Å – The Fascinating History of Åland

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Å - The Fascinating History of Åland

Åland is part of Finland, but Ålenders speak Swedish. How come? Learn more about the fascinating history of Åland.

Åland consists of 6,757 islands situated midway between Sweden and Finland in the Baltic. Although Åland is part of the Republic of Finland, it has its own autonomous parliament. In areas where Åland has its own legislation, the group of islands essentially operates as an independent nation.

Å - The Fascinating History of Åland
Åland consists of 6,757 islands situated midway between Sweden and Finland in the Baltic.

In connection to the celebrations of the Åland 100th anniversary in 2022, Ålanders nominated the Åland pancake as the local course of the century. If the original recipe should contain rice or semolina, is still discussed.

Åland has been Finnish territory since 1809, but Åland is the subject of no fewer than four international treaties, which give it significant government autonomy from Finland – and a demilitarized status. This means that no armed forces can be stationed there in peacetime. This began in 1856, after the Crimean War.

Å - The Fascinating History of Åland
Everybody in the region hope to retain demilitarization. Photo: OSCE

Åland’s largest island is Fasta Åland, where the capital Mariehamn is located. West of Åland lies the Sea of Åland, a waterway between Roslagen in Sweden and Åland. To the east, the Åland archipelago borders the Åboland archipelago in Finland. The first and the oldest crisps factory in Finland is located in Haraldsby in Åland.

Åland’s proximity to Stockholm meant that, in words attributed to Napoleon III, a military base there would be “a pistol pointing directly to the Swedish heart”.

Åland is a member of the EU and its currency is the euro, but Åland’s relationship with the EU is regulated by way of a special protocol. In order to maintain the important sale of duty-free goods on ferries operating between Finland and Sweden, Åland is not part of the EU’s VAT area. This is a ‘sunshine story’. Talking about sunshine, Åland is the sunniest place in the Nordic countries in May–August.

But back to history. After the Crimean War, the victorious French and British insisted that Russia, which controlled Åland at the time, keep it free of fortifications. This was reiterated three times in diplomatic settlements after the First World War, The Finnish-Soviet Winter War and the Second World War.

Å - The Fascinating History of Åland
Åland has been Finnish territory since 1809. Photo: Visit Finland.

The most important sources of income for Åland are shipping and ferry services, tourism, and the processing of agricultural and fishery products. All cars in Åland have licence plates that start with the letter Å.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year has prompted a tightening-up of Baltic security. Finland joined Nato in April and has increased its military spending by 36 per cent. Sweden, whose Nato bid is awaiting ratification from Turkey and Hungary, conducted its largest military exercise in 25 years this spring and is refortifying the Baltic island of Gotland.

Most of the roads in Åland are red due to the red granite found in Åland which the asphalt used there mostly consist of. Red lights are now also given to Åland’s strategic position in the Baltic, the demilitarization has come under scrutiny. Several MPs in Helsinki’s new right-wing coalition support scrapping the policy.

What will then happen to the popular golf courses on Åland? Åland is a disc golf paradise with 11 disc golf courses around the archipelago. Many of the courses have access to the sea, which makes playing even more exciting.

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Want to learn about popular golf courses in Scandinavia? Here’s an Expat’s Guide to the Best Golf Courses in Scandinavia.

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It seemed unlikely that a small Baltic archipelago should be particularly cosmopolitan. Today, however, many residents come from Sweden, there are 300 Ukrainian refugees there, there is an Italian nightclub in Marienhamn, which in the summer may remind you of Rimini. Everybody there hope to retain demilitarization.

Å – The Fascinating History of Åland, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Marienhamn, the capital © Rebecka Eriksson/Tallink-Silja Line.

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Journalist, PR and marketing consultant Tor Kjolberg has several degrees in marketing management. He started out as a marketing manager in Scandinavian companies and his last engagement before going solo was as director in one of Norway’s largest corporations. Tor realized early on that writing engaging stories was more efficient and far cheaper than paying for ads. He wrote hundreds of articles on products and services offered by the companies he worked for. Thus, he was attuned to the fact that storytelling was his passion.

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