The Åland Islands


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. The Åland Islands is Number 48 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. These islands are an archipelago of more than 300 habitable islands (out of more than 6,000 rocky islets), located in the Baltic Sea, which traditionally was part of Finland but whose people are ethnically and linguistically Swedish. When Finland was ceded to Russia in 1809, the islands came under Russian rule. Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the establishment soon thereafter of an independent Finnish state, the islands became the object of dispute involving Soviet Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Germany. Most of the island’s people favored union with Sweden. Following chapters on the geography, social and economic conditions, and political history of the islands, the final chapter of the study analyzes the “The Åland Islands Question” and the arguments made on historical, geographic, and ethnographical grounds by the parties to the dispute. The question ultimately was referred to the League of Nations, which decided in 1921 that Finland would retain sovereignty, but that the islands would become an autonomous province in which demilitarization, the local culture, and continued use of the Swedish language were guaranteed.

Last updated: March 21, 2014