finland consisting of more than 6,500 islands and skerries. The Åland Islands are an archipelago at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia, about 40 km from the coast of Sweden, and 25 km from that of Finland. The Finnish name for the province is Ahvenanmaa.

Landskapet Åland
(In Detail) (Full size)
Official languageSwedish
CapitalMariehamn[?]
PresidentTarja Halonen
ChancellorRoger Nordlund
GovernorPeter Lindbäck
Total Area
 - Land
 - Water
6,784 km²
1,527 km²
5,258 km²
Population
 - Total (2002)
 - Density

26,257
17.9/km²
IndependenceNone - Autonomous
Province of Finland
CurrencyEuro, Finnish euro coins
Time zoneUTC +2
Internet TLD.FI
Calling Code358

The status of the Swedish language, the extensive autonomy and the competence of Åland's legislative assembly are provided for in a specific Act on the Autonomy of Åland (last revision from 1991) given by Finland's legislative assembly, the Eduskunta, based on international treaties giving Åland also a neutral and demilitarised status, which means that no military headquarters or forces may be placed on the islands. The special status of the Åland Islands is based on a decision given by the League of Nations in 1921.

Table of contents

History Main article: History of Åland

The Åland Islands belonged to the provinces Sweden had to cede to Russia by the treaty of Fredrikshamn in September 1809, and came then to be a part of the semi-autonomous Grand duchy of Finland. When, the islands were ceded to Russia, the Swedes were unable to secure a provision that the islands should not be fortified. The question was, however, a vital one not only for Sweden but for Great Britain, whose trade in the Baltic was threatened.

In 1918 Swedish troops intervened as a peace keeping force during the Civil War in Finland in 1918, within weeks to be replaced by German troops acting on request of the "White" side of the Civil War.

From 1917 the residents of the islands aimed at having the islands ceded back to their mother country, Sweden. A petition for secession from Finland was signed by 96.2% of Åland's native adults (those working or living abroad excluded). These sentiments had grown strong particularly in the face of anti-Swedish tendencies in Finland, Finnish nationalism fueled by Finland's struggle to retain its autonomy, and the Finnish resistance against Russification. Also the conflict between the privileged Swedish speaking minority in Finland and the Finnish speaking majority, which since the 1840s had been prominent in Finland's political life, contributed to the Åland population's fear for its future in Finland.

However, as Finland was not willing to cede the islands, they were offered an autonomous status instead of reannexation. The residents did nevertheless not approve the offer, and the dispute over the islands was submitted to the League of Nations. The latter decided that Finland should retain the sovereignty over the province, but the Åland Islands should be made an autonomous territory. Thus Finland is under an obligation to ensure the residents of the Åland Islands a right to maintain the Swedish language, as well as their own culture and local traditions. At the same time, an international treaty was concluded on the neutral status of Åland, under which it is prohibited to place military headquarters or forces on the islands.

In the course of the 20th century, the Finnish sovereignty has been perceived as benevolent, and even beneficial, by increasing majorities of the islanders. Together with disappointment over insufficient support from Sweden in the League of Nations, over Swedish disrespect for Åland's demilitarized status in the 1930s, and to some degree a feeling of shared destiny with Finland during and after World War II, this has resulted in a changed perception of Åland's relation to Finland: from "a Swedish province in Finnish possession" to "an autonomous part of Finland".

In connection with Finland's admission to the European Union a protocol on the Åland Islands provides, i. a., 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 "regional citizenship" (hembygdsrätt) in Åland) to acquire and hold real property, implicating a recognition of a separate nationality.

Politics Main article: Politics of Åland[?]

The League of Nations' resolution of 1921 left Åland under Finland's sovereignty, but with a high degree of autonomy and special rights for the population.

Åland has its own national flag, issues postal stamps of its own, has its own police force, and is a member of the Nordic Council.

The islands are demilitarised and the male population is exempted from conscription.

Parliamentarism has been the custom since 1988. Liberals and Agrarians[?] are the main political forces, mostly competing for power, but currently (2002) in coalition.

Municipalities Main article: Municipalities of Åland[?]

Geography Main article: Geography of Åland[?]

The Åland Islands occupy a position of great strategic importance, commanding as they do both one of the entrances to the port of Stockholm and the approaches to the Gulf of Bothnia, in addition to being situated proximate to the Gulf of Finland.

The group consists of nearly three hundred ihhabitable islands, of which about eighty are inhabited, the remainder being desolate rocks. These islands form a continuation of Åbo skärgård (in Finnish, Turunmaan saaristo), the archipelago adjacent to the southeast coast of Finland.

The surface of the islands is generally sandy, the soil thin and the climate keen. There are several excellent harbours most notably that of Ytternäs[?]

The islands' landmass occupy a total area of 1,512 km². The largest island is Fasta Åland (the Main Island), where 90% of the population live, and upon which the capital town of Mariehamn[?] is situated. It extends over more than 70% of the province's land area, stretching 50 km from north to south and 45 km from east to west.

Economy Main article: Economy of Åland[?]

The abolishment of tax-free sales on ferry boats travelling between destinations within the European Union made Finland demand an exception for the Åland Islands. The exception allows for maintained tax-free sales on the ferries between Sweden and Finland, but has created Åland a different tax-zone, meaning that tarrifs must be levied on goods brought to the islands.

Demographics Main article: Demographics of Åland[?]

Culture Main article: Culture of Åland[?]

Most inhabitants have Swedish mother tongue[?]: 93.5% in 2001. The province is unilingually Swedish, while the rest of Finland has both Finnish and Swedish as official languages. The majority of the population, 94.8%, belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran church.

Åland issues its own stamps since 1984.

Holidays

DateEnglish NameLocal NameRemarks
January 1New Year's Day Nyårsdagen 
January 6Epiphany Trettondagen 
Moveable FridayGood Friday LångfredagThe Friday before Easter Sunday
Moveable SundayEaster Sunday Påskdagen 
Moveable MondayEaster Monday Annandag påskThe day after Easter Sunday
April 30Walpurgis Night Valborgsmässoafton 
May 1May Day Första maj 
Moveable ThursdayAscension DayKristi himmelsfärdsdag40 days after Easter
Moveable SundayPentecost Pingstdagen50 days after Easter
Moveable MondayWhitmonday Annandag Pingst51 days after Easter
Third Friday of JuneMidsummer Eve Midsommarafton 
Third Saturday of JuneMidsummer Day Midsommardagen 
First Saturday of NovemberAll Saints Day Alla helgons dag 
December 6Independence day SjälvständighetsdagenIndependence of Finland (1917)
December 24Christmas Eve Julafton 
December 25 Christmas Day Juldagen 
December 26Boxing DayAnnandag jul 

Miscellaneous topics

External Links


Nordic Council:

Denmark  |  Finland  |  Iceland  |  Norway  |  Sweden
Åland  |  Faroe Islands  |  Greenland


Countries of the world  |  Europe



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