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On This Day: Centennial of Åland’s Autonomy Act of 1920

One of my favorite features of the Law Library is its incredible resources and I especially enjoy looking through old foreign laws. It may seem odd to highlight items from our collection while our physical doors remain closed, but the entire Law Library continues to serve you online.

This post will look at the Autonomy Act of Åland of 1920 (Självstyrelselagen från 1920), passed by the Finnish Parliament 100 years ago today, at a time when Åland was asking to rejoin Sweden.

Today, Åland is a semi-autonomous region of Finland. Its islands are located in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden. It is legally part of the Republic of Finland, but its inhabitants have historically and still continue to speak Swedish, the only official language of the islands.

Finland, and Åland, were long part of Sweden until 1809, when Finland as well as Åland became part of the Russian Empire as a result of the Peace Treaty of Fredrikshamn. Åland’s only city, Mariehamn, was founded in 1861, while the area was part of the Russian Empire.

After Finland gained independence from Russia in 1918, Russian troops remained in Åland. Åland sought self-governance from Finland and with claims of 96% of the island population being in favor of rejoining Sweden, representatives wrote to the Swedish King Gustav V, requesting to become part of Sweden once again. The king responded by sending troops and vessels  to Åland, allowing any Åland resident to immigrate to Sweden.

The Åland Question

The Finnish Parliament was not in favor of letting Åland rejoin Sweden, and instead, on May 6, 1920, the Finnish Parliament  passed an Autonomy Act (Självstyrelselag (FFS 124/1920)), giving Åland limited rights of home rule, which it hoped would appease the islanders. The Åland’s representatives however did not accept the Act and the question was brought before the League of Nations. It was not until October 1921 that the Åland question (whether Åland belonged to Sweden or Finland) would be resolved. The League of Nation determined that Åland was to remain part of Finland, rejecting Åland’s request to be rejoined with Sweden, it also required that Åland remain demilitarized. Åland had become demilitarized in 1919, following an agreement between Finland, Sweden, and Germany, and continues to be a demilitarized zone today. With the Autonomy Act of 1920 in force, the Åland Landstinget (parliament) was established, and met for the first time in 1922.

Picture of Ålands Lagting and Ålands Landskapsregering buildings by Flickr user Henri Sivonen, July 8, 2008. Used under Creative Commons License, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Åland’s Self-Governance Today

Today, the Åland Landsting is called the Ålands lagting (regional parliament) and is responsible for adopting laws, setting the regional budget, and appointing and overseeing the regional government. Ålands landskapsregering (Åland Municipal Government) is the regional executive body for Åland. Åland has a separate municipal tax for its residents.

The Finnish Constitution guarantees Åland its right to self-determination, as specified in the Autonomy Act. (75 § Constitution.) The Autonomy Act allows the Åland population self-governance on a number of issues. For instance, Åland has special rules that govern who may own property on Åland. (Jordförvärvslag för Åland.) These rules require that an owner be a Finnish citizen and a resident of Åland for a minimum of five years. Persons born on Åland who have one parent with a right to hold real property on Åland have the same right.

Åland also has a special protocol with the European Union, allowing goods to may be sold tax-free on ships going to and from Åland.

Legal Resources Online Pertaining to Åland:

Law Library of Congress Online Resources:

Law Library Resources from the Law Collection:

I hope you will find these resources helpful. If you have a U.S. or foreign law question please don’t hesitate to ask us!

One Comment

  1. Nicholas Weil
    May 6, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    Mycket interessant, Elin, tack ska Du ha! Jag Ă€lskade min resa till Åland för 5-6 Ă„r (jag Ă€r amerikansa men har akademiskt interesse för allt finlandssvenskt). Jag visste inte allt att Åland skulle förena med Sverige.

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