Åland belongs to the Republic of Finland, but the islands constitute an autonomous landscape. Almost the entire population is Swedish-speaking. The most important industries are shipping, trade and tourism. Fishing is also important as a source of income.
Geography and population
The Åland archipelago is located in the Baltic Sea, approximately between Turku in Finland and Stockholm in Sweden. It occupies a special position in the Republic of Finland by being an autonomous landscape.
Åland consists of over 6,700 islands, islets and islets. Around 60 of the islands are inhabited. The archipelago’s land area is 1,553 square kilometers.
Of the nearly 29,000 Ålanders (2015), about two-thirds live on the main island of Fasta Åland, where the capital Mariehamn is located. In 2015 Mariehamn had about 11,500 inhabitants. Eight of ten Ålanders belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
Almost all Ålanders speak Swedish and according to law, Åland is to be preserved in Swedish. As the only foreign language, English is a compulsory subject in the Åland schools, while teaching in Finnish and other languages is optional.
Already in ancient times, the people of Åland spoke Swedish. During the Viking Age, the islands developed into one of the most densely populated areas in the Nordic region, with extensive trade links with the neighbors.
When Finland was handed over to Russia after the Finnish war 1808-1809 (see Modern history), Åland followed. Although under an agreement Russia was not allowed to build defense facilities in Åland, a large fortress was built in Bomarsund during the period 1836–1853. It was occupied and blasted in 1854 by an English-French naval force. According to the so-called Åland servitude, which was part of the peace agreement signed in Paris two years later, no military fortifications would be allowed on Åland.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 a new dispute arose about Åland between Sweden and Finland. The Ålanders demanded increased self-determination and to be able to join Sweden. The Finnish government declared that Åland belonged to Finland but in 1920 gave the archipelago some autonomy.
In 1921, the League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations) decided that Åland would not be separated from Finland, but that the Ålanders would be guaranteed that the Swedish would be preserved, that Åland should retain its neutrality and that no military associations be placed there. These guarantees were enshrined in the Åland Convention, which replaced the Åland Service in the same year.
During World War II, Finland built fortifications on Åland. In 1945, Åland again requested to join Sweden, which did not, however, want to tear up the decision on Finland’s sovereignty over the archipelago.
The peace treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1947 was reaffirmed. As a result of Åland’s special position, Ålanders are exempt from military service.