Located in the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Bothnia in Northern Europe, the Åland Islands are an archipelago belonging to Finland. However, at the same time, the region has been granted a high degree of autonomy. In this article, I will introduce the Åland Islands, an autonomous region of Finland with its own laws and parliamentary system.
Characteristics of the Åland Islands
The Åland Islands are an archipelago in the southern part of the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea, consisting of about 6,500 islands, making it one of the largest archipelagos in the world. While being part of Finland, the islands have a high degree of autonomy, with their own parliament, tax system, and flag. On the other hand, Swedish is primarily used as the official language in the Åland Islands. This is due to Finland’s past as part of the Kingdom of Sweden.
Not only in language, but the Åland Islands also have strong ties with Sweden in maritime trade. Geographically, the islands are situated halfway between Sweden and Finland across the Gulf of Bothnia and are frequently used as a transit point for maritime trade between the two countries.
Mariehamn, the Capital of the Åland Islands
Similar to other countries, the Åland Islands have a capital city, Mariehamn, an autonomous region of Finland with its own parliament and flag. Mariehamn is a major port town, with fishing and maritime industries being its main sources of income. It is the second largest port in Finland. The population is around 11,000 people, making up about 40% of the total population of the Åland Islands. The official language is Swedish, and over 80% of the residents speak Swedish.
The name Mariehamn is of Russian origin and is derived from the name of Russian Empress Maria Alexandrovna. Finland was under Swedish rule from the 12th century for several hundred years, but in the early 19th century, the Finnish War took place between Sweden and the Russian Empire, resulting in Finland being placed under Russian rule.
The city of Mariehamn, which includes the Åland Islands, was founded in 1861 when the entire territory of Finland was a Russian dependency. The name “Mariehamn” means “Maria’s Harbor.”
History of the Åland Islands’ Autonomy
In this section, I will explain the background of the Åland Islands’ autonomy, which was established after Finland’s independence. Finland was under Swedish rule from the 12th to the 19th centuries. After that, during the Second Russo-Swedish War from 1808 to 1809, the Kingdom of Sweden was defeated, and Finland was placed under the rule of the Russian Empire.
Finland was under Russian rule for over 100 years, but on December 6, 1917, it declared independence and became a sovereign nation. During this period, while the momentum for independence grew within Finland, there were also movements in the Åland Islands to seek independence from Finland or integration with Sweden.
To resolve this dispute, the League of Nations intervened. Ino Nito, a Japanese national who was then serving as Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations, played a significant role in the decision-making process concerning the Åland Islands’ affiliation. Nitobe Inazo is also famous as the author of “Bushido.”
The “Nitobe Arbitration,” proposed by Nitobe Inazo, resulted in the Åland Islands being granted autonomy, and the Åland Islands’ autonomy was established within Finland in 1922.
Activities to Enjoy on the Åland Islands
The Åland Islands, a beautiful archipelago in the Baltic Sea, are known as a tourist destination, offering a variety of activities taking advantage of their abundant marine resources.
For example, the Åland Islands’ island-hopping ferry tours are popular. Of the approximately 6,500 islands, only about 60 are inhabited, leaving the majority of the Åland Islands uninhabited. This allows visitors to appreciate untouched natural landscapes, one of the attractions of the area.
In addition, the residential areas, including Mariehamn, are famous for their charming Nordic design, featuring wooden architecture. You can take a stroll around the town and enjoy the quaint atmosphere and unique buildings.
In this article, I have discussed the Åland Islands, an autonomous region of Finland. The Åland Islands are an autonomous area within Finland, with their own tax laws and parliament, having established autonomy in 1922 with the help of the League of Nations and Inazo Nitobe. Today, the region is home to over 10,000 people, with the capital city of Mariehamn at its center, and is blessed with natural beauty and marine resources.