Aland Islands

The Aland Islands are an archipelago on which live about 30,000 people most of whom are Sweden. The distance from Sweden is 30 miles whereas they constitute clearly a projection of the Finnish Mainland. The majority of the Islanders, however, wanted to become part of Sweden. Sweden had a vital strategic interest in these Islands.

Russia had a military base in the Aland Islands during First World War, although the Islands had been demilitarised earlier. When the Russian Revolution took place, Sweden and Finland both made attempts to establish their authority. A Swedish military force succeeded in occupying the islands and later obtained help from Germans who sent warships.

The matter came before the Paris Peace Conference. In 1919 (May) Finland granted the islanders autonomy. This was regarded as insufficient by the Swedish inhabitants who appealed to Sweden. Finally the Swedish government and Finish government almost came to war with each other.

At the League: The League took up the matter at Britain’s initiatives. The Swedish government demanded a plebiscite. The Finish government opposed this on plea of domestic jurisdiction.

The dispute was finally adjudicated by the League by rejecting the right of self-determination on the part of the Islanders. It was pointed out that the Islanders were not the only Swedish speaking people in Finland. 90% were in other parts of Finland. Finnish sovereignty over the Aland islands was recognised, subject to the proviso that the population should be assured of its autonomous rights with a League of Nations guarantee. The decision was accepted by both Sweden and Finland.

Steps taken by Finland

  1. A special constitution for the Aland islands.

  2. Local administration headed by a council

  3. Autonomous prerogatives over economic and cultural affairs.

  4. A governor appointed by Finland who has the right to veto legislation if conflicting with the laws of Finland.

  5. Exemption from military service for the population.

  6. Swedish as official language.

  7. The Aland islanders have the right to appeal directly to the League of Nations if their autonomous rights are violated.

At a special international conference in 1921, the Islands were demilitarised. One of the disputes successfully settled by the League of Nations can provide some guidance in the present dispute between India and Pakistan. We can recall that Sweden and Finland almost came to war with each other over a dispute of territory which has interesting parallels with the Kashmir case.

Sweden like Pakistan wanted a plebiscite to be held in the disputed territory. She rested her case on the grounds that the inhabitants of the territory were eager to join Sweden with which they had close ties. Finland like India was opposed to this demand and pointed out that Finnish sovereignty was clear over the disputed area and that the Islanders were only small part of the total of the minority of Swedish speaking people who were citizens of Finland.

The Aland case and the Kashmir case are of course widely different as far as the areas and populations involved are concerned. Also the territory in the Finish-Swedish dispute is contiguously situated to the Finnish coast and is separated by 30 miles of water from Sweden. This last point is not conclusive because it was acknowledged that the Islands are strategically important for Sweden and they are separated from the Finish mainland.

The settlement of the Finnish-Swedish dispute would suggest a solution of the Kashmir dispute on the lines of both Pakistan and India granting autonomy to their part of Kashmir and this could be safeguarded by a right of appeal to the United Nations if the autonomous rights are violated.
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