Centenary celebrations of the autonomy of the Åland Islands set to begin

Next year will mark 100 years since the Åland Islands gained autonomy. The autonomy celebrations will take place throughout the centenary year, from 9 June 2021 to 9 June 2022. Self-government is a part of Finnish democracy and gives the Finnish administrative structure its unique and multi-dimensional nature. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland is a part of the anniversary events.

The modern Parliament building in Mariehamn. Picture: Government of Åland

The tradition of autonomy is strong, and its development and protection continue in close cooperation with Åland. ​Åland's autonomy is an example of a successful and thriving solution to self-government. It also provides an example of peaceful conflict resolution in a disputed territory.

Brief history: Question of sovereignty resolved by the League of Nations

Like all of Finland, the Åland Islands were once a part of the Kingdom of Sweden. In 1809, the province of Åland became a part of the Grand Duchy of Finland when Sweden was forced to hand over Finland and Åland to the Russian Empire.

During the process in which Finland gained independence in 1917, the representatives of municipalities in Åland decided to demand that the Åland Islands be reannexed to Sweden. After Finland rejected the demands, the Finnish Parliament tried to resolve the issue by enacting a law on the autonomy of Åland in 1920.

Dutch allegorical poster depicting the moment when the League of Nations announced its decision regarding the Åland Islands Question on June 24th 1921. Peace prevails as the Finnish and Swedish troops return to their barracks. Photo: The Finnish Heritage Agency

The Ålanders refused to accept this law and, as the question concerning the province and its status threatened to develop into an open conflict between Finland and Sweden, the issue was brought before the newly formed League of Nations.

In 1921, the League of Nations granted Finland sovereignty over the Åland Islands. Finland was obligated to guarantee the region’s inhabitants their Swedish-speaking culture, Swedish language, local traditions, and a system of self-government.

Unfortified and neutral

The Åland Islands had been demilitarised in 1856, during the Paris peace talks that followed the Crimean war. With the League of Nations resolving the issue of sovereignty in 1921, the demilitarisation introduced in 1856 was reconfirmed. A separate Åland Convention on the demilitarisation and neutralisation was signed on 20 October 1921. In 1940, a separate agreement on the demilitarisation was concluded with Russia, which was then known as the Soviet Union.

The demilitarisation was further confirmed in the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. The demilitarisation and neutralisation are also considered to be regional customary law.

The 1920 Act on the Autonomy of Åland has been completely reformed twice – in 1951 and 1993. Formally, the Act on the Autonomy of Åland is not a constitution. However, it has a similar status due to its complicated order of enactment. The Act on the Autonomy of Åland can only be reformed or repealed in a procedure for constitutional enactment by a joint decision of the parliaments of Finland and Åland.

A comprehensive reform of the Act on the Autonomy of Åland, coordinated by the Ministry of Justice, is currently under way.

Information about the centenary programme:

The Prime Minister's Office is coordinating the anniversary celebrations on behalf of the Government and will organise events in cooperation with the provincial centennial celebration organisation and other actors.  (Link to another website.)

The organising committee for the Åland anniversary year maintains and updates the events calendar for the anniversary year on its website. (Link to another website.)

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland is a part of the anniversary events

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland will also participate in the anniversary celebrations in Mariehamn, for example, on the anniversary of the Åland Convention, on 20 October 2021, and in the organisation of seminars and other events. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland has also coordinated the production of a digital exhibition on the Åland Solution, which can be viewed on the Finnish Government's YouTube channel.(Link to another website.)

Finnish missions around the world will also highlight the system of self-governance internationally. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, together with the Embassy in The Hague, is scheduled to hold a conference at the Peace Palace in February 2022.

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