- Capital: Mariehamn
- Official Language: Swedish
- Demonym(s): Ålandic, Ålandish, Ålänning, Åländare, Ahvenanmaalainen
- Nationality: Citizens of Finland
- Total Area: 1,580 km² (610 sq mi)
- Population: 29,884 (2019 estimate)
- Currency: Euro (€) (EUR)
- First Stamp(s) Issued: 1 March 1984
The Åland Islands, or simply Åland. is an archipelago at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea belonging to Finland. It has been an autonomous and demilitarized region of Finland since 1920 by a decision of the League of Nations, and its only official language is Swedish. It is the smallest region of Finland, constituting 0.51% of its land area and 0.54% of its population. Mariehamn is the capital city of Åland.
Åland comprises Fasta Åland on which 90% of the population resides and a further 6,500 skerries and islands to its east. Of Åland’s thousands of islands, 60 are inhabited. Fasta Åland is separated from the coast of Roslagen in Sweden by 38 kilometres (24 miles) 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. From Mariehamn, there is a ferry distance of about 160 kilometres (99 miles) to Turku, a coastal city of mainland Finland, and also to Stockholm, the capital of 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 current demilitarized, neutral position of Åland dates back to the days of the Paris Peace Treaty after the Åland War in the 1850s.
Åland’s original name was in the Proto-Norse language *Ahvaland which means “land of water”. Ahva is related to the Latin word for water, “aqua“. 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 and Estonian names of the island, Ahvenanmaa and Ahvenamaa (“perch land”), are 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 official name, Landskapet Åland, means “the Region of Åland”; landskap is cognate to English “landscape”.
The Åland archipelago consists of nearly three hundred inhabitable islands, of which about sixty are inhabited; the remainder are some 6,400 skerries and desolate rocks. The archipelago is connected to Turku archipelago in the east (Finnish: Turunmaan saaristo, Swedish: Åbolands skärgård) — the archipelago adjacent to the southwest coast of Finland.
The islands’ landmass occupies a total land area of 1,553 square kilometres (600 square miles), and a total area, including inland water and sea areas, of 13,324 square kilometres (5,144 sq mi). Its highest point is Orrdalsklint in Saltvik at 129.1 metres above sea level. Åland has nearly 400 lakes of over 0.25 hectare.
The surface of the islands are generally rocky, with red and pink granite peppered with quartz crystals predominating. The soil is thin, stripped away by retreating glaciers at the end of the most recent ice age. Despite this, the presence of shell beds around the coasts of many of the islands has noticeably increased the fertility of the soil.
The coast of Åland is deeply indented by bays and fjords, which form excellent sheltered harbors for vessels of draught not exceeding 19 feet. The most notable harbor is at Ytternäs. The large islands of Eckerö, Lemland, and Lumparland are separated from Åland and each other by narrow shallow straits. The islands of Fölglö, Vårdö, and the archipelago of Geta are more massive, with steep cliffs and a less indented coastline. Many small lakes exist on the larger islands.
Ninety per cent of the population live on Fasta Åland (the Main Island), also the site of the capital town of Mariehamn. Fasta Åland is the largest island in the archipelago, although its exact size is in some dispute owing to its irregular shape and coastline. Estimates range from 740 square kilometres to 879 square kilometres to over 1,010 square kilometres, depending on what is included or excluded.
Members of the Neolithic Comb Ceramic culture started settling the islands some 7000 years ago, after the islands had begun to re-emerge from the sea after being pushed down by the weight of the continental ice of the latest ice-age. Two Neolithic cultures met on Åland: the Comb Ceramic culture and the later Pit-Comb Ware culture which spread from the west.
Stone Age and Bronze Age people obtained food by hunting seals and birds, fishing, and gathering plants. They also started agriculture early on. In the Iron Age, contacts with Scandinavia increased. From the Iron Age, Åland has six hillforts. From the Viking age there are over 380 documented burial sites.
The coat of arms of Åland were originally granted to the similar-sounding island province of Öland in 1560, and display a golden red deer on a blue field. This is traditionally surmounted by a comital coronet of the elder Swedish style.
Along with Finland, the Åland Islands formed part of the territory ceded to Russia by Sweden under the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in September 1809. As a result, they became part of the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland (1809-1917). During negotiations, Sweden failed 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 as a result of the Treaty of 1809 became concerned that a Russian military presence on the islands could threaten Britain’s commercial interests in its trade passing through the Baltic.
In 1832, Russia started to fortify the islands, with the great fortress of Bomarsund. In 1854, as part of the campaign in the Baltic during the Crimean War against Russia, a combined British and French force of warships and marines captured and destroyed the fortress during the Åland War. The 1856 Treaty of Paris demilitarized the entire Åland archipelago.
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 who came from Finland over the frozen sea. Within weeks, the Swedish troops gave way to German troops who occupied Åland at the request of the “White” (conservative) Senate of Finland.
After 1917, the residents of the islands worked towards having them ceded to Sweden. In 1919 96.4% of the voters on the islands signed a petition for secession from Finland and for integration with Sweden, with over 95% in favor. Swedish nationalist sentiments had strengthened particularly as a result of the anti-Swedish tendencies in Finland and as a result of Finnish nationalism fueled by Finland’s struggle to retain its autonomy and resistance against Russification. The conflict between the Swedish-speaking minority and the Finnish-speaking majority on the Finnish mainland, prominent in Finnish politics since the 1840s, contributed to the apprehension of the Åland population about a future within Finland.
Finland, however, declined to cede the islands and instead offered the islanders an autonomous status. Nevertheless, the residents did not approve the offer, and in 1921 the dispute over the islands went before the newly formed 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. One of the important proponents of a diplomatic solution to the case was Nitobe Inazō, who was one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League and the director of the International Bureaux Section, in charge of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.
The Åland convention of 20 October 1921, signed by Sweden, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Denmark, Poland, Estonia, and Latvia, was the first international agreement achieved by the League. 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. The convention of 1921 established the neutral status of Åland by international treaty, prohibiting the placing of military installations or forces on the islands. Åland’s Regional Assembly convened for its first plenary session in Mariehamn on June 9, 1922; today, the day is celebrated as Self-Government Day of Åland.
The islanders’ 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 the Second World War, changed their perception of their relationship with Finland from “a Swedish province in Finnish possession” to “an autonomous part of Finland”.
Despite the condition of neutrality from the 1921 Convention, the islanders enjoyed safety at sea during the war of 1939–1945, as their merchant fleet sailed both for the Allied countries and for Nazi Germany. Consequently, Åland shipping was not generally attacked, as the various military forces rarely knew which cargo was being carried or to whom.
Finland marked the 150th anniversary of the demilitarization of the Åland Islands 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, a typical feature of the Åland Islands. The reverse features a boat’s stern and rudder, with a dove perched on the tiller, a symbol of 150 years of peace.
The autonomous status of the islands was affirmed by a decision made by the League of Nations in 1921 following the Åland Islands dispute. It was reaffirmed within the treaty admitting Finland to the European Union. By law, Åland is politically neutral and entirely demilitarized, 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. The constitution of Finland defines a “constitution of Åland” by referring to this act. Åland remains exclusively Swedish-speaking by this act. The people of Åland are also very negative about the use and presence of the Finnish language in Åland to any extent, possibly to emphasize their own Ålandic identity.
Although a referendum to join the European Union had been held in mainland Finland on 16 October 1994, Åland held a separate vote on 20 November as they were a separate customs jurisdiction. EU membership was approved by 73.64% of voters. 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.
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 and has issued its own postage stamps since 1984. It runs its own police force, and is an associate member of the Nordic Council. The islands are demilitarized, 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 Post provides postal services to the islands, and is a member of the Small European Postal Administration Cooperation. The islands are considered a separate “nation” for amateur radio purposes and have their own call sign prefix granted by Finland, OH0, OF0 and OG0 (last character is zero).
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.
Homeschooling, which has been effectively banned in Sweden since 2011, is allowed by the Finnish government. Due to the islands’ proximity to Sweden and because the islands are 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.
After a reform of the electoral law, the Åland Islands were to introduce internet voting in 2019 for expat voters in the parliamentary elections, considering opening the use of the same system for the next elections (2023) to all the voters. However, its use was cancelled at the last minute due to a lack of evidence of the trustability of the system.
Åland’s parties include a separatist party called the Future of Åland (Swedish: Ålands Framtid), whose main program includes driving autonomous Åland into a completely independent state.
Flag of the Cook Islands
The flag of Åland (Swedish: Ålands flagga) is a yellow or gold Nordic cross with another red cross inside on a blue background with the vertical bar shifted towards the hoist side. It is intended to resemble the Swedish flag defaced by a red cross symbolizing Finland. The flag was officially adopted as the flag of the Åland Islands in 1954 and first hoisted in Mariehamn on 3 April 1954. Prior to autonomy, an unofficial horizontal bicolor triband of blue-yellow-blue was in use until it was made illegal in 1935.
Coat of Arms
The coat of arms of Åland features a golden red deer on a blue field. This is traditionally surmounted by a comital coronet of the elder Swedish style.
The arms borne today by the Åland islands were originally granted to the similar-sounding island province of Öland in 1560, displaying a golden red deer on a blue field. In 1569, Åland had been given to the Swedish queen dowager Katarina Stenbock as a fief and was awarded a provincial coat of arms displaying two roe deer on a field strewn with nine roses. The arms of these two similar-sounding Swedish provinces became confused early on, and in the 1880s Öland’s arms were recorded as two roe deer with nine roses. Sweden had ceded much of its eastern territory, including the Åland Islands, to Russia in 1809, which became the Grand Duchy of Finland, but the heraldic switch-up was not discovered until the 1940s.
During a heraldic revision in 1944, the Swedish National Heraldry Office (Riksheraldikerämbetet) discovered that a mistake had been committed. Heraldic authorities in Finland were notified of the error but ultimately decided not make any changes and not to adopt the coat of arms originally intended for Åland (with the two roe deer and nine Finnish roses), as they had long since granted Åland the arms which had been usurped from Öland. This decision made it necessary for Swedish heralds to once again alter the coat of arms for Öland, to avoid further confusion. It was then decided in 1944 that the Öland deer should have a red collar and attire to distinguish it from the arms which had been first granted to Öland but now belonged to Åland.
Postal operations in Åland dates back to 1638, when the conveyance of mail started during the period of Swedish reign. Originally and for a long time, postal operations were limited to the obligatory conveyance of mail. It was not until 1866 that the post office in Mariehamn was added to the original two post offices in Kastelholm and Eckerö. As part of the Grand Duchy of Finland, postal operations in Åland fell under the Russian Empire as of 1809.
Most of the post offices in Åland were established during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The routes of mail conveyance were reorganized in proper postal carrier routes during the 1920s. In 1917, the Republic of Finland assumed responsibility for the postal services. The postal and the telegraph services were joined in 1927.
The Post was originally organized as a governmental department; Finland had inherited the tsarist system. In the 1970s, it was decided that operations were to be conducted according to ‘businesslike principles’. The name of the department was changed to ‘Post och Televerket’ in 1981. In 1990, the form of organization was changed into that of a state-owned public enterprise – ‘Post och Tele’ – no longer dependent on the state budget.
‘Postbanken’ was founded in 1888. As of 1 January 1989, it was converted into a public limited company, which under the name of Leonia Bank Abp supplied banking services as of the spring of 1998. As of 30 September 2002, the Åland Post no longer offers banking services.
The first Åland stamps were issued on 1 March 1984. The stamps were issued by the Finnish postal administration, ‘Post och Tele’, in cooperation with the Åland government until 31 December 1992. The network of post offices was re-organized in 1991 when one third of the offices were closed and another third were converted into postal agencies. The remaining offices had bank terminals installed.
By the middle of 1991, postal services in Finland were deregulated. Finland – including Åland – was the first country in the world to allow free competition on the postal market without any protection of the monopoly.
A change in the Åland Autonomy Act allowed the province of Åland to take over all postal responsibilities and, consequently, Åland has had an independent postal administration since 1 January 1993. The postal business activities are laid down in the provincial law about the Åland Post and operated by a public enterprise which is subordinate to the Government of Åland.
In 2002, operations were extended when a new post terminal was built in Sviby, municipality of Jomala, immediately outside Mariehamn. The centralization of the postal activities has had a positive effect on business in general. Since 2006, the post terminal serves as the Post’s headquarters. Over the years, several extensions have been made to the post terminal.
On 1 January 2009, the corporate form of Åland Post was changed into a limited liability company. All shares of the limited company Posten Åland Ab are owned by the Åland government.
Åland Post changed its Swedish name from Posten Åland Ab to Åland Post Ab on 1 March 2016. The business profile was renewed and a new logo introduced reflecting the internationalization of the company.
Website: Åland Post
2020 Stamp Programme
4 Christmas seals
2021 Stamp Programme
Premiers of Åland
4 booklet stamps
Tall Ship Races
1 stamp, 1 souvenir sheet
Lunar New Year — Year of the Tiger
1 souvenir sheet