Today, June 9th, marks the Åland National Day, självstyrelsedagen, celebrated in honor of the law that made it independent in 1921: the Autonomy Act of 1920. Today, celebrations of this event includes eating Ålandic pancake (Ålandspannkaka).
Åland is made up of more than 6,700 islands that form an archipelago in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. Its inhabitants speak Swedish but are Finnish citizens known as Ålänningar. There are approximately 30,000 residents of Åland.
While it may be a great destination for a summer celebration of a traditional Scandinavian midsummer, there are laws that limit how and when you can move there. Specifically, to own land in Åland you need the right of domicile, the topic of this blog post.
The Right of Domicile
The right of domicile (Åländsk hembygdsrätt), also known as Ålandic regional citizenship, is part of the Ålandic Autonomy Act (Självstyrelselag (1991:71)) and is further regulated in law (Landskapslagen (2015:99) om åländsk hembygdsrätt and Landskapslagen (2015:100) om hembygdsrättsförfaranden; with its legal history available here).
The right of domicile is central to the Ålandic identity and provides Ålanders (Ålänningar) a right to vote, stand for election, and own land in Åland. Ålandic citizens who have lived in Åland as children before the age of 12 are exempt from the otherwise mandatory conscription with the Finnish Defence Forces, as Åland is demilitarized and neutral. (Åland Convention.)
Background -The Åland Question
The right of domicile is a part of the minority protection that Ålänningar have as a result of Åland historically being populated by a Swedish-speaking population that sought to be returned to Sweden in 1917-1919. This led to the “Åland Question” after Ålandic representatives petitioned the Swedish king to become part of Sweden, and the Ålandic Parliament refused to accept the Finnish Act of Independence. As a result, the contentious issue came before the League of Nations, which determined that Åland belonged to Finland, and declaring it demilitarized and neutral. (Convention Relating to the Non-Fortification and Neutralisation of the AAland Islands.)
Requirements for Ålandic Citizenship
As prescribed in the Act on Ålandic Right to Domicile (Landskapslagen (2015:99) om åländsk hembygdsrätt), to receive Ålandic citizenship a person must:
- hold Finnish citizenship,
- have sufficient proficiency in the Swedish language, and
- reside in Åland for a minimum of three consecutive years if the person has previous held Ålandic citizenship, has previously resided in Åland for five years, or their parents have held Ålandic citizenship, or
- reside in Åland for a minimum of five consecutive years.
Proposals to remove Finnish citizenship as a pre-requirement for Ålandic citizenship are brought forth from time to time. However, such a change is viewed as problematic as this was a specific condition in the 1921 League of Nation decision.
Requirements for Finnish Citizenship
To acquire Finnish citizenship , a precondition for Ålandic regional citizenship, a person must be born to Finnish parents. (9 § Kansalaisuuslaki.) If born outside of Finland either their mother has to be Finnish or their Finnish father must be married to the non-Finnish mother. (Id.)
A foreigner may be granted Finnish citizenship through an application for naturalization if she or he meets the following requirements specified in 13 § Kansalaisuuslaki:
1) has turned 18 or prior to 18 entered into marriage,
2) has or has had his or her actual residence and domicile in Finland (residence requirement),
- a) for the last five years without interruption (uninterrupted residency), or
- b) seven years after that he or she has turned 15 year old, of which the last two years without interruption (acquired residency),
3) has not committed a criminal act other than such that is punishable with a fine and also has not been issued a restraining order (inviolability requirement),
4) has not materially neglected child support or alimony obligations or its payments obligations under public law,
5) can reliably account for his or her livelihood,
6) has a satisfactory proficiency in spoken and written Finnish or Swedish or instead has equivalent knowledge of Finnish or Finnish-Swedish sign language (language skill requirement).
Deviations from the general conditions for naturalization can only be made on the grounds specified below.
A person is not naturalized even though he or she fulfills the conditions for naturalization, if there is reason to suspect that naturalization endangers the security or public order of the state or if the main purpose of acquiring citizenship is to use benefits relating to Finnish citizenship without intent to settle in Finland or if naturalization for some other compelling reason, on the basis of an overall assessment of the applicant’s situation, is contrary to the interest of the State.
Loss of Ålandic Citizenship
A person who permanently moves from Åland for a minimum of five years loses his or her right of domicile and cannot stand for election, vote, or buy land in Åland. (8 § Landskapslagen (2015:99) om åländsk hembygdsrätt.) Upon return to Åland, the person would be eligible for Ålandic citizenship anew if the conditions mentioned above are met. A person also loses Ålandic citizenship status if he or she loses Finnish citizenship.
Not having a right to domicile does not mean a Finn or Swede could not move to Åland or live there. Foreigners and non-Ålandic Finns can rent property or own land in designated areas.
According to reports, even Russia holds land in Åland, being a piece of beach property that the Soviet government acquired in 1947 when it acquired all property held by Germans in Finland, per conditions specified in the Paris Peace Treaty. At that time the beach property was owned by a German citizen. According to reports, the property has most recently been managed by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Legal Resources Online Pertaining to Åland:
Law Library of Congress Online Resources:
- Guide to Law Online: Finland
- Guide to Law Online: Sweden
- Guide to Law Online: European Union
- Global Legal Monitor: Finland
- In Custodia Legis: Finland
- In Custodia Legis Aland Islands
- In Custodia Legis: Sweden
- Legal Reports (Publications of the Law Library of Congress)
Law Library Resources from the Law Collection:
- Titles related to the “Åland Question” (type Åland question in search function)
- Ålands författningssamling (Åland’s Official Law Gazette)
- Ålands lagsamling
- Autonomy and Demilitarisation in International Law : the Åland Islands in a Changing Europe (1997)
- Athanasia Spiliopoulou Åkermark, Demilitarisation and International Law in Context – The Åland Islands (2018)
Library of Congress Collection Items:
- Great Britain. Foreign Office. Historical Section, The Åland Islands (1920)
- Tore Modeen, De folkrättsliga garantierna för bevarandet av Ålandsöarnas nationella karaktär (1973)
- Finlands statsarkiv, Ålands saköreslängder från 1500-talet (1894-98)
Happy Åland Day!
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