Thursday, December 22, 2011
Åland Islands - autonomous isles between Sweden and Finland
First-time visitors to the Åland Islands, an archipelago of some 6,500 islands and islets between Sweden and Finland at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia, can be excused if they feel confused. Though the islands belong to Finland, hardly any of the inhabitants speak Finnish. Swedish is Åland's sole official language, and that is what you see on street signs and restaurant menus. But the currency is the euro, as in Finland. The reason for the muddle is the islands' chequered history. Once part of the kingdom of Sweden, Åland was ceded to imperial Russia in 1809 together with Finland. It has remained part of Finland since Finnish independence in 1917. Today the islands are autonomous, which is partly responsible for their economic prosperity. When Finland joined the European Union in 1995, Alanders' rights were set forth in a separate protocol. They are allowed to make their own tax laws, and to make tax-free sales to their numerous visitors. This FDC given to me by Pia illustrates the important facets of Åland on the three pretty stamps.
Åland flag. According to the 1951-revised Act on the Autonomy, an own flag for Åland was established in 7.4.1954. Its form relates itself to the Nordic cross flag tradition. The colors are a combination of Åland and Finnish weapon colors as well as the Swedish flag's blue and yellow.
Åland map. To describe the status of a new "country of stamps" with the help of a map is a good idea. Within the frame of the stamps left corner we see the European northwest corner, with Åland dotted in the meridians. When the same data exists on the island map, again with localisation coordinates, the location of Åland is clearly explained.
Seal of Åland. Norway's King St. Olaf (d. 1030) is mentioned as one of those who converted the natives to Christianity. He was declared patron saint of Åland and his image was captured in the province's old seal. The oldest imprint is from the year 1326. The seal contains the text "S. TERE. ALANDIE. ET. SCI. OLAVI. REGIS", or the Provincial Government and the St. Olav's seal.