One Hundred Years of Solitude:

The Significance of Land Rights for Cultural Protection in the Åland Islands



Rhodri Williams

The aim of this research is to contribute to current debates surrounding Åland’s autonomy regime by seeking a fuller understanding of the origins and the evolving role of rules restricting outsiders from acquiring landed property in the autonomous Åland Islands region of Finland. The autonomy and minority protection regime that prevails in Åland is of particularly long standing, and the conditions that have shaped the evolution of Åland’s land rules have changed considerably during the nearly 100 years of their application. The article also briefly considers the relationship between the evolving Åland land rules and more recent efforts to articulate and justify exclusive rights to traditional homelands in other settings, and particularly those involving minorities and indigenous peoples. The article describes the way understandings of the role played by the land rules have evolved over time, proceeding from the fundamental significance of the rules in protecting Åland’s cultural identity and examining their perceived economic significance, as well as the role they have played in Åland’s ongoing political engagement with mainland Finland. The paper concludes that while the land rules have served to protect the Åland cultural identity, there will be continuing pressure for them to be implemented with greater predictability and clarity as the autonomy regime on Åland matures.

About the Author
Rhodri Williams is an international lawyer with twenty years of experience working on human rights, rule of law and transitional justice issues in conflict-affected countries. He grew up and studied law in the United States but has lived on the Åland Islands and in Stockholm, Sweden, since 2004, and currently works as Senior Legal Expert for the International Legal Assistance Consortium. Mr. Williams wishes to thank the Åland Islands Cultural Foundation (Ålands kulturstiftelse) for funding the research for this report, and the Research Council of the Åland Islands Peace Institute, as well as Sören Silverström, Chema Arraiza and José-Maria  Arraiza, for their invaluable support and advice in writing it.
Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Territorial protection in international law

3. The Historical Evolution and Role of the Åland Land Rules

3.1 Historical background prior to Finland’s independence

3.2 Significance of land in the “Åland movement”

3.3 Implementation of the Åland land rules – from redemption to restriction

4. Conclusions

5. References

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