I think it is only justified to start with a brief overview of what is Åland about. First and foremost, today, it’s an archipelago of 6757 islands between Sweden and Finland. The archipelago is made up of rock slopes, heather moorland and pine forests with only about 9% (!) of land area being arable land. And there are additional 20,000 islands sized less than 0.25 hectares that are also part of the archipelago. However, those numbers are not static because of the ongoing shore displacement resulting in raised shorelines on Åland (shore displacement is an important phenomenon for the archaeology in the Baltic Sea region and I will clarify some aspects connected to it in my next post).
The population of Åland is about 28,000 – one third lives in Mariehamn, founded in 1851. Only c. 60 islands are inhabited, and the population density is approx. 18 people per km². Confusingly enough, although Åland is a part of Finland, the people of Åland speak Swedish that is an official language and there are, seriously, some people on Åland who throw a temper tantrum every time they see or hear the Finnish language… . Åland is also autonomous with its own devolved parliament and with its own flag of blue with a red Scandinavian cross fimbriated yellow. Åland is demilitarized and neutralized, and has staggering 16 municipalities and 6 or so political parties. Åland is like “a country of its own”.
– How did it come to all of that? Well, for a long time, Åland was, along with Finland, a part of Sweden. But Sweden was forced to relinquish Finland and Åland to the Russian Empire in 1809. In 1917, when Finland gained its independence, the people of Åland wanted reunion with Sweden, but Finland rejected these demands, which led to the fact that an open conflict between Finland and Sweden was in the air. The question was solved by the newly formed League of Nations who granted Finland sovereignty over Åland in 1921, with an obligation to guarantee the people of Åland their use of Swedish language, their very Swedish culture as well as the system of self-government. In any case, becoming autonomous pretty much just fell into the arms of Åland.
Thus, Åland is also like “Sweden Light”; however, there is no question which ice-hockey team the people of Åland support when Finland and Sweden (or any other country for that matter) play against each other 😉 (Leijonat!)
You’ll find more numbers on Åland (in Swedish) at: http://www.asub.ax/files/alsiff13sv.pdf