Baltic is­lands of peace

The Baltic Times - - OUTLOOK - Gor­don F. San­der Mariehamn, Fin­land

With its grace­ful wa­ter­front, and sail­boats tack­ing back and forth against the sum­mer sky, Mariehamn, the cap­i­tal of Aland, a Fin­nish ar­chi­pel­ago com­prised of 6,500 is­lands in the mid­dle of the Baltic, is about as close to Shangri-la as one can find near the trou­bled con­ti­nent of Europe these days.

Mariehamn may only be four hun­dred kilo­me­ters from Riga, but for all in­tents and pur­poses, it is on the other side of the world. To be sure, Mariehamn’s Elysian calm is only partly the prod­uct of its unique to­pog­ra­phy. It also de­rives from Aland’s unique sta­tus as an au­tonomous, Swedish-speak­ing prov­ince of Fin­land, as well as Europe’s only of­fi­cially de­mil­i­ta­rized and neu­tral­ized zone. Ap­pro­pri­ately, this sea­side town of 10,000 is also the site of a busy think tank, the Aland Peace In­sti­tute, de­voted to pro­mot­ing peace­ful con­flict res­o­lu­tion, as well as ed­u­cat­ing the world about the so-called Aland Model.

“The In­sti­tute is a medium by which we like to share our ex­pe­ri­ences with other ar­eas in the world which are deal­ing with ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity is­sues and re­lated mat­ters, “says Kjell-ake Nordquist, the di­rec­tor of the Peace In­sti­tute, which was founded in 1992. Over the years, the In­sti­tute has hosted vis­its from politi­cians and other of­fi­cials work­ing to re­solve lin­guis­tic or eth­nic-based sep­a­ratist con­flicts who have con­sid­ered adopt­ing as­pects of the so-called Aland Model from such far-flung places as Ar­me­nia/azer­bai­jan, Cor­sica and Myan­mar, as well as the Baltic re­publics.

The Aland Model - or Ex­am­ple, as the In­sti­tute prefers to call it - refers to the in­ter­na­tion­ally guar­an­teed pro­tec­tion af­forded the Swedish speak­ing mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion of Aland by which the fed­eral gov­ern­ment es­sen­tially al­lows the 29,000 Alan­ders to man­age their own af­fairs, while also abid­ing by Aland’s de­mil­i­ta­rized sta­tus. De­fense of the ar­chi­pel­ago is Helsinki’s re­spon­si­bil­ity, along with its for­eign af­fairs (as such). Vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing else ed­u­ca­tion, med­i­cal care, law and or­der - is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Mariehamn, which also has its own Par­lia­ment, the Land­st­ing.

In ef­fect, Aland is a coun­try within a coun­try. It even has its own flag and postal ser­vice.

In re­cent years, as sep­a­ratist is­sues and con­cerns con­tinue to be a force in world af­fairs, a long list of peo­ple from re­gions and mi­nori­ties from both Europe as well as else­where, have taken a look at Aland, in­clud­ing an on site look, to see what they could learn and ap­ply in their own lands. In­ter­est in Aland has been es­pe­cially in­tense in the former Soviet re­publics, with their many sep­a­rate, oft­war­ring lin­guis­tic and eth­nic en­claves. This past May, for ex­am­ple, the In­sti­tute hosted a work­ing group com­prised of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the par­lia­ment of the former Soviet repub­lic of Moldova and the au­tonomous, eth­ni­cally dis­tinct re­gion of Ga­gauzia, to see what they could learn from how Aland man­ages its af­fairs with Helsinki, and vice versa.

To be sure, things weren’t al­ways so pa­cific in Aland. In 1854, dur­ing the Crimean War, the is­lands were the site of a vi­o­lent naval ac­tion when a com­bined An­glo-franco task force blew up the mam­moth fortress then be­ing erected at Bor­ma­sund by Im­pe­rial Rus­sia, which had wrested the is­lands from Swe­den fifty years be­fore. To­day, a pock­marked frag­ment of the orig­i­nal mas­sive fortress still stands at Sund, in the eastern ar­chi­pel­ago, a tes­ta­ment to the long ago con­flict.

Af­ter the war, which Rus­sia lost to Bri­tain and France, the is­lands were of­fi­cially de­mil­i­ta­rized by com­mon con­sent of the ma­jor pow­ers, cre­at­ing the world’s first peace zone. How­ever, true peace had not come to Aland yet. Fol­low­ing World War I, Fin­land and Swe­den locked horns over the con­tentious is­lands. Helsinki in­sisted that it needed the is­lands, which are ac­tu­ally lo­cated closer to Fin­land, for its de­fense. Stock­holm de­sired to re­unite the Swedish-speak­ing is­lands with the main­land. So did the fiercely Swe­dophile Alan­ders.

The dis­putants elected to sub­mit their dis­pute to the newly-minted League of Na­tions. In 1921, the League wisely de­cided to award Aland to Fin­land, on con­di­tion that Helsinki re­spect the ar­chi­pel­ago’s in­dige­nous Swedish cul­ture, as well as its de­mil­i­ta­rized sta­tus.

The so­lu­tion worked well - so well that Alan­ders re­lin­quished their de­sire for repa­tri­a­tion with Swe­den, and de­vel­oped a quasi-na­tional iden­tity, within Fin­land, of their own, along with a proudly peace­ful ethos of their own. Peace is truly the law, and the credo, in this, Europe’s only of­fi­cial “peace zone.” Vis­i­tors can ex­plore Aland’s quixotic, and lit­tle-un­der­stood his­tory in the re­cently ren­o­vated Aland Mu­seum in Mariehamn.

War and its ac­cou­trements are strictly ver­boten in Aland. Although Fin­land is re­spon­si­ble for the is­land’s de­fense, Fin­nish mil­i­tary per­son­nel are not wel­come there (at least in uni­form). Alan­ders take their spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion from the ways of the bar­barous Outer World quite se­ri­ously.

The spe­cific process that led to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Peace In­sti­tute ac­tu­ally be­gan in the 1980s, at the time of the then in­tense Euro­pean anti-nu­clear move­ment, when Aland be­came a sym­bol for the pos­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing safe spa­ces with­out weapons, as well as a suc­cess­ful ex­am­ple of con­flict so­lu­tion by diplo­matic means. The peace­minded in­sti­tute also lends its good of­fices and staff to solv­ing lo­cal le­gal dis­putes.

The In­sti­tute’s lo­cal me­di­a­tion ef­forts were un­til re­cently by Justina Donielaite, Or­ga­ni­za­tion Sec­re­tary and a mem­ber of the ten strong In­sti­tute staff since 2002. Ms. Donielaite, who hails from Lithua­nia, ea­gerly spreads the good word about Aland when she re­turns to her home­town of Vil­nius, where she finds that peo­ple in the former Soviet repub­lic “are amazed at the idea of 29,000 peo­ple in the mid­dle of the Baltic es­sen­tially run­ning their own af­fairs.”

“The Peace In­sti­tute is the ul­ti­mate fruit of a long process which be­gan three hun­dred years ago when Peter the Great ne­go­ti­ated with Stock­holm over the rights to ac­cess Aland wa­ters,” says An­ders Wikloff, a lead­ing Alandic busi­ness­man and en­tre­pre­neur and backer of the in­sti­tute. At the same time, Wikloff em­pha­sizes that the “Aland So­lu­tion,” while ap­pli­ca­ble in parts to con­flict ar­eas, was orig­i­nally pos­si­ble be­cause the two orig­i­nal dis­putants, Fin­land and Swe­den, “are so­ci­eties based on the rule of law,” some­thing which is not nec­es­sar­ily true else­where.

“We like to think of the Aland Ex­am­ple with its three lay­ers - de­mil­i­ta­riza­tion, neu­tral­iza­tion, and au­ton­omy - as a kind of smor­gas­bord en­abling many vari­a­tions and adap­ta­tions,” says Ms. Ak­er­mark.

To be sure, vis­i­tors to the Is­lands of Peace, as Aland is also called, who come to study the Aland Way, some­times find that there is a con­flict be­tween the ben­e­fi­cient Alandic model and the messier, ex­tra-ju­di­cidial re­al­ity they con­front at home. In 200l, the In­sti­tute hosted a “Sem­i­nar on Au­ton­omy and Con­flict Man­age­ment” for par­lia­men­tar­i­ans from the Ukraine and Crimea. In the event, the par­tic­i­pants ul­ti­mately found it more dif­fi­cult to put what they learned be­neath the shel­ter­ing lin­den trees of Mariehamn into prac­tice, af­ter Rus­sia’s de­ci­sion to an­nex Crimea out­right in 2014.

How­ever, while Crimea may be lost to the Alandic cause, Mr. Nordquist hasn’t given up hope for the Ukraine. “I would say that a so­lu­tion which gives back full Ukrainian con­trol and sovereignty over its ter­ri­tory, with an ap­pli­ca­tion of some ideas from the Aland Is­lands so­lu­tion would be some­thing worth con­sid­er­ing.”

Ms. Ak­er­mark says that the Is­lands of Peace are all the more im­por­tant now, now that the Baltic has once again be­come the site of ten­sions amongst the great pow­ers. “I think all the pow­ers have been ea­ger to es­tab­lish their rights in the Baltic Sea. Their peren­nial arms race is not help­ful for the states and peo­ples liv­ing around the Baltic. We like to think that we can help show that there is a dif­fer­ent way, based on ne­go­ti­a­tions, re­spect for in­dige­nous cul­tures, hu­man rights, and con­sti­tu­tional law.”

Gor­don F. San­der is a jour­nal­ist and his­to­rian who has been writ­ing about the Baltic re­gion for Amer­i­can and Bri­tish pub­li­ca­tions since the early 90’s. This ar­ti­cle was adapted from a dis­patch for The Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor, where he is spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent. San­der is also the au­thor of sev­eral books about the Baltic re­gion, in­clud­ing, most re­cently, The Hun­dred Day Win­ter War, about the 1939-40 Soviet-fin­nish War. San­der was re­cently artist in res­i­dence at the Aland Mu­seum.

Mariehamn, the cap­i­tal of Aland, a Fin­nish ar­chi­pel­ago, is com­prised of 6,500 is­lands in the mid­dle of the Baltic

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