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Åland Islands

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Åland Islands
  • Landskapet Åland  ( Swedish)
  • Ahvenanmaan maakunta  ( Finnish)
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Islands of Peace"
Anthem:  Ålänningens sång
and largest city
60°07′N 019°54′E
Official languages Swedish
    • Ålandic
    • Ålandish
    • Ålänning
    • Åländare
  • Ahvenanmaalainen
Government Autonomous region of Finland
 -  Governora Peter Lindbäck
 -  Premier Camilla Gunell
 -  Declared 1920 
 -  Recognized 1921b 
 -  Total 1,580 km2 ( unranked)
610 sq mi 
 -  2011 estimate 28,355
 -  Density 18.14/km2
46.98/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2007 estimate
 -  Total $1.563 billion
 -  Per capita $55,829
HDI (2007) 0.967
very high
Currency Euro (€)d ( EUR)
Time zone EET ( UTC+2)
 -  Summer ( DST) EEST ( UTC+3)
Calling code +358e
Internet TLD .axf
a. The governorship is an administrative post appointed by the Government of Finland and does not have any authority over the autonomous Government of Åland.
b. Settled by the League of Nations following the Åland crisis.
c. Åland held a separate referendum and then joined at the same time as the rest of Finland.
d. Until 1999, the Finnish markka. The Swedish krona (SEK) is also widely used.
e. Area code 18.
f. Replacing from August 2006. The .eu domain is also used, as it is shared with Finland and the rest of European Union member states.

The Åland Islands or Åland ( Swedish: Åland, Swedish pronunciation:  [ˈoːland]; Finnish: Ahvenanmaa) is an autonomous, demilitarised, monolingually Swedish-speaking region of Finland that consists of an archipelago lying at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. Collectively, the islands in the archipelago form the smallest region of Finland, constituting 0.49% of its land area and 0.50% of its population.

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

Åland'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 Åland crisis. It was reaffirmed within the treaty admitting Finland to the European Union. By law, Åland 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 Åland of 1920, which was later replaced by new legislation by the same name in 1951 and 1991. Åland remains exclusively Swedish-speaking by law.

In connection with Finland's admission to the European Union, a protocol was signed concerning the Åland 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" (hembygdsrätt) in Åland) to acquire and hold real property or to provide certain services.


Åland's original name was in Proto-Norse language *Ahvaland which means "Land of Water". In Swedish, this first developed into Áland and eventually into Åland, literally "river land"—even though rivers are not a prominent feature of Åland's geography. The Finnish name of the island, Ahvenanmaa (" perch land"), is 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 Åland derives.


The museum ship Pommern is anchored in Västerhamn, the more western of Mariehamn's two harbours.

The Åland Islands were part of the territory ceded to Russia by Sweden under the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in September 1809. As a result, along with all other parts of Finland, they became part of the semi- autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland.

During this process, Sweden was unable 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. This was captured and destroyed by a combined British and French force of warships and marines in 1854 as part of the campaign in the Baltic during the Crimean War. In the 1856 Treaty of Paris, the entire Åland Islands were demilitarized.

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 that came from Finland over the frozen sea. Historians, however, point out that Sweden may have in reality planned to occupy the islands. Within weeks, the Swedish troops gave way to German troops that occupied Åland by request of the "White" ( conservative) Finnish Senate.

Åland (blue) with historical and modern provinces of Finland (yellow) juxtaposed.

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, although serious questions were later raised regarding this extraordinarily high figure. Swedish nationalist sentiments had grown strong particularly as a result of the following issues: anti-Swedish tendencies in Finland, Finnish nationalism fuelled by Finland's struggle to retain its autonomy, and the Finnish resistance against Russification. In addition, the conflict between the Swedish-speaking minority and the Finnish-speaking majority (on the mainland), which since the 1840s had been prominent in Finland's political life, contributed to the Åland population's apprehension about its future in Finland.

Finland was, however, not willing 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 Åland Islands should be made an autonomous territory. Thus Finland was obliged to ensure the residents of the Åland 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 Åland, whereby it was prohibited to place military installations or forces on the islands.

In the course of the 20th century, increasing numbers of the islanders have perceived Finnish sovereignty as benevolent and even beneficial. The combination of disappointment about insufficient support from Sweden in the League of Nations, Swedish disrespect for Åland's demilitarized 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 Åland's relation to Finland from "a Swedish province in Finnish possession" to "an autonomous part of Finland". The islanders enjoyed safety at sea during WWII as their merchant fleet sailed for both the allied countries and the Germans. Consequently Åland shipping was not generally attacked as each side rarely knew which cargo was being carried to whom.

The 150th Anniversary of Demilitarisation of Åland Islands was celebrated in Finland by issuing a high value commemorative coin, the €5 150th Anniversary of Demilitarisation of Åland Islands commemorative coin, minted in 2006. The obverse depicts a pine tree, very typical in the Åland 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 Parliament of Åland.
The Åland Islands during the Crimean War. It was here that the Battle of Bomarsund was fought.

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

Åland has its own flag, has issued its own postage stamps since 1984, runs its own police force, and is a member of the Nordic Council. Since 2005 the Åland Islands also have had their own airline, Air Åland. The islands are demilitarised, and the population is exempt from conscription. Although Åland's autonomy preceded the creation of the regions of Finland, the autonomous government of Åland also has responsibility for the functions undertaken by Finland's regional councils. Åland is a member of the Small European Postal Administration Cooperation. The islands are considered to be a separate "entity" for amateur radio purposes and have their own callsign prefix granted by Finland, OH0.

The Åland Islands are guaranteed representation in the Finnish parliament, to which they elect one representative. Åland also has a different system of political parties from the mainland (see List of political parties in Finland).

Home Education has effectively been banned by the Swedish government in 2011, but is allowed by the Finnish government. Due to the island's close proximity to Sweden and because the island is Swedish speaking, a number of Swedish homeschooling families have moved from the Swedish mainland to Åland, including Jonas Himmelstrand, the chairman of the Swedish association for homeschooling.


An Åland license plate.

The State Department of Åland 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 Åland State Provincial Office.

Åland 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.


  • Brändö
  • Eckerö
  • Finström
  • Föglö
  • Geta
  • Hammarland
  • Jomala
  • Kumlinge
  • Kökar
  • Lemland
  • Lumparland
  • Mariehamn
  • Saltvik
  • Sottunga
  • Sund
  • Vårdö


Geographical features and municipalities of the Åland Islands.
Sheep grazing on a small island.

The Åland 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 Åland archipelago consists of nearly three hundred habitable islands, of which about eighty are inhabited; the remainder are merely some 6,000 skerries and desolate rocks. The archipelago is connected to Åboland archipelago in the east ( Finnish: Turunmaan saaristo, Swedish: Åbolands skärgård) — the archipelago adjacent to the southwest coast of Finland. Together they form the Archipelago Sea. To West from Åland is Sea of Åland and to North the Bothnian Sea.

The surface of the islands is generally rocky and the soil, thin. There are several harbours.

The islands' landmass occupies a total area of 1,527 square kilometres (590 sq mi). Ninety per cent of the population live on Fasta Åland (the Main Island), which is also the site of the capital town of Mariehamn. Fasta Åland is the largest island in the archipelago, extending over 1,010 square kilometres, more than 66% of the province's land area. It measures approximately 47 kilometres (29 mi) from north to south and 34 kilometres (21 mi) from east to west.

During the Åland 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, a lot of 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. Although both Finns and Swedes of course argued for their respective interpretations, in retrospect it is hard to say that one is more correct than the other. One consequence is the oft-repeated number of "over 6,000" skerries that was given authority by the outcome of the arbitration.


Åland'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 Åland. 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 Åland shipowner Gustav 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 Åland Islands on EU's VAT rules. The exception allows for maintained tax-free sales on the ferries between Sweden and Finland (provided they stop at Mariehamn or Långnäs) and at the airport, but has also made Åland a different tax-zone, meaning that tariffs must be levied on goods brought to the islands.

Unemployment is well below that of surrounding regions, 1.8% in 2004.

The Finnish State collects taxes, duties and fees also in Åland. In return, the Finnish Government places a sum of money at the disposal of the Åland Parliament. The sum is 0.45 per cent of total Government income, excluding Government loans. In 2010, the amount of taxes paid by Åland Islanders was 0.65 per cent of the total taxes paid in Finland.

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

While the official currency is the euro, the Swedish krona also circulates freely in Åland.


A mock wedding in Jomala. This event, a reenactment of an 1800s farmer's wedding (bondbröllop) is held annually, mostly as a tourist attraction.

Births and deaths

Ethnicity and language

Most inhabitants have Swedish (the sole official language) as their first language: 90.2% in 2009, and 5.0% speak 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). (See Åland Swedish for information about the dialect.)

The issue of the ethnicity of the Ålanders, 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 adjacent dialects in Sweden, i.e. Uppländska, than to adjacent dialects of Finland Swedish. See Languages of Sweden.

Regional citizenship or the right of domicile (hembygdsrätt) is a prerequisite for the right to vote or stand as a candidate in elections to the Legislative Assembly, to own and hold real estate situated in unplanned areas of Åland.


The majority of the population, 82.1%, belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Åland islands are home to some of the oldest churches in Finland.


The sailing ship Linden (centre) in Östra Hamnen, Mariehamn's eastern port.
Sjökvarteret, Mariehamn.
  • Åland competes in the biennial Island Games, which it hosted in 1991 and 2009.
  • Åland United and IFK Mariehamn are the islands' leading football clubs.
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